To illustrate, just last Thursday Think Progress ran an article, "Surprise! The Roberts Court Just Halted A Voter Suppression Law.
The article refers to the recent case concerning the Wisconsin voter ID statute, Frank v. Walker. The Seventh Circuit heard arguments on the stay imposed by the Eastern District of Wisconsin against enforcement of the law on September 12, issuing an Order dissolving the stay that same day. 2014 U.S. App. LEXIS 17653. The Order provided, in pertinent part,
After the district court's decision, the Supreme Court of Wisconsin revised the procedures to make it easier for persons who have difficulty affording any fees to obtain the birth certificates or other documentation needed under the law, or to have the need for documentation waived. Milwaukee Branch of NAACP v. Walker, 2014 WI 98, 851 N.W.2d 262 (July 31, 2014). This reduces the likelihood of irreparable injury, and it also changes the balance of equities and thus the propriety of federal injunctive relief. The panel has concluded that the state's probability of success on the merits of this appeal is sufficiently great that the state should be allowed to implement its law, pending further order of this court.Due course rolled around on Monday, October 6, when the 7th Circuit issued its opinion in the Frank case. 2014 U.S. App. LEXIS 19108. By Thursday, however, the United States Supreme Court had intervened to reinstate the original District Court stay. 2014 U.S. LEXIS 6734. The Supreme Court's Order provides:
The appeals remain under advisement, and an opinion on the merits will issue in due course.
The application to vacate the September 12, 2014 order of the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit presented to Justice Kagan and by her referred to the Court is granted and the Seventh Circuit’s stay of the district court’s permanent injunction is vacated pending the timely filing and disposition of a petition for a writ of certiorari respecting case Nos. 14-2058 & 14-2059. Should the petition for a writ of certiorari be denied, this order shall terminate automatically. In the event the petition for a writ of certiorari is granted, the order shall terminate upon the sending down of the judgment of this Court.Justice Alito dissented (joined by Justices Scalia and Thomas), conceding that there "is a colorable basis for the Court’s decision due to the proximity of the upcoming general election," but insisting that the application should be denied because there was no indication that the 7th Circuit "clearly and 'demonstrably' erred in its application of 'accepted standards.'"
In the Think Progress post, Ian Millhiser posits that the colorable basis conceded by Justice Alito is found in Purcell v. Gonzalez, 549 U.S. 1, 127 S.Ct. 5, 166 L.Ed.2d 1 (2006). In Purcell, Millhiser writes, "the Supreme Court explained that judges should be reluctant to issue orders affecting a state’s election law as an election approaches. 'Court orders affecting elections,' according to Purcell, 'can themselves result in voter confusion and consequent incentive to remain away from the polls. As an election draws closer, that risk will increase.'"
I confess that there is a part of me that does not understand the controversy: Elections are about getting more votes for your candidate than their candidate. This can be done in two ways, either by getting more of your voters to the polls (GOTV campaigns) or by keeping more of their voters away (voter suppression tactics). Serious political campaigns do some of both. Partisans of the Red Meat Right and the True Blue Left and anybody else who wants to see their candidate elected (and who can afford to do so) routinely engage in voter suppression tactics. What else would you call negative ads? Whether they are attack ads aired on TV or mailers sent on behalf of more local candidates, Candidate A does not run negative ads to excite his or her base. Rather, Candidate A (or his or her surrogates) run the ads to dampen the potential enthusiasm of undecided voters for Candidate B. If we can't get these votes, goes the thinking, we must make sure the other side can't get them either. (Studies show that, although staunchly opposed to Candidate A, some voters will, after a sufficient barrage of negative commercials targeting Candidate B, stay home on Election Day. How -- the disillusioned voter reasons -- can I vote for Candidate B, a candidate who is the catspaw of the [choose one] public employees unions - Welfare Lobby - Koch Brothers - Gun Lobby - Wall Street oligarchs and who kicks puppies besides?)
As a life-long resident of the Chicago area, and a registered voter in Chicago for over 30 years, I believe, for the most part, that voter fraud is -- in Illinois at least -- much less of a problem than it was in the Bad Old Days when Chicago's "river wards" vied with certain DuPage County precincts to see who could hold out longer and then 'deliver' for their candidate in a close statewide contest. Still, I have so far spurned early voting -- I want to make sure my vote is actually cast in my precinct and I don't want to rely on someone else to deliver it there -- and I always vote early in the morning on Election Day. I seem to recall one mayoral election where CTA service was mysteriously disrupted on the evening of election day, in what sure looked like an attempt to hold down a particular candidate's vote....
The True Blue Believers have a host of statistics that show that voter fraud prosecutions are virtually nonexistent and this is offered in support of an assertion that voter fraud does not exist.
Well... maybe. But, let's put it this way so as not to cast aspersions on anyone: For an elected prosecutor, or even an appointed prosecutor serving at the pleasure of the party controlling the White House, it would understandably be a higher priority to deal with voting irregularities if they threaten to drive your party from power than if such irregularities, to the extent they exist, help keep your party in power -- or don't make any difference in likely outcomes. Human nature being what it is, a reasonable person would investigate, and prosecute, more urgently in the former situation than in either of the latter ones. The absence of vote fraud prosecutions may mean there is no vote fraud, but it it may also mean that identifying and extirpating vote fraud is not a high priority because any vote fraud that does exist benefits the party in power or is not outcome-determinative.
This brings me to a recent, real-life experience. I begin by reiterating that I firmly believe our election process today to be cleaner than it was in my youth.
But we recently received a jury summons at home for my oldest child. She lives in Indianapolis these days, and has for five years now, where she is married and has a daughter. She is registered to vote in Indianapolis. She is licensed to drive in Indiana.
I was enlisted to 'take care of' the jury summons. After a couple of false starts, I found myself in the Jury Administration's Office in the Daley Center, asking for instructions. I was told to have my daughter send a letter, providing her current address and proof of her non-Illinois residence. She happened to be in town that very weekend, so it was easy to put the letter together and provide the requested copy of the driver's license. For good measure, in addition to sending the letter to Jury Administration, my daughter sent a copy of the letter (including a scanned copy of her Indiana driver's license) to the Chicago Board of Election Commissioners.
This was in late June of this year.
We subsequently received our new voter registration cards in the mail. My oldest child has always received a new card, despite her move out of town. But this time -- surely this time -- she would be removed from the voter rolls. Right?
If you've stayed with me this far, you know where this is going: We received a new voter registration card for my oldest child pursuant to the July canvass.
So far as I know, no one has presumed to vote on my daughter's behalf in the past several years. But, apparently, the opportunity exists, and has existed for some time. I assume this is entirely innocent. But, given that these types of errors can occur, even when specific requests are made to remove a person from the voter rolls, why is it per se unreasonable to consider requiring some additional identification at the polls over and above voter registration?