The Fraud of Voter Fraud



Jane Mayer's article on the invention of the voter-fraud myth is required reading as we go into the last day's of the election. Mayer zeroes in on Hans von Spakovsky, a legal fellow at the Heritage Foundation who has been instrumental in turning gossamer, rumor and myth into state-level election law:

Von Spakovsky offered me the names of two experts who, he said, would confirm that voter-impersonation fraud posed a significant peril: Robert Pastor, the director of the Center for Democracy and Election Management, at American University, and Larry Sabato, a political-science professor at the University of Virginia. Pastor, von Spakovsky noted, had spoken to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights about being a victim of election fraud: voting in Georgia, he discovered that someone else had already voted under his name. When I reached Pastor, he clarified what had happened to him. "I think they just mistakenly checked my name when my son voted -- it was just a mistake." 

He added, "I don't think that voter-impersonation fraud is a serious problem." Pastor believes that, compared with other democracies, America is "somewhere near the bottom in election administration," and thinks that voter I.D.s make sense -- but only if they are free and easily available to all, which, he points out, is not what Republican legislatures have proposed. Sabato, who supports the use of voter I.D.s under the same basic conditions, says of the voter-impersonation question, "One fraudulent vote is one too many, but my sense is that it's relatively rare today." 
I bold that portion because it points to an obvious bipartisan compromise. I think we can all agree that we want people who vote to actually be who they say they are, much as we don't want people opening bank accounts under a false name. But unlike opening a bank account, voting is an actual right of American citizenship. Moreover, recent American past is littered with attempts to infringe upon that right. There are millions of people alive today whose early lives were marked by violent attempts to infringe upon their right. This is not something that happened in your great-great grandfather's time. It's something that happened in your mother's time. 

And so understanding that we have an interest in people voting under their actual name, and understanding that we have a history of using all means to make sure certain people don't vote, the logical thing to do is to make voter ID free and accessible to everyone. 

That is not what's actually happening.
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Ta-Nehisi Coates is a national correspondent at The Atlantic, where he writes about culture, politics, and social issues. He is the author of the memoir The Beautiful Struggle.

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