Columns

Corvese ’15: Afraid of fraud

By
Opinions Columnist
Wednesday, October 3, 2012

In April, Rhode Island held its presidential primary, in which new laws required voters to bring photo identification to polling booths. At the beginning of September, Democratic congressional nominee Anthony Gemma accused opponent Rep. David Cicilline, D-R.I., of committing voter fraud. And just a few days later, Rhode Island held its state primary, when once again, voters had to arrive with valid identification in hand.

All of this falls against the national backdrop of newly legislated voter identification laws, intended to prevent alleged “voter fraud” and ensure that all votes are from actual American citizens.

But is voter fraud the problem that many politicians think it is? The statistics say otherwise. Allegedly 2,068 incidents of voter fraud have occurred since the year 2000 – out of millions of votes that have been cast in the past decade. And out of these 2,068, 10 cases of voter impersonation were recorded. The most recent voter fraud scandal seen in Florida is not an issue of any sort of impersonation or voter deceit, but of fraudulent activity performed by a voter registration contractor rather than the voters themselves. Despite this low incidence of voter fraud, some legislators are still pushing for laws that require voters to prove their identities.

The argument for voter identification laws is inherently well-intentioned. Votes should only be cast by American citizens. But deliberately disenfranchising entire groups of people is an act of discrimination that in no way justifies this legislation. These laws are comparable to Jim Crow laws in preventing many Americans from practicing one of this nation’s most fundamental rights: the right to elect those in office.

Who is restricted by these laws? Those who have difficulty obtaining these documents of identification, which can cost upwards of $100 in some states. Plus, some may not have adequate transportation to get to places that offer them. In fact, 11 percent of eligible American voters do not have valid forms of identification. This 11 percent largely contains minorities, the elderly and the economically disadvantaged. What if a young black man who just so happens to be a member of this 11 percent wants to vote but cannot? And why should someone working a minimum-wage job who can afford little more than rent and food be restricted from voting?

Explicitly preventing specific Americans from voting is illegal under federal law. That is why these state voter identification laws exist – to give a more legitimate sounding name to discrimination. The laws do not single out certain groups, they simply impose regulations that just so happen to cause disenfranchisement of disadvantaged groups. And due to this lack of specificity, the federal government cannot punish a state for its regulations. We should not stand for these manipulative regulations. They are not protective, but restrictive. They do not uphold federal law. Rather, they tiptoe around it.

The state of Rhode Island did make an effort to provide free voter IDs to those who did not have state identification. Rhode Island’s Secretary of State predicted that 15,000 people would pick up their IDs at sites such as senior centers and heritage fairs. But only 688 were issued. Rhode Island’s effort on this part was fair: It attempted to accommodate groups that may have had difficulty getting photo identification by other means. But accommodation should not mean making an effort to get those in need their identification. It should mean providing citizens the right to vote without needless discrimination. The issuing of 688 out of 15,000 predicted IDs – a miniscule five percent – demonstrates that voting is turning into a burden rather than an accessible right.

Gemma’s claim that Cicilline committed voter fraud was ultimately found to be baseless. He refused to reveal his sources, instead resorting to outrageous attacks at Cicilline – who ended up winning the Sept. 11 primary. Rather than showing the public Cicilline’s alleged villainy, Gemma spread McCarthy-esque fear of this virtually non-existent “voter fraud.” Attitudes like Gemma’s will unfortunately only go on to further promote the unnecessary hysteria over voter fraud, and worries about voter fraud will only fuel legislators that support the ridiculous voter identification laws.

In this coming presidential election, many of us will cast absentee ballots to vote in our home state. Many Rhode Island residents will vote here. But just because we are able to vote does not mean we should stand for discrimination elsewhere. The American voting system should remain credible but not through means of discrimination. 

Over the course of our nation’s history, many have fought valiantly for suffrage for previously disenfranchised groups. Supporting these discriminatory voter ID laws is a step backward into a much uglier time.

 

 

Gabriella Corvese ’15 wishes she had a better picture of herself on her ID. She can be reached at gabriella_corvese@brown.edu.