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Republicans are pushing efforts to crack down on voter fraud, but others say the problem is extremely rare. Debate over the scope of voter fraud and what’s being done to prevent it.
- Jane Mayer staff writer at The New Yorker and author of "The Dark Side: The Inside Story of How the War on Terror Turned Into a War on American Ideals."
MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. Since the beginning of last year, 41 states have introduced nearly 200 new laws to restrict voting. And a group associated with the United Nations plans to send 44 European observers to the U.S. on Election Day. Their task is to monitor voting to prevent voter intimidation at the polls.
MS. DIANE REHMJoining me to talk about the extent of voter intimidation and fraud in the 2012 election, Jane Mayer of The New Yorker. Her article, "The Voter-Fraud Myth," is featured in the most recent edition of the magazine. I hope you'll join us with your own thoughts, your comments, questions. Call us on 800-433-8850. Send us your email to email@example.com. Follow us on Facebook or Twitter. Jane, it's good to see you again.
MS. JANE MAYERGreat to be with you.
REHMJane, explain the title of your piece, "The Voter-Fraud Myth."
MAYERWell, I guess I should explain a little bit about how I came to this subject, which was that I got pitched the story by a publicist for a book called "Who's Counting?," which was written by two experts on voter fraud, John Fund and Hans von Spakovsky. And I read the book, and it was alarming. And it made you think that America was facing some kind of terrible voter fraud crisis across the country and that our elections are filled with dishonesty and possibly, you know, coming out with wrong results in elections because of the fraud that was involved in it.
MAYERSo I followed up on the book. I got interviews with the authors, and I started looking into it. And what I found was that this alarmism was really misplaced. And many of their instances of, you know, voter fraud, especially the kind that involves voter ID fraud, just plain melted upon close examination. And then I spoke with lots of less partisan experts because both von Spakovsky and John Fund are conservative advocates, basically, and very much aligned with the Republican side.
MAYERAnd I started calling up experts and asking them for more details. And what you find out is there is almost no voter ID fraud on record in this country. We have this outbreak of laws to curb it all across the country, but we don't actually have any instances to speak of of voter ID fraud across this country. I think that, you know, to give you some statistics, there is a news organization called News21, which is a kind of an investigative reporting organization.
MAYERThey went through all of the records from all the state prosecutions and local prosecutions and federal prosecutions in the country. And going back to 2000, they found exactly seven instances where impersonation fraud in voting was convicted. You know, and what somebody like von Spakovsky, who I profile in the story, would say is, well, we don't have the tools in place to catch it. But, in fact, he was at the Justice Department during the Bush administration, and this issue was made a top priority of the Bush administration.
MAYERAnd despite the fact that they elevated it in attention and they've made a nationwide crackdown on it, according to The New York Times, in 2007, after five years of this crackdown, there were 86 cases of any kind of voter fraud in the entire country. There were many more cases of violations of migratory bird statutes than there were of voter ID fraud.
REHMJane Mayer of The New Yorker magazine. I should say, here, we've done several programs on voter ID and voter fraud. We've had Hans von Spakovsky on this program at least four times. So I was particularly interested, Jane, when I saw your article titled "The Voter-Fraud Myth." So where are these concerns about voter fraud coming from?
MAYERWell, I mean, it's a question of almost how far you want to go back in American history. But there is a long history here, which, really, if you want to be a historian, you go back to the reconstruction period after the Civil War, and you will find that, as soon as there was enfranchisement of black voters, there have been cries from the other side saying this is going to open the door to fraud. And there has been, historically, fraud of various kinds in this country.
MAYERLet's not -- you know, I don't want to sweep it under the rug and say that we have a completely perfect record on this subject. But basically, in the more recent history, what's happened is in 1993, Bill Clinton passed -- signed a bill that Congress had passed that was -- that's known as the motor-voter bill, which really widened enfranchisement, made it much easier for people to register to vote. That was the aim of the bill. It allows people when they're just getting a driver's license to also sign up to become registered to vote.
