Commentary: Voter fraud vs. voter rights

We hear rhetoric about Republican respect for the Constitution and the voting process. Patriotic cries of “one man, one vote” and of honoring the principles stated by the Founding Fathers are intoned by Republicans. However, they are dishonest on issues regarding the laws as they are practiced. Why not honor the document they claim to defend? What about the principles of the Founding Fathers that Republicans profess to hold dear above all else? Disenfranchisement of voters is counter to promotion of the common good. In a recent study, the Brennan Center for Justice states that “we must be careful not to undermine free and fair access to the ballot in the name of preventing voter fraud.” The actual incidences of voter fraud are amounts too insignificant to influence elections, and are often voter mistakes. Republicans wield a tactic that is in search of a problem.

How do we resolve the fact that Republicans tend to observe constitutional principles when it serves their purpose? When it is necessary to hold established processes hostage to obtain your results, when compromise becomes impossible, then it is time to carefully inspect these ideas, and hold them up in the light of day to see their results.

Here are several cases where Republicans diverge from the ideals they profess.

Voting is a citizen’s opportunity to express his will by casting a vote for his representatives. We hear a great deal about the sanctity of the voting process, and ensuring that nothing interferes with the process as it was handed down to us. In vogue now is the concern that every voter possesses valid identification. We see states that allow open carry licenses for guns but not student identification as valid voter ids. We see citizens who have voted for decades suddenly being turned away from the polls. There are voters who have no driver’s license or other picture identification being forced to great efforts and expense to procure a proper I.D.

Some states are removing polling sites or reducing hours in poorer neighborhoods, where time constraints like multiple jobs or lack of transportation increases the difficulty for voters. Trump is calling for poll watchers, with the potential for intimidation. In Pennsylvania, it is easy to disrupt voting by challenging voter eligibility. Hundreds of University of Pittsburgh students waited to vote in 2004, due to attorneys for the Republican Party who challenged young voters. According to an article in Politico on Oct. 3, they were legally acting as poll watchers.

Another discouraging practice is the existence of gerrymandering. Redrawing district lines has a long history, but after the 2008 election, which produced a Democratic president, reinforced the Democratic majority in the Senate, and a majority in the House of Representatives, the Republicans hit on a daring scheme. Since 2010 was a census year, they developed a strategy in the states where the state legislature drew the district lines. By using the 2010 census and voting data, state legislators redrew district lines to be more favorable to their interests. The result in 2012 was a turnover of nearly 700 state-level seats throughout the country. The consequence is a lock on the House of Representatives. In 2012, Democratic candidates received 1.4 million votes more than Republicans nationwide, but ended up in the minority. This was an organized strategy orchestrated nationwide to pack voters into districts favorable to the Republicans. While legal, it is counter to the spirit of democracy and as a result there is deadlock in Congress and a paralyzed government. We see many incumbent congressmen running unopposed, so that even if a state votes Democratic in its statewide contests for presidents, senators and governors, the congressional races are not in doubt.

Is it coincidence that in Indiana, whose governor, Mike Pence, is the vice presidential candidate on the Republican ticket, 45,000 voter registrations were suddenly challenged by state officials? These registrations were largely African-American applicants, and may be delayed so long that these citizens lose their right to vote. Certainly, it would be embarrassing for Pence to lose the vote in his state, and surely would not help a future presidential run.

Why do we tolerate attacks on the voter? Do Republicans feel they have the privilege to deny other’s rights in order to promote their agenda? If the ideals stated in the Constitution are to promote free speech and encourage citizen involvement, shouldn’t we enable citizens to participate in our democracy, rather than discourage them with unnecessary barriers?

Steve Foreman is a Warren County resident.