(Video from 2012.)
Watson: God! You're just like Don Quixote, you think everything's always something else.
Playfair/Holmes [Laughs]: Well he had a point. Of course, he carried it a bit too far. He thought that every windmill was a giant. That's insane. But, thinking that they might be... well… all the best minds used to think the world was flat. — But, what if it isn't? — It might be round — and bread mold might be medicine. If we never looked at things and thought of what they might be, why, we'd all still be out there in the tall grass with the apes.
They Might Be Giants (1971)
After a local election recount last fall, a colleague observed that tea party members are convinced that if they lose an election it must be because their opponents cheated.
Thus, the Voter Integrity Project of NC (VIP-NC) held a tea-party sponsored “boot camp” for voter fraud sleuths in Asheville over the weekend. About 40 people attended – no one under 30 years-old. Like Justin Playfair, the mental patient who believes he’s Sherlock Holmes, when VIP-NC's amateur sleuths uncover discrepancies in the state’s voter file, they are certain of this: it might be voter fraud.
In the past, the NC state Board of Elections has dismissed most of VIP-NC Executive Director Jay DeLancy's voter challenges. He's been burned by news reports of bad data matching. (Bad data matching and clerical errors were cited when South Carolina dismissed others' claims of the dead voting there.) Still, VIP-NC turned up evidence of five cases of double-voting in Florida and North Carolina, but no dead people voting. (NC did report an unexplained spike in felons voting in 2008.)
Much of this "boot camp," however, focused on dead and inactive voters who remain on the rolls (by law) too long for VIP-NC's liking, so they employ crowd-sourced data-matching to get them removed. Two women from Moore County described driving by abandoned homes and vacant lots, taking photos to prove to the local Board of Elections that people registered there no longer live there. If there's a high-turnover duplex with five people still registered but only one voter living there, they ask the BOE to remove the others. Good on them. They do their state a service by making registration records more accurate.
VIP-NC cautioned attendees about caging . (Attendees had to have that term defined.)
Now, what has any of that got to do with demanding that voters present photo identity cards?
Arguing by anecdote, DeLancy related a story about people showing up to vote with clean, never-folded power bills for ID. He flashed on the screen a copy of former Gov. Bev Perdue's power bill and asked, how do you think I got that? He made it on his computer. Those people with the power bills? It might be voter fraud. See, because it's possible to mass-produce fake utility bills, someone, somewhere might be forging them to commit widespread voter fraud, undetected.
"How is fraud widespread if it's undetected?" Colin Powell asked caustically while visiting Raleigh in August.
Field campaigns devote untold time and manpower just trying to get legitimate voters off their couches, out their doors and down to the polls to vote. Yet election integrity law proponents believe additional hurdles to that are necessary because implacable enemies of democracy might be recruiting criminals to vote on Election Day. They might be using mass-produced, fake power bills to commit felonies punishable by five years in prison and a $10,000 fine — just to add a single, extra vote to their team's total. Seriously.
Ergo, millions must present photo IDs to vote.
One wonders, are the voter fraud sleuths also among the gun-rights defenders who insist after mass shootings that we need no new gun laws; we just need to enforce laws already on the books? Except, when it comes to voting rights, voter ID salesmen insist we need new laws on top of those they complain the state is already not enforcing.
Underlying these efforts to root out errors in the data are fears that somewhere, somehow, Others are voting illegally, cancelling out the votes of honest Gadsden flag wavers. Or that Real Americans will show up at the polls only to find out that someone impersonating them has voted in their place.
As it happens, I know someone to whom that happened last fall, one of VIP-NC's double-voters. After he voted, Herbert (not his real name) was informed that his vote was contested because records showed he had voted twice. It might be voter fraud.
Here’s what happened. Herbert’s son, Herbert Jr. (same address), voted earlier at a different Early Voting site, signed the log, and the elections clerk mistakenly crossed off Herbert’s name in the voting register. Because this was the Early Voting period, Herbert had time to clear up the mess with the Board of Elections before Election Day. His old ballot was voided and Herbert got to re-vote.
ID cards would have prevented the clerk's error how?
The Department of Justice, the NAACP and the ACLU have challenged North Carolina's sweeping, omnibus voting law. Yet the broad, demographic shifts that inspired it will happen no matter how the cases are decided. "Voter fraud" is a thin pretext. America is headed for greater plurality that will shift the political power balance. The sad part is, such legislation and citizen "boot camps" feel like white-knuckled exercises in protecting a demographic patch of electoral turf that’s shrinking beneath supporters’ feet. State after state erects barricades to voting and retreats behind them as for a siege. Not once did any speaker this weekend suggest opening up the franchise to greater participation, registering new voters and encouraging them to go the polls to exercise their right to vote.