MSNBC's rooting interest in the Texas gubernatorial race and the Lean Forward network's loathing of voter ID laws came together Monday in a hit piece on Republican gubernatorial nominee Greg Abbott.
MSNBC.com scribe Zachary Roth sharpened his pen to attack the Texas attorney general's "bogus voter fraud crusade." Essentially Roth whined that because there were only a handful of cases of potential voter fraud which Abbott's office was able to document for the network that the state's tightening of ID requirements at the polling stations were an empty gesture at best, and, you guessed it, racially-motivated at worst (emphasis mine)
The struggle over access to voting is already playing a major role in the governor’s race, where Abbott, a Republican, is favored over state Sen. Wendy Davis, a Democrat, this fall. On the campaign trail, Abbott’s pledge to fight to the death over voter ID is among his top applause lines. Democrats fret that, if left to stand, the law could make it far harder for low-income and minority Texans to cast ballots. Meanwhile, a group of national Democratic operatives supporting Davis is working to register large numbers of new voters—while Republicans and their allies put obstacles in their path.
Texas’s voter ID law, passed in 2011, was blocked the following year under the Voting Rights Act (VRA) by a federal court, which found that it discriminated against minorities, who are more likely to lack ID. But hours after the Supreme Court weakened the VRA, Abbott announced that the law was back in effect. It’s now being challenged by the U.S. Justice Department under a different part of the VRA.
Abbott has been highlighting the threat of voter fraud for far longer. In 2006—just as national Republicans weregearing up an effort to stoke fears about voter fraud—the attorney general announced a $1.5 million effort to root out and prosecute it. “In Texas, an epidemic of voter fraud is harming the electoral process,” Abbott wrote in an op-ed, warning that fraud was happening “on a large scale.”
As he runs for governor, Abbott is still hyping the threat of voter fraud—though he no longer calls it an epidemic.
Granted, it is fair to highlight and criticize a politician for exuberant rhetoric, but that alone does not seem to be MSNBC's aim. Regardless of how prevalent voter fraud is, prophylactic measures to prevent FUTURE fraud are legitimate policy measures for state governments to pursue. What's more, while there may be only a handful of cases in the past 13 years that progressed far enough in an investigation to strongly suggest if not prove voter fraud, that by no means suggests that every instance of voter fraud in the past few years has in fact gone detected and documented. There are plenty of crimes which occur on a daily basis a large number of which are never reported, much less investigated.
What's more, in instances where an election was not substantially close but the losing party has suspicions of voter fraud, investigations into the same would not have generated a change in the electoral outcome and, accordingly, may not have been pursued.
Roth complains that Abbott is off-base in supporting voter ID laws because:
[E]lection experts say absentee ballot fraud is the most common form of organized voter fraud, since, because of the secret ballot, there’s no way to ensure that an in-person voter is voting for the candidate he promised to. That’s why voter ID laws are an ineffective tool for catching the small amount of fraud that exists.
Of course, in-person balloting is similarly done via secret ballot, which is all the more reason why it's important to prevent someone fraudulently voting in person when claiming to be another individual.
Suppose it's 7:30 a.m. on election day and a Joe Jones fraudulently obtains a ballot intended for a Sam Smith, who has not yet voted. The precinct worker crosses Sam Smith off the rolls as having voted, and Joe Jones votes a secret ballot which, of course, cannot be un-voted. Later in the day, Sam Smith comes in to vote after work only to find his name has already been crossed off the voter roll. The best case scenario is that Mr. Smith will get and mark up a provisional ballot, which may not be counted when all is said and done, while Jones's fraudulently-cast ballot will most certainly be counted.
In the final analysis, this may not swing the election held that day, but in a real sense, Smith was disenfranchised and Jones was able to cast a vote which he was not entitled by law to cast.
What's more, if MSNBC were serious about finding solutions to voter fraud, writers like Roth might suggest voter security fixes which Abbott, et al, could pursue, like perhaps ensuring that absentee-voting citizens include a photocopy of a valid government-issued ID which election officials could check against state databases before clearing said individual's ballot to be counted towards the official vote tally.
If the MSNBC network really cared about the public policy issues in play, they could give viewers and website readers a thorough exploration of the pros and cons of voter ID laws. But alas, the aim is not illumination but excitation: whipping up the Democratic Party base in an election year to fear and loathe the GOP, all in service of protecting Democrats from an electoral bloodletting.