MAYERAnd as soon as that happened, Hans von Spakovsky and other conservatives started to, basically, militate against it saying this is going to open the door to fraud. So every time enfranchisement opens up, there is this pushback. And frequently, I mean, you really need to understand the history. Why do they want to do this motor-voter bill?
MAYERWell, according to many people involved in the civil rights movement, over the years, even up through the '80s, there were many complaints by minority voters that the way that they had to register before that bill passed was to go to a county clerk's office and sign up to vote and get registered. And there were a lot of games being played according to the civil rights people who were complaining about, which was a black voter would show up and the county clerk would say, I'm sorry, but the office hours are closed.
MAYERIt was intimidating to people to sign up that way, especially in the South. And so there was a history here of grievance and particularly of racial grievance, and it was seen as something that was meant to try to just lower the barriers so that we could have wider enfranchisement because as everyone knows, the statistics on who votes in the country is -- it's so much shameful. It's -- we have very low turnout in this country.
REHMSo what do you believe that the direct impact of these voter ID laws and voter fraud warnings could have on this upcoming election?
MAYERWell, I mean, this is -- every single aspect of this topic is fraught with partisan anger. So it's really hard for a reporter talking to all sides to know how it's, you know, what's real and what's just sort of political bluster. But there have been studies by the -- for instance, by the Brennan Center, which is a liberal nonprofit organization that's part of NYU Law School, saying that voter ID laws could significantly hurt the turnout among minority voters, older voters and young, particularly student voters.
MAYERBasically, Democratic voter groups because they did a study that showed that 11 percent of the U.S. population of voting age does not have the kinds of strict IDs that some states are requiring at this point, which are…
MAYERThere are a couple of states that are requiring that you have a government-issued photo ID that has an expiration date on it, so such as a driver's license. And there are many, many, many people in this country who say, no sweat, almost everybody has got a driver's license or a government-issued ID with their face on it.
MAYERBut, guess what, it turns out, according to the Brennan Center, that's actually not true, that there were 18 percent of people over the age of 65 do not have those kinds of IDs. That's -- and there are 25 percent of African-Americans, according to that study, that do not have those IDs. Now, I asked Hans von Spakovsky about this, and he pooh-poohed the numbers and said, well, the problem is they -- and he's also written about this -- he has argued that they only are looking at all Americans of voter age, not those who are registered.
MAYERBut, you know, the Brennan Center shot back saying, well, which is more fair? Should we look at all Americans or should we just look at those who are registered? So, again, this is an example of the kind of fights going on. But I think it's pretty clear to say that even though those pushing for these voter ID laws almost invariably say this has nothing to do with partisanship, it has no political agenda here, I think you can say that the groups that will be disadvantaged are basically Democratic-voting groups.
MAYERAnd maybe the ultimate proof of that is what one top Republican said when he thought no one was paying too much attention, or the wider world wouldn't hear it basically, and that's Mike Turzai, who is the Pennsylvania Republican House leader.
REHMAnd let's hear that clip.
REP. MIKE TURZAIVoter ID, which is going to allow Gov. Romney to win the state of Pennsylvania, done.
MAYERThere you have it. Basically when...
REHMThat's quite a stay.
MAYERBehind closed doors, when the Republicans were talking to the Republicans, they're saying this thing is going to deliver a very key swing state. And now, of course, what happened in Pennsylvania is that law, while it was passed by a Republican legislature, has been struck down temporarily by the court because there was no assurance the judge felt that it could be fairly administered without disadvantaging certain voting groups.
REHMJane Mayer, she is a writer about politics for The New Yorker. Her article, "The Voter-Fraud Myth," is featured in the most recent edition of the magazine. Very shortly, we're going to open the phones and allow you to voice your own questions, comments, your concerns. We're also going to be talking about a specific example that Jane Mayer cites in her article. It's the story of Teresa Sharp of Cincinnati, Ohio. Stay with us.
