So we’re heading into another recount, which means months (potentially) of arguing over voter intent on spoiled ballots, proper procedure for handling absentee ballots - and of course, allegations of voter fraud.
Late October, Hennepin County announced that it would charge 47 individuals with voter fraud, stemming from the 2008 election. Of these cases, 43 are cases against ineligible felons and 4 are cases of double voting. There were no cases of non-citizens illegally casting ballots. The organization that brought this issue to the attention of the County Attorney’s Office, Minnesota Majority, originally presented a list of over 1,250 potentially fraudulent voters, 800 of which were supposed felons. The organization also sent lists to St. Louis County and Crow County, and believes that the low number of actual charges is partially due to the failure of probation offices to get signatures from felons testifying that they understand they are ineligible to vote.
In terms of the 2010 election, Minnesota Majority currently has a video displayed on its homepage challenging the absentee votes of anywhere from 24 to 200 plus mentally handicapped persons. The video is interesting because it does not allege voting fraud by the usual suspects (felons and non-citizens), but by healthcare workers directing vulnerable adults under their supervision to vote for DFL candidates. The county election official in the video makes it a point to explain that a poll challenger must have personal knowledge that a person is ineligible to vote, and that a person’s vote cannot be excluded based solely on perceptions.
This conversation about perceptions is a huge piece of the voter fraud argument. The county official and the challengers seem to agree (if only momentarily) that we cannot determine a person’s level of incapacitation based on our observations of how they move or talk. Likewise, we cannot determine that a person is a felon based on the clothing that they wear or the color of their skin, nor can we determine that a person is a non-citizen based on the fact that they are speaking in Spanish.
I will say that if the actions suggested by this video were carried out as presented, they ought to be condemned by both Republicans and Democrats. During election seasons, our fears and emotions run high. Campaign ads do a wonderful job of demonizing the enemy, making all of their actions seem underhanded and suspect. As a result we are more likely to attribute mal intent to misunderstood behaviors carried out by the other party. We are more likely to brush off bad behaviors carried out by our own. And all across the board our reactions and alliances tend to line up with party affiliation, rather than a neutral analysis of the facts.
With the election over, and the attack ads stopped, it’s important to try to get out of that “us v. them” mentality, and to see the ‘other’ as they truly are, neighbors legitimately disagreeing with us. It’s also important to keep in mind that, whatever party you align yourself with, a fair and impartial election is far more valuable than any 20 – 200 illegitimate votes you can squeeze in for a favored candidate.
Speaking of voter fraud, however, I do want to draw some attention to an important anniversary in illegal voting that took place recently.
It was on November 5, 1872 that Susan B. Anthony and 7 or 8 other women illegally voted in Rochester, New York’s 8th ward. Anthony successfully bullied the voting registrars into allowing her to register, citing the recently passed 14th amendment granting born or naturalized citizens the right to vote. She voted the Republican ticket, who had been sympathetic to the issue of women’s suffrage. She was later arrested, tried and convicted. She was not allowed to testify in her own defense, nor was the jury allowed to deliberate. She was sentenced to pay a fine of $100 plus the cost of prosecution, to which she responded “May it please your honor, I will never pay a dollar of your unjust penalty.” The 19th Amendment wasn’t passed until almost 50 years later.
I allude to this particular case not to make light of any attempts to circumvent voting law, but as a reminder of what we are taking away when we deprive an individual, through law, voter intimidation, misinformation or otherwise, of the right to participate in the democracy under which they live.