I suffer fairly severely from what psychologists call “empathic embarrassment”: I find it agonising to the point of physical discomfort to watch other people making fools of themselves. Sacha Baron Cohen’s Borat often had me writhing and cringing on behalf of his victims – even, troublingly, when his victims were spouting horrible bigotry. I’m really not proud of this. It’s an annoying problem. And lately, it’s been particularly disconcerting to find that the person prompting me to cover my face with my hands is the notorious “conservative provocateur” James O’Keefe III. O’Keefe, of course, is the rightwing prankster who helped bring down Acorn and was then convicted in connection with a sting at the offices of Louisana Senator Mary Landrieu. But with the significant exception of the ambush of Acorn, there’s something epic – almost worthy of awed respect, if it didn’t make me cringe so much – about how astonishingly inept he is at “punking” the liberals he despises.
“Am I registered to vote?” “Where is my polling place?” “What’s on my ballot?” These are common questions voters routinely ask before heading to the polls and casting their ballots. But easily finding answers to these questions depends, to a large extent, on whether their state election agencies are providing information and tools on their websites.
To determine how well states are helping voters prepare to vote, in 2010 the Pew Center on the States launched a nationwide assessment of the 50 states and the District of Columbia’s election websites. The assessment was conducted by the California Voter Foundation and the Center for Governmental Studies, two nonprofits with decades of online voter education experience, and the Nielsen Norman Group, evaluating more than 100 detailed criteria based on three categories: content, look-up tools, and usability.
In cities across the state, North Carolinians are going to the polls this week to exercise the most fundamental right of our democracy: the right to vote. The underlying principle of our democracy is that we are all equal in the voting booth: black or white, young or old, rich or poor. When we cast our ballot, we all raise an equal voice to determine the shape of our government.
Sadly, some North Carolina legislators seem determined to reduce the chorus of voices that will be heard in the 2012 elections. Earlier this year, the General Assembly passed an onerous bill to make voters show a government photo ID when they vote. It may seem like a common-sense requirement, but more people than you may imagine don’t drive or have a photo ID — and they are disproportionately people of color, the elderly, low-income citizens, women who change their names and the young. For example, a match-up of motor vehicle and election databases shows that while African Americans are 22 percent of N.C. registered voters, they are 32 percent of the roughly 500,000 registered voters without a state-issued ID.
A healthy civic society requires protecting citizens’ fundamental right to vote while ensuring the integrity of our electoral system. Sadly, this goal is being jeopardized by a coordinated, nationwide effort to enact voter ID laws that will not solve the challenges facing our electoral systems and will instead disenfranchise voters and infringe upon the fundamental American right to free and fair elections.
Proponents of voter ID laws claim that they will reduce fraud. We agree that preventing voter fraud is extremely important. That is why dozens of states and the federal government have created safeguards to ensure voter integrity and passed laws imposing stiff penalties on individuals who commit voter fraud. We should vigorously enforce those laws.
However, it is a grave mistake and a waste of precious resources to enact voter ID laws that target only one extremely rare type of voter fraud — Election Day polling place impersonations — and leave in their wake millions of disenfranchised voters.
The partisan battle over a voter ID bill didn’t end when Republican legislators failed to override a veto by Democratic Gov. Bev Perdue. The bill is still alive in a House committee, thanks to a deft and perfectly legitimate parliamentary maneuver by the majority leader, Rep. Paul Stam. It can be brought up for another override attempt anytime before the 2011-12 General Assembly session adjourns next year. It could happen when legislators return to Raleigh for a few days next month.
An override requires a three-fifths vote of members present, so the time to return a measure to the floor is when several opponents are absent. Democrats should take that as a warning against letting down their guard. News & Record Raleigh reporter Mark Binker also noted rumors that Republicans might try to pass voter ID requirements through a series of local bills, each one applying to a specific jurisdiction. The governor can’t veto local bills.
The arrest warrants for nine people in Wake County charged with felonies for voting twice in the 2008 election were barely dry when the state Republican Party came to its fanciful conclusion that its stymied campaign for requiring photo identification of all voters would have thwarted these people. The problem is, it wouldn’t have.
Wake District Attorney Colon Willoughby (yes, a Democrat) says voter IDs would have made no difference in these cases. This was about people voting twice, perhaps by absentee and then at the polls. And it should be noted that nine people were charged, and that’s out of a huge 2008 turnout. There were more voter fraud cases statewide than usual in that year, more than 200, out of over 4 million votes cast.
Which is to say, nine is not many, and there probably would have been nine with or without voter ID.