Sometimes you have to wonder what Republicans have against democracy.
Because that's what this whole "voter fraud" foofara is about. John McCain and Sarah Palin and Lou Dobbs and the rest of the right-wing torch brigade that have been after ACORN and the Ohio Secretary of State aren't concerned about protecting people's right to vote -- and in fact, their efforts largely go toward directly stripping citizens of their legitimate voting rights.
Or more precisely, this is all about building a post-election narrative aimed at delegitimizing a Barack Obama presidency by claiming he won fraudulently. It's not just a handy excuse for the ass-kicking they deserve -- it's a whole right-wing conspiracy-theory cottage industry in the making that will nurture their paranoia and rage for years down the road.
This weekend, Sarah Palin was out whipping up a fine froth among the McCainiacs about ACORN's activities:
Palin demanded answers to “unanswered questions about his connections with ACORN.”
The fans screamed “Booo!” at least 10 times when Palin mentioned Obama’s name.
“ACORN is under investigation for rampant voter fraud in 13 states. ACORN received over $800,000 from the Obama campaign,” Palin said. All 13 are swing states like Indiana.
“Booo!” Palin’s supporters shouted. Obama has said the $800,000 was for voter canvassing during the primary election, not for voter registration during the general election.
Palin, of course, is just following her the lead of her boss, who claimed in Wednesday's debate that ACORN "is now on the verge of maybe perpetrating one of the greatest frauds in voter history in this country, maybe destroying the fabric of democracy." And we're already seeing the violent results on the ground emanating from this kind of demagoguery.
And it's demagoguery on a massive scale. After all, everywhere that ACORN has been seriously examined -- from Indiana to Seattle, whenever issues have arisen they have been the result of individual canvassers trying to cheat ACORN, not with the organization itself.
And let's be clear: there is no evidence whatsoever that an actual voting fraud problem exists. Just in regards to ACORN, the bogus registrations have largely been flagged and caught. Moreover, there simply is no evidence that people actually register to vote illegally on anything more than an infinitesimal scale.
Voter fraud is rare in the United States, according to a 2007 report by the nonpartisan Brennan Center for Justice at the New York University School of Law. Based on reviews of voter fraud claims at the federal and state level, the center's report asserted most problems were caused by things like technological glitches, clerical errors or mistakes made by voters and by election officials.
"It is more likely that an individual will be struck by lightning than he will impersonate another voter at the polls," the report said.
Alex Keyssar, a professor at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government, calls the current controversy "chapter 22 in a drama that's been going on awhile. The pattern is that nothing much ever comes from this. There have been no known cases of people voting fraudulently."
"What we've seen," Keyssar said, "is sloppiness and someone's idea of a stupid joke, like registering as Donald Duck."
No, what's been happening instead is that Republican-sponsored "voter purges" have been stripping people of their legitimate voting rights. They show up expecting to vote on Election Day and are turned away, and nothing is rectified for months, if ever.
The Brennan Center for Justice conducted an in-depth study of these purges and found:
Purges rely on error-ridden lists. States regularly attempt to purge voter lists of ineligible voters or duplicate registration records, but the lists that states use as the basis for purging are often riddled with errors. ... Voters who are eligible to vote are wrongly stricken from the rolls because of problems with underlying source lists.
A classic case of this was in the wake of the 2004 election in Washington's King County. The GOP attempted to challenge the registration of several hundred Seattle voters -- and quickly found that its lists had been drawn up based on bogus information. Later, it was discovered that the GOP had illegally modified its voter-challenge forms.
The Brennan Center study also found that voters are purged secretly and given no notice; and that the purges are frequently subject to crude manipulation.
I don't know about you, but I happen to be one of those people who considers the right to vote the cornerstone of republican democracy: the political enfranchisement of the citizen is embodied in it. Indeed, it's a sacred right in a democratic society, one that should be revoked only under the most careful of circumstances.
Now, it is problematic that the few people who do vote fraudulently dilute the legitimate votes of the rest. But considering how infrequently it actually happens, the frenzy into which the right regularly whips itself over supposed "voter fraud" is beyond any proportion to the actual problem.
If you accept the primacy of the right of citizens to vote, then these attempts at preventing ineligible votes have to be as close to perfect as possible; an error rate of even more than 1 percent is too great. Because anything more than that means you're violating the inviolable -- taking away the most fundamental political right of the American system.
What's more telling, perhaps, is the Republican predilection for deriding and undermining citizens' legitimate voting rights. After all, no less an authority than Antonin Scalia himself declared, in the Bush v. Gore travesty, that "the individual citizen has no federal constitutional right to vote for electors for the President of the United States."
No, it should be obvious to any adult observer of the Republican melodrama that they're not serious about protecting people's voting rights. Rather precisely the opposite: Blocking the registration and participation of larger numbers of voters (particularly Democratic-leaning voters) has been a cornerstone of GOP strategy since at least Florida in 2000, if not before (their antipathy to the Motor Voter Law extended back to the early 1990s). It played a significant role in Ohio in 2004 as well. And it was the very engine that fueled the entire U.S. Attorneys firing scandal that brought down Attorney General Alberto Gonzales.
In other words, if you're a Democratic voter, or simply from a demographic group that leans Democratic, Republicans are hoping to prevent you from voting at all.
The best part of this scam is that they get to play as though they are the folks protecting your vote -- when in fact they're doing their best to take it away. And when it's all over, they get to use it to fraudulently beat Democrats over the head with it while getting the torch-bearers' flames stoked up all nice and hot.
So why do Republicans hate democracy? Maybe because they are the party of Oligarchical White Privilege. And democracy is about to kick them in the ass.