In the politically polarized climate of today, bad state laws come in parallel, descending on us all at once, while good or better state laws germinate in a more serial fashion, vetted through the crucible of experience and politics, sometimes one state at a time and often beginning with California (proposition 23). At least that used to be the case. Any time you see odious, right-wing movements, like the Voter-ID laws that have sprung up like a new invasive weed, you can safely assume that ALEC (American Legislative Exchange Council) had something to do with their creation. ALEC is an organization that gets 98% of its resources from corporate lobbying groups: they tailor the same bill for each state and in that way form a kind of national parallel legislative conspiracy–a real one–they attempt to unify the country through rigid, simultaneous right-wing laws that further tip the political scale towards their capitalist, neoliberal objectives. Using ALEC as a resource, right-wing legislators don’t even have to draft bills on their own, because ALEC provides them with a bill template that can presented and passed with little modification. I have written about ALEC previously, including a brief description of their assault on creating and passing laws to deny voters rights. But the origin of the push for photo-ID as a requirement for voting has an insidious, almost incomprehensible origin–all from the right of course.
Lou Dubose, writing in The Washington Spectator has reported on how Voter-ID laws got started. The origin of this idea came from Mark “Thor” Hearne, a lawyer who had worked for the Bush-Cheney political campaign. Hearne founded the American Center for Voting Rights. This center produced a 72 page report entitled “Vote Fraud, Intimidation & Suppression in the 2004 Presidential Election.” The document was submitted to a House committee chaired by Ohio Congressman Bob Ney (who later went to prison over the Jack Abramoff scandal). The report did not include any documented examples of voter fraud, yet it recommended that states should adopt government issued photo-ID at the polls and for any voter seeking to vote by mail or through an absentee ballot. The Center soon closed its doors and Hearne returned to private practice. Hearne’s report had a much longer shelf live than that of his American Center for Voting Rights. Wall Street Journal columnist John Fund and Heritage Foundation Fellow Hans von Spakovsky began promoting photo-ID as an essential state protection against the undocumented cases of voter fraud. Republican state party officers began promoting photo-ID laws to defend against voter fraud, without providing evidence that this was a problem. In 2009 ALEC drafted a model legislative bill that would serve as a template for Republican legislators to bring such bills into legislative reality. By 2011, Republicans in 38 states introduced legislation that would make state-approved photo-ID cards a requirement to vote. Seven states signed such bills into law, including Alabama, Florida, Kansas, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Texas and Wisconsin. These laws were assembled on the fast track–no state required photo-ID had existed before 2006. In the election of 2012, the states which have implemented photo-ID laws for voting will provide 171 electoral votes, 63 percent of what is needed to win the Presidency. How pervasive is voter fraud? A Loyola Law School professor (Justin Levitt) who works with the Brennan Center for Justice has gathered evidence on polling place voter fraud. As he says “I keep an open door” “I think I’m up to 11 or 12 possible attempts that people have pointed to across the country since 2000. During that time about 400 million ballots have been caste in the general elections. It does not sound like voter fraud at the polls is a major problem, but note that the historic origins of this issue were created by fiction working inside a bubble. Evicence-based legislative action has never been the strength of the modern Republican party. As you can imagine, most of these bills were passed in states where Republicans had control of state houses and the governorship–the trifecta for quickly getting conservative bills passed. The one exception to this general rule was Rhode Island who passed their voter-ID law with a Democratic legislature.
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