Cheap Political Tricks with Voting Rights.

Conservatism is a rich and distinguished political tradition. To me it is a shame to see it sullied by people serving up ill informed opinion garnished with fear and scandalous accusation. This blocks informed discussion and sacrifices mutual respect for some ill conceived short term political end.

Take the recent Supreme Court decision Crawford v. Marion County Election Board,. This involved a 2005 Indiana law that required registered voters to present a state or federal issued piece of identification before voting. There was a legislative concern about voter fraud but no documented instances of it , at least on any scale sufficient to cause concern. This devise was intended to thwart one person voting for another registered voter, sometimes called “in-person voter fraud.”. There was no documentation showing any sort of systemic problem or even any instance of it in Indiana. Nonetheless it is a legitimate governmental concern that the votes be cast by registered voters.

It was an unusual case in that there was no evidence of fraud and the plaintiff did not present a witness who would not be able to vote. So the arguments on both sides were purely legal. The state argued that the law was within the scope of legitimate legislative function, that it was not a deterrent to voting, and that it was nothing like a poll tax. The challengers said that while the purpose sounded legitimate the law would reduce the participation in voting without a corresponding benefit to the state, citing a long line of decisions protecting voting rights from legislated obstructions.

This got a lot of attention because of the politicization of U.S. Attorneys’ offices and the scandal that followed. The U.S. Attorneys were getting a lot of pressure from the White House to prosecute claims against people involved in voting registration drives. The nationally Republican Party also favored the state identification requirement of the sort enacted in Indiana. This case, although argued after the controversy had ceased grabbing daily headlines, fed into that political tempest.

The Supreme Court’s decision was not easily arrived at. There were roughly 40 amicus briefs filed by non-parties with an interest in the outcome. The Court could not generate a single opinion but published an opinion, a concurring opinion (which agreed with the opinion but on differnt grounds) and two separate written dissents. But the Indiana law was upheld on a 6-3 vote.

It leaves me breathless to read that some people jump from this decision to condemnation of ACORN, an acronym for Association for Community Organizations for Reform Now. Campbell v. Marion County they call a voting fraud case when there was no evidence of voting fraud and then they identify ACORN as a leading voting fraud perpetrator, when it has never been associated with voting fraud. In Missouri and Washington this activist group was associated with false registration of voters and never with a fraudulent vote being made. It operates around the country registering poor people. It supplements its volunteer workers by paying people according to the number of voters they register.

It has registered roughly a million and a half people over the last few years. In Missouri it found that 4 people had falsely registered voters and notified the election board so that the fraud could be reversed before the election. In Washington it did not discover the fraud because the false registration sheets were produced by the workers just before the deadline for registration. The seven people who did this were prosecuted. In a press release the Sheriff’s Office said that this was a fraud committed on ACORN to get money for registering voters. ACORN was said to have been negligent in supervising these people and it paid a $25,000 fine. The faulty registrations did not result in a false vote as the fraud was done to get ACORN’s money, not to influence an election.

It is contemptible to try to impugn Obama by associating him with this perfectly legitimate organization and suggest that this association is somehow a criminal.


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