Blog on the Run: Reloaded

Thursday, March 8, 2012 8:05 pm

Citizens United and this other thing; or, How to steal an election

This short post by Charlie Pierce at Esquire on a World War II veteran who was denied the right to vote on Tuesday because elections officials refused his government issued Department of Veterans Affairs card is a model of providing context, a key function that journalists now more or less refuse to do because it’s hard and they might get called a bad name or something:

As the election year goes on, these kind of stories are going to become a staple of campaign coverage, like watching the candidates try to eat corn dogs in Iowa, flip pancakes in New Hampshire, and pretend to care about baseball in Florida. There is going to be a story like this in every media market. Some ambitious young reporter is going to be assigned to the Old Guy Who Voted In Every Election Since FDR But Who Couldn’t Vote This Time Because Of The New Law beat. There will be pathos. There will be drama. But the fundamental fact that these laws are an organized national assault on the right of the people to elect their own leaders, because sometimes the people elect leadersof whom the rat******s of the organized right do not approve, like Kenyan Muslim Usurpers Of The Alinsky Underground, will get lost in all the pathos and drama. These people will be treated as sob stories, not cautionary tales. They will be used as background election-day “color.” They will be depicted as individual figures of pity and not of what they are: American citizens cheated out of the most precious right they have by a nationwide conspiracy to defraud. See the trees. See the forest, too.

A small quibble: I don’t think it’s “conspiracy to defraud” so much as “conspiracy against rights” as defined in Title 18, Section 241 of the U.S. Code:

If two or more persons conspire to injure, oppress, threaten, or intimidate any person in any State, Territory, Commonwealth, Possession, or District in the free exercise or enjoyment of any right or privilege secured to him by the Constitution or laws of the United States, or because of his having so exercised the same;…

They shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than ten years, or both; and if death results from the acts committed in violation of this section or if such acts include kidnapping or an attempt to kidnap, aggravated sexual abuse or an attempt to commit aggravated sexual abuse, or an attempt to kill, they shall be fined under this title or imprisoned for any term of years or for life, or both, or may be sentenced to death.

I think “oppress” covers what’s going on here, and given emails that already have been made public, there’s no lack of evidence.

Now, back to Pierce. There are, in order of increasing degree of difficulty, three types of hard-news stories.

There is the event story, such as that of our unfortunate voter.

There is the pattern story, which would note a confluence of similar events.

And, finally, there is the system story, which explains what gives rise to these patterns.

In one reasonably short paragraph, Pierce illustrates how this works. (I won’t say “shows how it’s done” because he makes assertions that, while provable, are not documented in this short blog post.)

The Republicans, given a clown car full of big red noses at the top of the ticket and a nearly unbroken string of losing issues from their economic plans to their drumbeats for war with Iran to their unconscionable defense of Rush Limbaugh to their attempts to ban contraception and shrink government enough to turn it into a transvaginal probe, know that there are only two ways to win in November: outspend their opponents overwhelmingly via the mechanisms made possible by Citizens United v. FEC, and keeping the other side from being able to vote. And if you have to break a few state and federal laws to do it, well, screw the Constitution, we’ve got an election to win.

There have been some encouraging developments along this front, but this was is not over and the good guys — by which I mean the people who believe that every eligible American citizen who wishes to vote should be enabled to do so and not frustrated by government efforts — will not stop.

Let me offer one last bit of systems reporting, or analysis of other people’s reporting, bringing in a topic that might appear mostly unrelated.

There has been a movement afoot among some conservatives lately to repeal the 1965 Voting Rights Act, which was enacted to ensure that states that had been the most egregious offenders against minorities in the Jim Crow era didn’t act with respect to voting and elections in ways that would unduly burden minorities. One attractive argument for repeal is that we’re now in a “post-racial era” in which the sins of Jim Crow have been expunged.

But as the effort to enact photo-ID requirements for voting gains steam, it is clear that Jim Crow has not left the building: Racial and ethnic minorities are disproportionately less able to obtain photo ID of the type some states are requiring, and requiring people to pay for. (So are the very old, the very young, the disabled, those who do not or cannot drive, ex-offenders who have had their citizenship rights restored, and other groups, all of whom share a tendency to vote disproportionately for Democrats.) Not only does requiring people to pay to get ID suitable for voting violate Supreme Court rulings banning poll taxes, it also violates the Voting Rights Act, which bans not only the intent to discriminate against minorities, but even measures that have the unintended effect of disproportionately harming minorities.

That’s why Republicans, particularly, want to repeal the Voting Rights Act: Repeal would allow them to use the most potent weapon they have to suppress the votes of people who are unlikely to vote for them. They know damn well that racism hasn’t gone away, but that’s almost beside the point. The point is that they’re trying to prevent people from voting who almost certainly will vote against them. (The claim that voting fraud is a substantial problem in the real world, for which photo ID is a practical solution, is a canard. In the real world, vote fraud is vanishingly rare, in part because of the enormous personal risk relative to the reward.)

When people engage in this kind of behavior in almost any other realm, we call it cheating. In elections, we call it a federal felony and assign a significant, meaningful punishment. It’s long past time we started punishing people.

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