REHMWelcome back. Jane Mayer is with me. She is a writer about politics for The New Yorker magazine. Her article, "The Voter-Fraud Myth," is featured in the most recent issue of the magazine. And just before the break, I mentioned that Jane talks about the story of Teresa Sharp of Cincinnati, Ohio. She's a 53-year-old African-American woman. You talked to her. Jane, what was her story?
MAYERWell, she has voted since she was 18 in every election. She's a Democrat, and she has also lived in the same house she's been in for the last 30 years. And basically what happened was she got a very -- excuse me, worrisome-looking summons in the mail that said someone was challenging her right to vote, and she needed to show up at the county election board in Ohio and defend her right to vote. She could bring a lawyer, and she could bring witnesses.
MAYERAnd she was really alarmed and wanted to know, well, who is challenging my right to vote? So she showed up. And what she found out was there was a sort of self-styled citizens group called the Ohio Voter Integrity Project. It was allied with the national group called True the Vote. There are these groups all over the country right now. And they had sort of flagged her to challenge her because she has -- there are six people registered to vote in her household.
MAYERAnd any household where there are multiple people of, you know, that many voters, the software for this group will flag them and challenge them. And they looked up where she lived, and they made a mistake. They thought that she lived from what they -- this citizens group saw. They thought she was living in a vacant lot. And so she was hauled down there to defend her right to vote.
MAYERShe brought her whole family with her. It was on a Monday morning at 8:30, so she had to get out of her regular, you know, weekday schedule to do this. And she said to the woman who was challenging her, you know, get a life. You know, what makes you think that you have a right to do this and to say that I live in a vacant lot? I've been in this house for 30 years. And this is my family, and we vote.
MAYERAnd, you know, I thought that -- I mean, she basically felt that there was a really strong racial subtext. She felt that African-Americans were being challenged in particular. And the people from the Ohio Voter Integrity Project, which is also part of a Tea Party group, will argue that that's not so, and they can't really tell who's -- what race when they bring them in. But just by looking at households where many people live, you're inevitably going to get more kinds of group houses with students.
MAYERYou're going to get lower-income people. You're going to get extended families, and you may get older people who are, you know, sort of in group houses together. So it's a specific demographic that, I think, is -- that I am told by experts is more likely to be challenged.
REHMBut, Jane, the question becomes, who is funding and who is authorizing these groups to send out such notices? Is the state of Ohio behind this?
MAYERWell, it's -- the state of Ohio has a secretary of state that certainly allows this kind of challenge to take place. That is the law in the state, and he's upheld it. But at the same time, what I was interested in was True the Vote, which is a national group that sprung up in 2009, sort of portrays itself as just kind of a group of amateur citizens who just, you know, were grassroots concerned about -- suddenly about voter fraud after Obama was elected. And they -- at any rate, they are not simply amateurs.
MAYERWhat interested me was they have an advisory board, and on that advisory board is Hans von Spakovsky, who is about as professional as you can get in the subject of, you know, voter fraud alarmism. He's been thinking about this and working in this area since the 1990s. He's now at the Heritage Foundation and -- which is a conservative think tank. He's been in the Justice Department as an official on this subject. And, you know, these are not amateurs.
REHMHe has clearly expressed his concerns on this program, as I've said, at least four times. Here's an email from Luke, who says, "Isn't forcing people to have a state ID, which costs money, to vote a poll tax? If the state were to offer a free ID, I wouldn't have as much of a problem with these new laws."
MAYERWell, you know, it's an interesting point because that's exactly what the court in Georgia found when there was at the first -- really very strict voter ID law requiring these kinds of state-issued photo IDs. The judge struck it down and said, this is a poll tax. This brings us back to the Jim Crow era. And basically if you want to pass muster with most people in this country and most courts, too, you're going to have to try to make these IDs widely available.
MAYERAnd I think many people believe and -- many reasonable people believe that there's nothing wrong with IDs if everybody who wanted to vote, who is a legitimate citizen, could get one in a really easy way, then, sure, it sounds very reasonable. But the issue is that, so far, there are barriers to some people getting these IDs.
