This year’s election has seen political battles breaking out on almost all fronts. Events typically not politicized, such as the Olympics or the tragedy in Libya, have become part of the political football game. It seems as if even facts are up for debate given the current rhetoric. So when claims are made by either side about voter suppression, are they true or more of the same useless mudslinging that distracts from the true substance of an election. There have been two significant claims of voter suppression, from each side of the aisle and each focusing on two neighboring states.
Both Pennsylvania and Ohio are embroiled in court battles over controversial changes to voting laws. In both cases, lawsuits have been filed to overturn laws enacted by Republicans in the respective state governments. In Pennsylvania, the Advancement Project and the American Civil Liberties Union are challenging a law that requires citizens to show a state-issued identification card before being allowed to vote. In Ohio, the Justice Department has filed a lawsuit in response to H.B. 194—a law passed in 2011 that ended weekend voting for everyone but those in the military.
The Pennsylvania law comes as a surprise to many of the citizens of the state, because in-person voter fraud is not a widespread problem. A recent study conducted by journalism students across the country examined voter fraud in-depth. Over the last twelve years there have only been a total 901 cases of voter fraud—a very low percentage of the hundreds of millions of votes cast each election year. Absentee ballot-tampering and fraudulent voter registration are the two most common types of voter fraud. The new Pennsylvania law would only prevent people from going to a polling place and falsely claiming they are another voter registered in that area. In the past 12 years there have only been ten documented cases of this type of voter fraud. Pennsylvania estimates that there could be as many as 758,000 voters who would be affected by this law. However, they have taken steps to make it as easy as possible for these voters to get a voting-only identification card. There are provisions in place for those who don’t have access to the necessary documents, such as the elderly or homeless. These voters typically vote Democratic, so some see this as a Republican effort to put Pennsylvania into play for the Republicans.
The narrative being sold in political ads and from conservative commentators is that the Obama Administration is seeking to limit the voting rights of the military. Unlike the claims from the proponents of the Pennsylvania law, this has absolutely no basis in fact. The lawsuit filed by the Justice Department clearly states that it seeks to restore early voting privileges for all Ohioans. However, this is an effective claim because anyone who has served during an election year knows that the absentee ballot system is broken and often military votes—especially those serving on deployment—often go uncounted.
Considering how large of an undertaking it is to coordinate national voting, it is surprising how little voter fraud actually happens. Still, rather than passing laws limiting access to voting, the solution might be to instead modernize the absentee voting process and voter registration. The aims of voting reform should serve to expand the vote to as many citizens as possible, not limit access to one of the most basic rights in our democracy.
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