Renewed attacks on voting rights in North Carolina, Pennsylvania and other states are as much about power as about policy and race. The handwringing over elusive "fraud" is because America's majority ethnic group sees its traditional grip on power eroding with shifting demographics.
In North Carolina last week, Republican lawmakers again raised the alarm over the possibility that hundreds -- maybe thousands -- had criminally cast ballots in two states in the 2012 election. GOP leaders were quick to insist that the numbers justified the draconian voting law they passed in the last legislative session. The U.S. Department of Justice has challenged the law in court.
Chris Kromm of the Institute for Southern Studies just as quickly debunked the study by Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach whose office, after checking 5 million voter records in 2013, "couldn't provide any evidence of a single instance in which the Interstate Crosscheck's data had led to an actual legal charge of voter fraud." Because the data, Kromm writes, "offers no proof such fraud is occurring." Requiring citizens to present identity cards to vote would have no effect on voting in multiple states.
Per Kobach's method, a two-state match of just last and first names and a birthday are enough to flag someone as possibly voting in two states. “There are going to be a lot of David Lees on that list,” said Philadelphia elections commissioner Stephanie Singer last October of the Kobach Crosscheck of Pennsylvania's database. In a 2007 study on the “Birthdate Problem,” Michael P. McDonald and Justin Levitt demonstrated how it is common, statistically, to find people sharing the same name and birthdate in a large population. They wrote, "And common sense should expose the flaws in accusations like that against a New Jersey woman who, based only on a matched name and birthdate, allegedly voted at the northern tip of New Jersey in 2004 and then drove the length of the state to vote in-person for a second time."
Yet, as Laura Clawson observes regarding old, straight white guys, "[I]f they aren't on the winning side of discrimination, that's like being discriminated against themselves, by their way of thinking." If their side loses an election, someone must have cheated. The panic among the white Republican base over voter fraud, dead voters, messy voter rolls, double voting -- the proximate threat varies -- is because demographic trends in this country show that the numerical edge to which they feel entitled will be gone within decades. They avoided looking at that fact square on for years, maybe peeking through their fingers at the supposed threat posed by high Muslim birthrates and lamenting the West's "lack of civilizational confidence" (instead of "banging away elsewhere," as Michael Kinsley once suggested). But when a half-black man moved into the White House, they could no longer look away. Barack Obama embodies the demographic trends reducing white people to just another minority in this melting-pot country. And the Republican base knows how minorities are treated in America. Their European forebears did most of the treating here for several centuries. They are as scared as Stephen Stills at Woodstock.
Gaming election results through precision gerrymandering and repressive voting laws aimed at the poor and minorities is political Viagra® for the flagging demographic potency of the Republican base. Voter data matching exercises are not meant to uncover crimes, punish criminals, or even amass credible evidence. They are the pretext for a party suffering a lack of electoral confidence to throw smoke bombs into newsrooms and yell, "Voter fraud!" By the time the smoke clears and no evidence is found -- again -- of a "massive" problem, all viewers remember is that they saw smoke and heard cries of fraud. And where there's smoke there must be a fire, right?
This is how propaganda is used to generate public support for a nonsolution to a nonproblem.