REHMTell me about non-citizen voting 'cause there's also concern about that.
MAYERWell, again, you know, this issue of non-citizens voting is a form of ID -- voter ID fraud, and there is just about no record of this. And again, there's -- and there are many fraudulent sort of alarms about it, including, again, another case recently where, in 2010, there were allegations that 50 Somalis had swung an election for the state -- I think it was the state legislature in Kansas City, Miss., and that the Somalis, who, again, Hans von Spakovsky told me they were illegal aliens, had voted.
MAYERWell, it turns out that their citizenship was never even in question. What was in question was whether they -- when they got translators to help them with the ballot, whether they had been issued an oath that you usually take. And a judge looked at it and said the vote was legitimate and that this infraction that was a technicality of their taking this oath should not disenfranchise people.
REHMAt the same time, you talk about voter concerns going all the way back in our history. You point to the impact of President Obama's win in 2008. Why did that have such a major impact on this question of voter ID and voter fraud?
MAYERWell, people that interviewed who are really involved in the sort of the voter rights issue said, in many ways, it was a landmark election. And one reason it was, was for the first time in American history, the turnout among African-American voters almost equaled that of white voters. I think it was -- the African-American turnout was 65 percent and the white turnout was 66 percent.
MAYERAnd according to -- I talked to a woman named Penda Hair, who is at an organization called the Agenda (sic) Project, which has been involved in voting rights for decades. And she said she felt that a number of conservatives looked at that number and freaked out, and there was a feeling of, oh, my God, we better tamp down on this thing. And I don't know -- you know, she's liberal. That's her point of view, but there certainly was, after that election, the outcropping of these self-styled, you know, citizens movements to start policing the vote for fraud.
REHMHere's a tweet, which says, "It seems to me that absentee ballot fraud would be much easier to commit, hard to detect and almost impossible to prove."
MAYERI think absentee ballot fraud, from what I've been told, is actually an issue that is worth giving serious consideration to, which is it has -- it was the subject of a very serious fraud problem in an election that had to be thrown out in Miami. It was a mayoral election. I think it was in 1997, because boxes of absentee ballots were thrown out, and, you know, all kinds of hanky-panky took place.
MAYERAbsentee ballots are much easier to manipulate. And what's interesting to me is, in covering politics of this thing, is that -- is there's not a national movement to try to tamp down on absentee ballot fraud, a kind of fraud that really may be a problem. There is, instead, a national movement to crack down on a kind of voter fraud that actually doesn't exist. So you really have to wonder if there are ulterior motives involved in this.
REHMJim Moran, the congressman from Virginia's son was caught on tape suggesting -- well, I'll let listeners hear for themselves.
MR. PATRICK MORANThere'll be a lot of voter protection. So if they just have, you know, the utility bill or bank statement -- bank statement, obviously, would be tough, but faking a utility bill would be easy enough.
UNIDENTIFIED MANHow would you do that?
MORANI mean, I would just find -- I don't know -- I guess...
MANMicrosoft Word and type it up.
MORANYeah, yeah, something like that.
REHMHe doesn't explicitly say, this is how you can do fraud at the ballot box, but he has resigned his position on his father's staff. So, apparently, it happens on both sides of the aisle, Jane?
MAYERWell, I urge all listeners to listen to the unedited version of that tape. It was made by James O'Keefe, who works for something that he calls the Veritas Project. Let's just state, at the outright, it was a -- you know, dopey of that son of Jim Moran's to have just gone along and kind of, you know, chuckled along with this thing. But let's also say, take a look at that tape. This was a sting that was set up by someone who's trying desperately, all over the country, to prove there's voter ID fraud by actually suborning it.
MAYERHe is -- he's gone to New Hampshire, and now he's gone to Virginia. And as far as I can tell, the only voter ID fraud that anyone's been able to find is that that has been set up and suggested by James O'Keefe.
REHMHmm, interesting. And that's the same group that caught NPR?
