It is no secret that Americans are less than 100 percent confident that government is working for them. Allegations of electoral fraud, whether true or not, taint the entire political process by further undermining our collective faith in democracy. A 2005 bipartisan commission spearheaded by former President Jimmy Carter and former Secretary of State James Baker came to a similar conclusion. Underscoring the point, the commission noted that “[p]hoto IDs currently are needed to board a plane, enter federal buildings, and cash a check. Voting is equally important.”
E.J. Dionne of The Washington Post is the latest to cross the line from debate into name-calling by equating a slew of recently passed state laws aimed at curbing voter fraud with the odious underpinnings of Jim Crow.
Dionne’s outrageous analogy comes on the heels of a similar claim put forth by DNC Chairman Debbie Wasserman Schultz earlier this month — a statement that was thoroughly debunked by watchdog PolitiFact.com. As for Dionne’s other claims that studies have shown that voter fraud “is not a major problem” and that voter ID laws and other measures, such as “limiting the number of days for early voting, have little plausible connection to battling [voter] fraud,” they miss the mark as well.
Whether it’s agents of ACORN pleading guilty to voter fraud, electronic voting machines with extra votes, or absentee ballots cast without a voter’s knowledge, anything that undermines the legitimacy of an election ultimately undermines the legitimacy of the government.
Our nation is divided on a host of issues, and we are about to enter a presidential election that could be extremely close. Earlier this year, a study conducted by the Colorado secretary of state’s office found that as many as 5,000 non-citizen votes were cast in the Centennial State last year in an election where Democratic U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet defeated Republican challenger Ken Buck by a razor-thin margin. Given the likelihood of close contests in Colorado, Nevada and other battleground states, we should be doing everything we can to ensure the integrity of the voting process to avoid another situation like what we witnessed in Florida in 2000.
It’s true that these new voter identification laws have the potential to suppress turnout and possibly even favor Republicans. But as long as these laws pass the proper legal scrutiny, the remedy to address partisan bias is for the political parties to assist voters in securing the requisite identification, much as they promote voter registration. We can argue between now and Election Day about provisional ballots and other accommodations to allow for exigent circumstances. But at the end of the day, the bigger threat to participatory democracy is a cynical electorate filled with voters who don’t even turn out to vote because they don’t trust the system.
Ford O’Connell and Steve Pearson are co-founders of CivicForumPAC and advisors to conservative candidates on Internet outreach, communications and campaign strategy.