You want to vote. Enough so you actually take a trip down to the polling place you've used before and you vote. Sometimes your side wins, sometimes your side loses. You might grouse a bit if your side loses, but you pretty much accept the process. You vote, and you hope your side wins.
Okay, let's try this.
You go to the polling place you've used before and you want to vote. It's not easy, because you don't make much money and you don't own a car. You take a bus every day to and from your low paying job. A polling worker asks you for your driver's license. You don't have one. You don't own a car and you don't drive. That's fine, says the worker, just show us your state issued alternate photo ID. HUH? So you can't vote. A lot of other working people, the ones who get up extra early every day to ride a bus to work, also can't vote. Neither can a lot of retired people, college students.
Those who advocate such measures sometimes say that they want to prevent voter fraud. Some do not know that the system we have in place now prevents pretty much every bit of voter fraud that a photo ID would stop. Many conservatives who want a new photo ID law are willing to take the trade off. A few million legitimate voters can't vote in exchange for stopping a voter fraud problem that does not exist.
Some of us on the other side think we see something a little more sly. Could it be possible that stopping legitimate voters from casting ballots is not the price conservatives are willing to pay, but is rather the very reason for the new restriction? After all, most of those the harsh new requirements, the requirements that don't actually stop any voter fraud, affect only voters likely to favor candidates and causes conservatives pretty much hate.
This suspicion is reinforced by occasional public statements by conservative officials that pretty much say exactly that. I'm thinking of you, Pennsylvania Republicans. I'm thinking of you, New Hampshire conservatives.
But some conservatives do present a case, of sorts, based on concept more than any possibility anything untoward is happening. "What I don't understand," says Chris Jankowski, head of the Republican State Leadership Committee, "is how anybody can be against fair and honest elections."
This objective was the focus of a panel convened last week by the conservative group Judicial Watch in Washington DC. The main focus was not on voter fraud. It was on future possibilities of voter fraud, and on a current perception of voter fraud. It doesn't happen, it has not happened in the past. But it might happen in the future, and even if it doesn't happen now, some folks seem to think it happens. We should act right away, even if it means lots of legitimate voters can't vote.
Okay. So let's put that to the test. How do conservatives react when there is no perception of voter fraud, and when procedures to prevent voter fraud are not at issue?
You go to the polling place to vote. The poll worker directs you to the voting booth. You vote for President, Senator, Governor, right down to the local state representative and city board.
The Republicans in charge of voting tell vote counters to throw your vote out. And they do. Now, if you had a driver's license, that doesn't matter. If you had voted before, that doesn't matter. If nobody challenges your legitimacy as a voter, that doesn't matter.
What matters is that the poll worker directed you to the wrong voting booth. You see, some precincts share voting places. You give your name and address, the poll workers look up your name and verify the information, check to see which precinct you're in, then tell you which voting booth to use. Normal people, which is to say non-conservatives and those conservatives who believe in fair play, might disagree about state representatives and local aldermanic votes. But even if a state paid poll worker told you to vote in the wrong booth, everyone agrees that votes for President, Governor, and Senator should count, right?
Going through court papers is a fascinating exercise. They are available here in pdf format.
Turns out the folks in charge of voting in Ohio did not throw out a few ballots. More than 14,000 Ohio votes were ruled improper in 2008 and weren't counted. 11,000 weren't counted in Ohio in 2010. All those thousands did what poll workers told them to do. They voted in the wrong booth.
It was taken to court. The courts ruled the votes had to count for the upper ballot candidates: the candidates that appeared on ballots no matter the district.
The conservatives who currently control the electoral process in Ohio appealed it. They were joined by conservative activists led by radio personality Tom Kelly. The conservative group thought the decision to count votes was so wrong the decision shouldn't be allowed to stand. After all, they said in a "friend of the court" brief, improper votes would dilute the effect of proper votes.
Besides, conservatives said, nobody could prove which voters had been given wrong instructions. What if some voters had been given correct instructions, but decided on their own to vote in the wrong booth. Throw them all out.
Page 7 of the court summary kind of spells out the reaction of the judges.
The Secretary also argued that reasons other than poll-worker error may have caused some of the wrong-precinct ballots. The district court rejected these arguments, citing the failure of previous state directives and the absence of evidence that voters disobeyed poll-worker instructions regarding voting precincts. “No party,” it stated, “has identified a single example, from the past four years’ elections, of a wrong-precinct provisional ballot being cast because the voter refused to vote in the correct precinct.”
The court said that workers have a duty under the law "to direct voters to the correct
precinct and inform them that wrong-precinct votes will not count".
...the district court reasoned, “It is common sense that no rational voter who arrives at the correct polling place would ever refuse to cast a provisional ballot in the correct precinct . . . Based on the record evidence provided thus far,” the court concluded that “Plaintiffs ha[d] established a strong likelihood that thousands of lawfully-registered voters will be completely deprived of their right to vote . . . in the upcoming election because of poll-worker error.”
Conservatives have lost in district court. Now they have lost the appeal. The votes that were not counted should have counted. The misinformation, and therefore the wrong-precinct votes, mostly happened in urban districts, where shared polling places is most common. Conservatives, looking toward the 2012 election are planning an appeal to a higher court.
Is this really because almost all Ohio shared districts are in urban areas, and pretty much all the affected voters are minorities? Conservatives scoff.
After all, you wouldn't want to damage democracy because of an incorrect perception that ineligible voters are casting ballots.
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