MAYERIt is. And, basically, I'd like to say one other thing 'cause I did watch this tape and just as a reporter. Throughout that tape, James O'Keefe describes the person who did this undercover sting as a reporter, and I would like to say I think he's not a reporter. He's a liar. Anybody who puts on a fake ID to try to push somebody into doing something wrong -- put it this way -- they would be fired at The New Yorker. I would never do it. It's unethical. You can't be -- I don't think you can do serious reporting by lying to people.
REHMAnd one final word from the congressman himself. Jim Moran says it would be easier to get out the vote, but he does -- no, this is the son, forgive me -- that it would be easier to get out the vote, but he does go along with the man's suggestion. And you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." We're going to open the phones now, 800-433-8850, to Kara (sp?) in Louisville, Ky. Good morning. You're on the air.
KARAHi. I know that this program has mostly been about voter fraud, so I'm interested in looking at something I've heard about the Romney family buying voter machine -- I mean, voting machines in swing states through Bain Capital. Has your guest heard anything about that? And...
MAYERI -- yeah. I have seen a report on it, and I have also seen what looked to me like a very credible debunking of that report. I -- you know, I would be -- I resist conspiracy theories about such things. You know, I do think American elections need an overhaul and need better equipment all the way around. They need more rational sort of administration all the way around. People who are experts say that they rank near the bottom of democracies worldwide at this point in terms of efficiency. But...
REHMWhat a terrible thought.
MAYERBut I really do not -- I really do not think that there -- that I've seen anything that suggests that there's a real conspiracy connection here, you know?
REHMAll right. To Woburn, Mass. Good morning, Ray.
RAYHi. My comment is two-part. One part directly addresses what the young lady who called in just said -- and I'll do that really quick -- but it's the lesser important. Anybody that's interested should really check out the Forbes Magazine website. It gives a whole lot of details on the family connections and the buying of machines that are running in Ohio and also in Texas, Oklahoma, Hawaii and Colorado. So go to the forbes.com website and check it out for yourself.
RAYI think that the fraud issue is being too narrowly defined here. It almost, at some points, sounds like your guest is actually arguing the opposite point of her article. I think it's pretty clear that a lot of her comments really do -- while they might not meet the definition of voter ID fraud per se, really are fraud. And I'll give you a very personal case in point. My father lives down in Florida, and he called me and told me -- this was during the period of time where George Bush stole the campaign, stole the elections, and he did it outright, I know for sure.
RAYMy father belonged to a black church. He just happened to like the feeling there. And he went on voting day, and he saw large groups of Bush supporters waving off large groups of black voters that were showing up to vote, telling them that the voting day had been changed to the following day. In addition to this, he told me that he's got friends up and down both the east coast of Florida and the west coast of Florida that saw the exact same thing.
REHMAll right. Jeremy, thanks for your call. While I realize there are still a great many people who believe that George W. Bush stole the election, Supreme Court did finally rule in favor of George W. Bush. Now, do you want to comment on his points, Jane?
MAYERSure, sure. Yeah. I mean, you know, the reason that I'm focusing on this voter ID fraud specifically is it's that kind of fraud that these voter ID cards are meant to cure. And as John L. Lewis, Democratic congressman from Georgia who I interviewed, said, it's a cure for a sickness that doesn't exist. And so I'm looking at the specific controversy that has resulted in legislation across the country. But what you're talking about is voter intimidation, and I think that was a serious problem in the 2000 election.
REHMJane Mayer, she writes about politics for The New Yorker magazine. Her article "The Voter-Fraud Myth" is featured in the most recent edition. We'll take a short break. More of your calls when we come back.
REHMAnd welcome back to our conversation with Jane Mayer of The New Yorker. Jane, I think you made one little mistake in identifying a voting rights advocacy group.
MAYERThat's what I was just about to say. I -- yeah, I wanted to say that there's an organization I talked to that I just -- I talked about as the Agenda (sic) Project. It's actually the Advancement Project. And it's a testimony to your audience that everybody's tuning in and...
MAYER...they called in and caught it. So...
REHMYou bet. Let's...
