In 2014 the outcome of a tight midterm race in Colorado was going to determine which party controlled the U.S. Senate.
But the national spotlight wasn’t on the senatorial candidates.
It was on a controversial election law passed the previous year by the new Democratic majority in the state legislator. The new election law was promoted as a way to modernize elections and increase voter turnout. Those that opposed the changes said the law was fixing a system that wasn’t broke, inviting voter fraud.
The National Review reported, the law made Colorado the only state in the union to combine two radical changes: 1) It required clerks to mail ballots to all registered voters and switched from precinct voting locations to county-wide collection points. 2) It established same-day registration, which allowed a person to appear at a government office and register and vote on the same day without showing a photo ID or any other verifiable evidence that established identity. (Other jurisdictions with same-day registrations treated the vote as a provisional ballot pending verification, Colorado immediately counted the vote.)
Colorado’s Secretary of State, a Republican, and the “liberal” Denver Post opposed the passage of the new election law. Their concern was, mail-in ballots would be ripe for abuse because “ballot harvesters” are allowed to go door-to-door and collect up to 10 ballots with no effective enforcement if they collect more, alter, or deliver them. The Secretary of State said he hoped his fears would be unwarranted and concluded, “Colorado didn’t need these changes. We had one of the highest of all voter turnouts, and people could register everywhere, from online sites to the DMV. We can make it easy to vote and tough to cheat, but the law here now makes it impossible to maintain a healthy balance in both areas.”
Two years later, 2016, President-Elect Donald Trump claimed he lost the popular vote because of rampant voter fraud. Democrats, media pundits, and fact-checkers said Trump’s accusations were unsubstantiated. The Denver Post ran this headline: Voter fraud in Colorado is extremely rare. The Post reported, “Between Jan. 2012 and Nov. 2016 there were 32 charges of various voting offenses. These resulted in four convictions.” (Here rarity is based on low numbers convicted, but would you say police shootings are rare because of low conviction rates of officers?)
Recently, in Georgia, a federal lawsuit was filed by a coalition of civil rights groups. The coalition claimed a new law implemented by Georgia Secretary of State Brian Kemp, who is also the GOP’s gubernatorial candidate, put 53,000 new voter registration applications on hold, because the registration forms didn’t exactly match data on file with government agencies. (For example, under this law a missed hyphen, if Wells-Barnett was written Wells Barnett, it would be placed on hold.)
The civil rights groups called the law discriminatory, 80 percent of the applicants pending were from African Americans, Latinos, and Asian Americans, and only 9.8 percent were from Whites.
Georgia’s Democratic gubernatorial candidate, Stacey Abrams, who could become the nation’s first Black female governor, insisted that her opponent resign from his position as Secretary of State to avoid this conflict of interest, but now Abrams is accusing the Secretary of State’s office of voter suppression.
Kemp’s spokesperson said, “They are faking outrage to drive voters to the polls. The 53,000 pending voters can cast a ballot just like any other Georgia voter.” They just won’t be able to cast a ballot by mail and they must show up at the polls with a voter ID.
In America’s two-party-system every voter picks their poison and every election law has side effects. The problem is partisans can spot the infection of their rivals, but deny the spreading of their own virus.
(J. Pharaoh Doss is a contributor to the New Pittsburgh Courier.)
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