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Battle over the ballot box: Voter fraud vs. voter suppression

There is a battle for the ballot box that’s being fought in the nation’s courtrooms: Voter fraud vs. voter suppression.

So far, “voter fraud” is losing the war, with little to no evidence being presented to justify harsh preemptive or preventive measures. Claims of “voter suppression,” on the other hand, have chalked up a few major victories. Two states – North Carolina and Wisconsin – recently saw their voting “reforms” allegedly targeting voter fraud struck down, and a third – Texas – saw its strictest-in-the-nation voter-ID law remanded to a lower district court.

In all three cases, federal judges found the new anti-voter-fraud laws discriminatory, either by result or intent.

“The evidence in this case casts doubt on the notion that voter-ID laws foster integrity and confidence. The Wisconsin experience demonstrates that a preoccupation with mostly phantom election fraud leads to real incidents of disenfranchisement, which undermine rather than enhance confidence in elections,’’ Federal District Court Judge James D. Peterson wrote in ruling that parts of Wisconsin’s 2011 voter ID law are unconstitutional.

“Who Can Vote?”, a national investigative reporting project by News 21 at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University, did an analysis on election fraud in 2012.

The findings: There were 2,068 alleged election fraud cases nationally between 2000 and 2012. But among the 146 million registered voters in the United States during that time, there were just 10 cases of voter impersonation – or about one voter-fraud incident for every 15 million prospective voters.

In the North Carolina case, the Fourth Circuit judges said that state’s voter-ID law actually targeted “African Americans with almost surgical precision.” Legislative leaders there drafted their restrictions only after receiving data indicating that African-Americans would significantly be affected the most by the new voter-ID requirements, the judges noted.

“We cannot ignore the record evidence that, because of race, the legislature enacted one of the largest restrictions of the franchise in modern North Carolina history,” the judges wrote.

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Arizona could be the next state in the courtroom with its so-called ban on “ballot harvesting,” which involves a friend, a neighbor or someone else picking up and delivering signed and sealed early ballots to election officials.

HB2023 was passed by the Legislature this year to make “ballot harvesting” a class 6 felony, prompting Latino and Democratic groups to call foul since they use the practice as a get-out-the-vote effort.

A lawsuit over such ballot collecting is pending, but elections officials and poll workers in Arizona’s two largest counties won’t be enforcing the ban – at least not this go-round.

“We’re not the police,” Maricopa County Recorder Helen Purcell said Aug. 1 in announcing that all such gathered ballots will be accepted and counted the same as all other votes, as reported in the Arizona Capitol Times.

Pima County Elections Director Brad Nelson echoed that stance: “In comes a person with a mail tray full of early ballots to drop off. We are going to accept those things. We are not going to ask for ID from that courier, for lack of a better term. We’re not going to log his or her name.”

Oral arguments in the lawsuit are scheduled for this month.

Arizona also has its own controversial voter-ID law. Its requirements can be found on the Arizona Secretary of State’s Office website. Critics claim the tactics are voter suppression targeting Latinos, minorities and poor communities.

Similar claims were made regarding the state’s March 22 presidential primary, when Arizona drew the nation’s spotlight for the Phoenix area’s lack of polling places and resulting long lines perhaps preventing some people from voting.

In that case, Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Hugh Hegyi on Aug. 1 denied a request for a preliminary injunction that would have required Maricopa County and the Arizona Secretary of State to file election plans for court review. The lawsuit, however, can continue to trial.

It’s apparent the debate over voter suppression vs. voter fraud likely won’t end any time soon, including in Arizona where Latinos will increasingly make up a larger portion of the state’s electorate.

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Morrison Institute for Public Policy is a leader in examining critical Arizona and regional issues, and is a catalyst for public dialogue. An Arizona State University resource, Morrison Institute uses nonpartisan research and communication outreach to help improve the state's quality of life.

The director of communications for the Morrison Institute of Public Policy at ASU, Garcia is a longtime, award-winning journalist whose experience as a top editor, columnist and reporter included positions at The Arizona Republic, The Daily Times, Tucson Citizen, USA Today and The Associated Press.

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