MAYER...anyway, my apologies, it's the Advancement Project.
REHMLet's go to Washington, D.C. Eaddy, good morning. You're on the air.
MS. JOTAKA EADDYHi. Thank you. My name is Jotaka Eaddy, and I'm listening at NAACP. And thank you for your show this morning, very informative.
EADDYI wanted to raise a comment and just really echo the conversation about voter intimidation and we're seeing more and more. We're receiving phone calls, and our partners, of people who are calling us in. We're receiving these letters. They're receiving phone calls. There are billboards that have been put up in communities, particularly African-American communities.
EADDYAnd so we're seeing, you know, this growing trend of voter intimidation, and we know that it's not only Election Day, but we have to also look forward to post-election because we feel very strongly that we're going to anticipate another onslaught of these laws. And we'll see more laws and laws such as the laws that have been moved in some states this past year to remove people with felony convictions from the rolls.
EADDYAnd so I would just echo that not only do we need to be very clear and understand that voter intimidation will happen but -- and be prepared to deal with it, but we also have to keep our eyes to 2013 and beyond in making sure that we stop these laws in places like Pennsylvania and South Carolina and Mississippi, where these laws will continue. And we'll see the manifestation of even more creative ways to further intimidate voters and wholesale take voters off of the voter rolls.
MAYERWell, I mean, I, you know, there's -- there is a mode of thinking that some of the people I interviewed suggested, which is that with the country very evenly divided between Republicans and Democrats, you're going to have a lot of very, very tight elections. And one of the things that experts say is that so far, the Republican Party has not been able to reach out and woo as many minority voters and Hispanic voters.
MAYERAnd so the -- in the view of some people, these laws are really a kind of form of voter suppression in disguise that's meant to tamp down minority voters and Hispanic voters because those blocks, at the moment anyway, are more closely allied with the Democratic Party. And so you are going to see this as a kind of a partisan tactic according to many people.
REHMAnd to Guilford, Conn. Good morning, Mary Anne.
MARY ANNEGood morning. I just wanted to point out that my daughter is a college student in Dutchess County, N.Y., and the college students there were sent a letter by the election commissioner warning them that if they didn't have a picture ID with their current Dutchess County address, they were not going to be allowed to vote in this upcoming election. Now, most college students have a picture ID, but it would be a driver's license from their home state. And I just want to be -- I wanted to hear your comments and to find out if you had heard anything about that.
MAYERYes, this has been a problem in many, many states. And I have a college-aged daughter, too, and so I know exactly what the issue is. It's -- so, you know, basically, most kids have a driver's license from home. And in states that are trying to disqualify them from voting because they don't have a local ID, it's a way of knocking off student voters, basically, in many states. And there are a number of states where this has been a fight this year.
REHMWell, are they going to succeed in keeping those college students from voting?
MAYERWell, the answer is it's a state-by-state issue, which is true of all of these laws. And, you know, under our Constitution, the state gets to decide how to administer elections. And so in -- and I think what happened in New Hampshire where it was -- this was the same fight. I think New Hampshire backed off of it when there was a huge stink about it.
REHMHere's an email from Stan, "Please explain that discrepancies in voter rolls -- that is registration -- are not voter fraud. Rolls constantly change, and error on the rolls does not become fraud until someone shows up to vote with a dead person's name, for example."
MAYERWell, this is exactly right. And it's understandable that many people would be confused and upset about it because the voter registration rolls are behind in getting rid of many people who've died since the last election or whatever. But unless somebody pretends to be that dead person and goes to vote, it's not voter fraud. And, again, this was where this, you know, are the stories called the myth of voter fraud because it's another specific area where when I look at it closely, the fraud seem to just kind of evaporate.
MAYERAnd I was given an example, I said to Hans von Spakovsky, who is one of the experts in this area who really thinks voter fraud is a huge problem, and I said to him, what's your best example of when it might have swung the outcome of an election? And he gave me an example that according to the Atlanta Journal Constitution in -- they did a piece in 2000 that said there were over 5,000 instances in the previous 20 years of people who were deceased appearing to have voted. And he said, I consider that substantial.
