Sunday September 23, 2012

Voter fraud, and the legislation allegedly passed to combat it, is a significant political component as we approach Election Day even though tangible evidence of voter fraud is as scarce as that for the existence of unicorns. It’s an open secret that the crackdown on non-existent voter fraud is a cover to keep certain groups away from the polls -- minorities, the poor, college students -- and the success or lack of same of that effort may go a long way toward determining the presidential election and the makeup of the next Congress.

Last week, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court decided by a 4-2 vote to send the state’s restrictive new photo identification law back to the lower Commonwealth Court, where a judge ruled in August that the law could be enacted. There is a likelihood that the judge will come back October 2 with the same ruling, but the Supreme Court demanded assurances that voters lacking photo IDs will be provided alternative forms of identification and will not be disenfranchised. The failure of the law to provide those assurances, wrote the Supreme Court, "obliges the Commonwealth Court to block the law."

The two dissenting Supreme Court justices, both Democrats, maintained that an injunction against the law should have been granted, as requested by groups like the Advancement Project that oppose the law. Those groups have made a convincing case that the state has been dragging its feet in fulfilling its obligation to assure that everyone has the proper form of identification before Election Day. Three Republican judges and one Democrat comprised the majority vote on the decision to throw the issue back into the lap of the Commonwealth Court.

Pennsylvania, Florida and other states whose Republican governors and legislators have crafted these new laws have been unwilling or unable to provide the examples of massive voter fraud the laws are ostensibly in response to. However, in a shocking spasm of honesty, Pennsyl vania’s Republican House Majority Lead er Mike Turzai declared that the new law in his state "would allow Gov ernor Romney to win in Pennsylvania." Nothing about voter fraud, just old-fashioned ballot-box politics are on display here.

Also in pursuit of elusive voter fraud are various right-wing groups like True the Vote, whose particular specialty is attempting to track down the bus that transports unauthorized voters to polling places and then spirits them away. This bus or these buses supposedly showed up in Wisconsin recently during the recall election. Two years ago, a representative of the grammatically awkward True the Vote said a bus appeared at a San Diego polling station and offloaded people "who did not appear to be from this country." The representative did not explain why they didn’t appear to be Americans, but it would be a good guess that they were not white -- if, of course, there was a bus at all.

According to a New York Times story last week, officials in Wisconsin and San Diego found no evidence that this magic bus existed. "It’s so stealthy that no one is ever able to get a picture and no one is able to get a license plate," said Reid Magney, a spokesman for Wisconsin’s Government Accountability Board, tongue firmly in cheek. In some versions of the bus myth, it contains Native American or black voters. "Pick your minority group," said Mr. Magney to The Times.

The bus that transports illegal voters to polling booths is in keeping with other nonsense -- President Obama’s fraudulent birth certificate, his hidden allegiance to Islam, the health care reform law’s "death panels," a White House plot to confiscate the nation’s guns and so on -- perpetuated by the nation’s paranoid radical right. At best this foolishness poisons the nation’s political dialogue and sows divisiveness. At worst it does tangible harm to our democracy. Should the efforts of Mr. Tarzai and others to disenfranchise voters this November succeed it could result in a travesty the equal of or worse than the 2000 Florida farce that resulted in the U.S. Supreme Court’s 5-4 vote electing George W. Bush as president.