The right and the left agree on a few things about current trends in voting laws: democracy is being threatened by a desire to win elections and wield power.
But at panels a mile apart this weekend, the two sides presented very different views of the state of election practices. The right sees widespread electoral fraud that needs to be stopped with tougher laws to prevent stolen elections, and the left sees this as a massive effort at voter suppression to steal elections.
“These laws are the new Jim Crow laws of our times,” said Maryland U.S. Sen. Ben Cardin on a panel about “The War on Voting” at Netroots Nation, a large conference of progressive activists. “This is really an effort to control the outcome of elections” and not protect “the integrity of our electoral system.”
Vote fraud: real or myth
A mile away at a conference on journalism sponsored by the Heritage Foundation and the Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity, Wall Street Journal columnist John Fund tried to counter “this myth that voter fraud does not exist.”
If an election “is perceived as close, someone will try to steal it,” Fund said.
“Vote fraud is real and vote fraud swings elections,” said Quinn Hillyer of the Center for Individual Freedom. “This isn’t a racial thing. This is an anyway-we-can-win thing.”
Between the two competing panel discussions stood the Rhode Island statehouse, where the legislature passed a voter ID law last year, the only state controlled by Democrats to pass such a law. Hispanic and African American legislators voted for the bill.
38 states introduce election controls
War on Voting moderator Ari Berman of the Nation said 38 states have recently introduced legislation “to impede voting.” (This list would include Maryland where Republican lawmakers have repeatedly sponsored bills to require voters to present positive identification, but none of the bills have made it out of committee.)
The restrictive laws cited by progressives include not just voter ID but laws that make it harder to register by requiring birth certificates, proof of citizenship, or banning election-day registration — a practice not permitted in Maryland.
Fund has made electoral fraud a preoccupation since his 2004 book “Stealing Elections.” He cited numerous examples of alleged fraud, including the 2008 Minnesota Senate election won by Al Franken by 317 votes after repeated recounts. Fund says over 1200 convicted felons may have voted in that election, and 197 have since been convicted of voter fraud.
But Eric Marshall of 1-866-OURVOTE said, “The lack of proof [of voter fraud] is just incredible.”