MAYERWell, I mean, certainly if there had been 5,000 votes by people who were deceased, it -- I would think it would be substantial, too. But it turned out there was a second story that the paper ran where they had to revise their first story, and he didn't mention this. And the second story found they couldn't -- they had only one example they could find in the entire 20 years of a person who seemed to be dead who had voted -- who's, you know, someone voting in their name.
MAYERAnd when they looked at that one example, it, too, was a mistake. It was a clerical error and a very much alive voter with the same name spelled with one letter differently. So it's a myth. A lot of this is like urban myth. I mean, I'd be -- if it existed, I would be happy to write it, but I couldn't find it and neither can anybody else who seems to be a real expert without a political agenda in this field.
REHMTo Michigan City, Ind. Hi there, Caroline.
CAROLINEHi. Thank you for taking my call.
CAROLINEI really enjoy your show.
CAROLINEWhen the question was asked a little bit earlier, I think, Diane, you asked the speaker here, why do you think this happened after the 2008 election, I nearly jumped through the windshield of my car to say it's because he, our president, is black. I think what we're seeing is not just an idea to suppress the Democratic voters, but really some pushback from a real issue that our country needs to deal with, which is the idea that we have an African-American president, and there's difficulty that people are having in dealing with that.
CAROLINEThere have been calls made, you know, some of the calls that some of the volunteers in this area are making in Michigan and parts of Indiana, and some of the feedback that we're getting is really kind of frightening and, you know, the use of the N word. And I think there's this undercurrent that is slowly, and probably even more rapidly, becoming a very overt kind of pause that is being picked up.
MAYERWell, I mean, it's -- you know, I think you've certainly got to wonder about that, and you have to wonder if there's another pattern here. Most of these kinds of legal measures being taken are measures that seem to be challenges to -- or barriers to voting that seem to some have a disproportionate effect on the African-American community or other minority communities. And these billboards are going up in low-income neighborhoods that are scary looking. They basically say voter fraud is a felony. Well, yes, it is.
MAYERBut why are you telling us this now? Or it seems to be sort of a huge billboard saying, you could be arrested when you vote and that there may be some kind of legal entanglement for you if you show up. And, you know, it's -- you know, it's impossible to measure whether there's, you know, whether this goes back to prejudices about a black president. I don't know how any -- since nobody ever tells the truth when they're polled on this subject, it's really hard to know.
REHMLet's go to Fort Lauderdale, Fla. Hi there, Ron.
RONHello, ma'am. How are you doing?
RONI love the show. I realize we have a lot of time. I have four points. I'll just jump right into them. First off, it's not unusual -- or it's not unprecedented to require an ID to exercise a federal right, and I'll give two examples for that. If you want to go and buy a gun at a gun store, you have to provide a photo ID. And yet we don't seem to have a problem with that. Also, I had served on a jury.
RONAnd for me to get into the courthouse, I had to provide a court, you know, a photo ID -- a state-issued photo ID for me to even get into building. This happened to me before when I went in to visit other legislatures. I had to provide ID to even get into the building.
RONIt's not unusual to require an ID to exercise a right. Second, I'd like to point out that Canada requires an ID to vote, and yet we don't hear screams of voter disfranchisement up there. Yes, obviously, we have to make sure that the people can get the IDs very easily and cheaply. But again, there are other countries, such as Canada, that require it, and we don't hear about disenfranchisement there.
RONThird, your guest even mentioned that voter fraud does happen. Now, the example she used was at the key ballot. And it was in a mayoral race. But we have to admit that it does happen, maybe not at the polls, but there is no reason that Americans should not want validity in the election process.
RONAnd the last thing I want to talk about is I heard a lot about people talking about voter intimidation. And there is no doubt that happened. And there is no doubt that it has happened historically white against black. But in the last election of 2008, we did have Black Panthers doing voter intimidation in Philadelphia. So the point is that, yes, voter intimidation happened. Yes, voter fraud does happen. The extent or how exactly it happens, clearly, it's up for debate.
