I am the most unlikely of voting rights activists.
I had never voted in a midterm before 2018, I’ve never been affiliated with a party, and up until a few years ago I couldn’t have told you the name of my state representative or senator. Knowing what I now know, I am ashamed of this record of complacency and have vowed to never miss another opportunity to vote at any level.
It was concern about the Kansas budget, and taxpayers’ liability, that drove me in 2016 to dig into then-Secretary of State Kris Kobach’s use of the Interstate Registration Voter Crosscheck program. One day I looked out at my neighbor’s “Fund Our Schools” yard sign as I read an article describing Crosscheck and I wondered: How and why could a state that wasn’t fully funding schools afford to run a massive program like this as a free service to other states, and how we were protected from liability if it were hacked?
I was skeptical of what I had heard people on the left saying about Crosscheck: that it was a tool of voter suppression.
I was skeptical of what I had heard people on the right saying about voter fraud: that it was a massive problem.
Four years later, a lesson has seared itself on my psyche: The existence of two opposing sides does not mean those sides are equally valid.
I’d begun my research with the cynical both-sidesism of the casual bystander — ho hum, both sides are exaggerating — and emerged with burning passion born from the clear evidence that one side, the Republican Party, is systematically trying to prevent many of us from voting, in part by propagating the myth that our elections are under siege from widespread fraud by individual voters.
It is impossible to prove a negative, of course. But decades of research attempting to show that American elections are beset by widespread voter fraud have come close.
Don’t take my word for it. Veteran Republican election lawyer Benjamin Ginsberg, writing in a Sept. 8 Washington Post op-ed, summarized the data on alleged voter fraud over 40 years.
“The truth is that after decades of looking for illegal voting, there’s no proof of widespread fraud,” he concluded. “At most, there are isolated incidents — by both Democrats and Republicans”.
Ginsberg further cautioned that in pursuing unsubstantiated claims of fraud or rigging, Republicans “risk harming the fundamental principle of our democracy: that all eligible voters must be allowed to cast their ballots. If that happens, Americans will deservedly render the GOP a minority party for a long, long time.”
Ginsberg’s glasses here are rose colored. The steady drumbeat of unsubstantiated claims about widespread fraud over the past decades have already led to more restrictive voting laws which freeze more eligible Americans out of the voting process.
Here in Kansas, Secretary of State Scott Schwab and Attorney General Derek Schmidt are appealing the federal court decision overturning the 2011 Kansas Secure and Fair Elections (SAFE) SAFE Act, which required Kansans to produce documentary proof of citizenship in order to register to vote.
Legislators justified this law with, naturally, alarming claims about an “iceberg” of noncitizen voter fraud in Kansas. At trial in 2018, the best evidence Kobach could offer, once bound by the requirement to prove his claims, was roughly five votes cast over a period of approximately 30 years by noncitizens who had mostly registered unintentionally through administrative error. The “iceberg,” concluded federal district judge Julie Robinson (a George W. Bush appointee), was an icicle.
Most significantly, to prevent noncitizen voting (undesired, but very rare), trial testimony demonstrated that the law prevented thousands of eligible Kansans from registering to vote.
Enough. No more votes denied.
The cynical, self-serving lies and exaggerations about massive fraud have damaged our electoral integrity and imposed real harm on American voters and our democracy.
Voter suppression allows elected officials to choose their voters and secure their seats without being accountable to the people. They can serve their own goals, or those of extremist groups or corporations, instead of worrying about reelection.
From this day forward, I will not cast a vote for any candidate who undermines every American’s right to vote through lies, innuendo, rumor. It will take an affirmative pledge to protect voting rights to earn my vote.
I have policy differences with the Democrats and always will. But until the Republicans heed Ginsberg’s advice and embrace the goal of ensuring that all Americans can cast their ballots, they’ll get no vote from me.
Through its opinion section, the Kansas Reflector works to amplify the voices of people who are affected by public policies or excluded from public debate. For information, including how to submit your own commentary, click here.