There’s no depth that vote-fraud defenders won’t sink to, in their relentless campaign to keep America’s electoral system vulnerable to manipulation. Efforts to clean up voter registration, or implement common-sense identification procedures for voters on Election Day, are routinely decried as “racist.” Even though none of these procedures are even slightly tinged by the faintest hint of racial bias, they supposedly “intimidate” minorities from showing up to vote. Describing minorities as hapless, childlike creatures who can’t fill out application forms or comply with simple electoral rules would seem like a vicious insult, but thus far minority associations have seemed content to let it slide.
New heights of absurdity have now been reached in Ohio and Wisconsin, where merely reminding people that vote fraud is a felony is now deemed a “racist” campaign of “intimidation.” A private family foundation has been putting up billboards that say “Voter Fraud Is A Felony!” and remind viewers that the penalty is “up to 3 ½ years & $10,000 fine.” This text is accompanied with a picture of a gavel. The placement of these billboards in urban communities is supposedly part of a racist conspiracy to scare poor minority voters away from the polls.
Cleveland city councilwoman Phyllis Cleveland explained to the Plain Dealer that “some people in my ward have had issues with the criminal justice system and could feel like they’re not able to vote. This could be confusing to them.” She’s apparently referring to ex-felons, who can register to vote after they’ve served their time. Heaven forbid anyone should point out what the law says to ex-felons! It might intimidate them. Unlike all the laws they broke on their way into prison.
To the extent that anyone should feel obliged to answer this dopey “argument,” it should be noted that billboards are routinely used to remind motorists of the penalties for violating various other laws, including drunk driving and failure to fasten seat belts. Are those also “racist” efforts to intimidate confused minorities from driving? If so, they don’t seem to be working very well.
The hidden implication lying beneath racially-charged efforts to protect vote fraud is that compliance with electoral law is incredibly complicated, and reasonable people might be driven from the polls in terror that one tiny slip-up could land them in stir. Beneath this lies the even more subterranean implication, as mentioned above, that minority voters are exceptionally hapless and/or paranoid about election officials somehow entrapping them when they turn up to vote… because tossing innocent people into our overcrowded prisons on trumped-up, arcane charges is fun.
But in reality, election laws are not at all difficult to follow – registering and voting is easier than most other routine tasks. Very little is asked of the voter, and election officials have never been very aggressive about tracking down and punishing infractions. In fact, as a rising number of vote fraud cases have been uncovered over the past few months – in Ohio, Wisconsin, and elsewhere – one of the recurring themes is that many of the fraudulent voters have succeeded in casting false votes during multiple previous elections, over the course of many years.
Happily, the ACLU noted the obvious fact that these “Vote Fraud Is a Felony” billboards are protected by free-speech laws. “It’s pretty much a bedrock of a democracy that speech is going to be wild and crazy and even harmful but it’s for the greater good,” said Ohio ACLU executive director Christine Link. Reminding people that felony violations of the law are, in fact, punishable offenses is “wild and crazy?”
Like most of the other turgid rhetoric of vote-fraud defenders, this is an assault on the very concept of the rule of law. Laws are meaningless if you not only fail to enforce them, but prevent people from discussing them. Councilwoman Cleveland talked about buying up the advertising space used by these billboards to remove the voter fraud messages, which would be legally fair enough if it were done without intimidating the owners of the billboards, Clear Channel Communications. But it’s a misguided strategy. The proper answer to speech one disagrees with is more speech. Why not spend the money on billboards encouraging her constituents to vote, or programs to help them comply with election law? The last thing Cleveland, or any other urban community, needs is more fuel poured onto the fires of racial paranoia and distrust of the legal system.
Other liberals are talking about trying to intimidate Clear Channel into taking the advertisements down. Hopefully they’ll have the courtesy to polish their jackboots before they march across the First Amendment.