Examining the voter ID lie

I’ve complained quite a bit at how the media in Texas lazily reports the voter ID issue as a simple “he said/she said” dispute when a cursory examination of the facts shows how ridiculous the pro-voter ID case is, so I’ll give the Chron some credit for this story that asks whether the facts justify the voter ID law. But I’m still going to complain.

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

Despite scant evidence of actual cheating at the polls, allegations of voter fraud fueled the controversial law that makes a picture ID necessary to vote in Texas.

Fewer than five complaints involving voter impersonations were filed with the Texas Attorney General’s Office from the 2008 and 2010 general elections, which drew more than 13 million voters.

The Department of Justice has deemed the law in violation of the Voting Rights Act, finding that it would disproportionately affect minorities, who are less likely to have a photo ID.

Proponents of the embattled legislation contend the actual number of voter impersonations is hard to prove without the photo requirement.

Texas has suffered from “multiple cases of voter fraud,” Gov. Rick Perry said in a recent Fox News interview, though the attorney general handled just 20 allegations of election law violations in the 2008 and 2010 elections. Most involved mail-in ballot or campaign finance violations, electioneering too close to a polling place or a voter blocked by an election worker.

To sell the voter ID law, however, supporters conjured up images of “busloads of illegal immigrants being transported up from Mexico to vote straight-ticket Democratic in an election near you,” said Rep. Rafael Anchia, D-Dallas. “That was the fantasy, the scary narrative.”

No one disputes some level of voting abuse, said Sen. Rodney Ellis, D-Houston. “However, what every investigation has proven is that the kind of fraud voter ID laws would address – voter impersonation – doesn’t really exist,” Ellis said. “In fact, there are more UFO and Bigfoot sightings than documented cases of voter impersonation.”

The story makes a decent effort to air the anti-voter ID perspective, but it still comes off as a dispute between partisans. It would have been nice to quote a few people who are not actively engaged in the litigation. And while I appreciate the effort to point out that the state of Texas has failed miserably to demonstrate that there are any crimes that might be deterred by its voter ID law, it’s still being said too politely. The fact is that voter ID proponents have been telling a lot of lies about the vote fraud they claim exists but can never find, and that can’t be said often enough. I come back once again to Daniel Davies’ classic post The D-Squared Digest One Minute MBA – Avoiding Projects Pursued By Morons 101, which is unfortunately now not publicly visible but which can still be seen here, in which he notes that “Good ideas do not need lots of lies told about them in order to gain public acceptance.”

Maybe it’s too much to ask for a newspaper to call a lie a lie. If so, I guess I should be happy with what this story gives. But look, the Republican proponents of voter ID have said many ludicrously implausible and provably false things about why this legislation is supposedly needed, yet the issue is treated as a matter of partisan dispute rather than a factual one. It’s one thing to say “If you adopt policy X, then Y will happen”. It’s another to say “Because X has already happened, policy Y is needed”, especially when you cannot show any evidence that X has in fact happened. The Republicans may succeed at getting voter ID implemented, and they may succeed at their bigger goal of gutting or overturning the Voting Rights Act. But they’ll never succeed at finding an objective non-partisan justification for voter ID because there isn’t any for them to find. Ed Kilgore has more.

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6 Responses to Examining the voter ID lie

  1. Brad M. says:

    I was speaking at the Junior Statesmen of America spring convention this past weekend and had a conversation with a young man who had just finished up a debate on Voter ID. (JSA is an impressive organization run internally by high schoolers who are civic minded, community engaged and politically active.)

    He was the “for” debater. And he believed in it too. He just couldn’t believe that there had not been any convicted and proven case of Voter ID fraud at a voting site in Texas brought by our attorney general.

  2. landslide says:

    I may have made this point here before, but my experience with political reporting is that, in an effort to appear “balanced” mainstream news reporters often obscure the truth behind a story. While campaigning for Al Gore in battleground states in 2000, we provided plenty of backup documentation for the claims we made about the record of then-Gov. Bush. But when the stories came out, every fact we hand-delivered these reporters was prefaced with the words “Democrats say…” which instantly created doubt in the minds of less-informed readers. Maybe its a Catch-22: the reporters were not (would not?) doing their own research and reporting, they were getting their information from us (in fact, they have come to expect it.) But because we were giving it to them, they discounted it as our opinion rather than fact. “Texas ranks 48th among the states in high school graduation rates” was a verifiable fact, but it doesn’t sound that way when it reads “Democrats say Texas ranks 48th among the states in high school graduation rates,” in the next day’s newspaper article. That sounds more like a partisan slam which most voters would ignore.

    David Brock, founder of Media Matters, writes about this form of media bias.

  3. landslide says:

    One other thing, there have been media audits that show the reason so many people doubt the existence of global warming is because of mainstream media stories that present the both sides equally, giving undue weight to the deniers’ arguments, combined with the deliberate misinformation put out by the “Fair and Balanced” side of the “news”.

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  5. Stephen says:

    I truly believe people aren’t aware of how many people in this state (or any) don’t have a driver’s license or other government issued photo ID. I’ll concede to having been ignorant of that myself, until I read liberal coverage of the voter ID controversy. So while people need to understand fraud is not a real problem, they also need to be educated that not “everyone” has an ID, and why that may be.

  6. Mainstream says:

    Like any other crime, voter fraud is underreported. The situations I have personally witnessed in nearly 40 years of working election polls have involved family members possibly using the ID of another, and a roommate possibly using a utility bill in the name of his roommate. Both would have easy access to the official voter card of the voter. Under the current state of the law, there is no way to even report a suspicion of voter fraud, much less have sufficient grounds to prosecute, since it would be illegal to take a photograph of the suspicious voter for evidence. Taking a photograph would be considered “voter suppression” or “intimidation” and would likely be prosecuted under the Voting Rights Act and related laws. Additionally, in some elections, the lines are so long and the check-in so hectic that taking the time to note a suspicion is not high on the work list.

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