RONAnd like you said, there's no way we're ever going to know because the people that do it aren't going to admit to it. But without having a process in place to check for it, such in voter ID, we'll never find out how bad it is.
MAYERWell, you know, this is an argument you hear. You hear people saying, well, you need to have an ID to buy Sudafed. You know, why -- what's the problem? And, you know, I think that if you, you know, from my standpoint, there's a fundamental difference, though, between some -- a right to purchase something, whether it's a gun or a Sudafed or -- and your basic right as a citizen to be able to vote.
MAYERI mean, you -- it's so fundamental to a democracy that every citizen should have the right to vote that it probably enjoys special protection where you really want to make sure there's -- and there's a history poll taxes in this country and of disenfranchisement of certain groups. And so...
REHMWhat about Canada?
MAYERYou know, I think many countries have IDs at this point. I think Mexico, I've heard, has some kind of, you know, I think they've got not just photo IDs but some sort of thing that, you know, reads your thumbprint or something like that. I mean, there are many countries with much, much more careful administrations of elections. And, you know, I think, again, many reasonable people from all points of view politically would agree that there's nothing wrong with that so long as everybody can get it.
MAYERAnd I think that, you know, there've been bipartisan commissions that have found that and there are Democrats who believe that, Republican who believe that. The issue is making it free and available to everyone who has a right to it.
REHMWhat about his point on intimidation by the Black Panthers in the 2008 election?
MAYERYou know, I think there can be intimidation by any group against any other group, and it's all wrong.
REHMJane Mayer of The New Yorker, and you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Jane Mayer, the question now becomes what do you expect in the upcoming election? Could we have the mess that some people are predicting because of challenges to voter ID, challenges to people's right to vote?
MAYERWell, you know, I don't have a crystal ball. I'm just a reporter. But I can say from having interviewed people that I came away pretty worried about it. The number of the people I interviewed, including Hans von Spakovsky and John Fund, who are conservatives, feel that this election, if it's very, very close, could come down to being worse than 2000 was. I mean, they predicted, those two, many Floridas.
MAYERThey said three or four Floridas we'd be lucky to have. Meaning that, you know, you could get into litigation in many states. What happens is if it's really close, often they then have to go to start counting provisional ballots to see whether or not those can decide the election.
REHMAnd we, of course...
MAYERAnd then there's the litigation over which ones of those are legitimate, which ones are not.
REHMWe remember the hanging chads.
MAYERHanging chads, just the thought of it is a nightmare. So I really -- I hope it doesn't turn out like that. And I think it's -- you know, it's very worrisome to have these sort of self-appointed groups challenging voters if they don't know what they're doing. I mean, the specific leads anecdote I tell in the story is of, you know, a citizen who challenged a woman under false, you know, on false information.
MAYERShe said this woman didn't live in her own house and that she was living in a vacant lot. And she was wrong about that. And, you know, to get -- I think you don't want to have the works gummed up by a lot of phony challenges from, you know, ignorant people.
REHMAnd that's your fear.
MAYERThat is my fear. I don't know whether it'll happen. I mean, I think, you know, I have a lot of faith in this country. And, you know...
REHMWhat do you suggest people do who have received these kind of notices? What should people be thinking about ahead of time in these states where voter ID laws are on the books?
MAYERI mean, over a thousand of these notices have been sent out in Ohio, I mean, several hundred just in Hamilton County.
MAYERIn the battleground states. I mean, I think that from what I can see, what you need to do if you get such a summons is act on it. Go challenge it and prove that you got your right to vote because if you don't, you're going to be -- find problems when you get to your polling place.
REHMJane Mayer of The New Yorker, she writes about politics, and her most recent article, "The Voter-Fraud Myth," is featured in the latest edition of The New Yorker. Jane Mayer, thanks for your work. Thanks for being here.
MAYERGreat to be with you.
REHMAnd thanks all for listening. I'm Diane Rehm.
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