Despite the fact that we have absolutely no evidence beyond Anthony Gemma’s highly biased word that his charges against David Cicilline are in fact true, Mr. Gemma has been willingly embraced by the voter fraud advocates, who have long been looking for any kind of proof, no matter how suspect, that what they’re talking about really exists. They had a field day with Gemmapalooza.
And in true fashion, the delirious Travis Rowley has already declared “I told you so.”
Mr. Gemma’s announcement could barely have been better crafted to appeal to this demographic, except for one flaw. A sitting liberal congressman with firm ties to the Democratic Party, the threat of violence, mass conspiracy, and the idea that Rhode Island government is so corrupt that it can’t even be trusted to run its own elections. It’s all so great to them. They hate this state already, here’s evidence of why. Even if they recognize the flaw in Mr. Gemma being the one making this announcement (or that he eventually buckled and fled under press pressure), they’re so blinded by their glee. “See, here’s why we need voter ID!”
Look, I understand that majorities of Rhode Islanders agree with the voter ID law. I understand the impetus behind the idea. I’m even prepared to say that it’s not a terrible thing to have if you can distribute the necessary IDs to everyone who needs one so that no one loses their right as a citizen to vote. But unfortunately, the voter fraud advocates aren’t the kinds of people who care about that. They’re the kind of people who measure government success by how many people are prevented from using government services; whether it’s food stamps, unemployment insurance, voting, even walking in public parks if they’re callous enough.
But Mr. Gemma’s announcement doesn’t make their voter ID law any better, because of that nagging flaw. Because the voter fraud advocates forgot Mr. Gemma called on federal intervention into this election regardless of the voter ID law. Their law doesn’t appear to matter to Anthony Gemma, who never once mentioned it during Gemmapalooza. In fact, the kind of fraud he claimed to be heading off, mail ballot fraud (where actual cases of fraud are actually recorded) isn’t even addressed by the voter ID law.
Because it’s almost too hard to do. Because here’s a demographic reality in this state: it’s older and whiter than the country as a whole. It’s far easier to disenfranchise the poor, young, and non-white, because in Rhode Island the first isn’t particularly vocal when it comes to the kinds of things the Statehouse cares about, the second is pretty transient and apathetic, and the last are mostly contained to the cities and also overlap with the first two categories. It’s much harder to disenfranchise the elderly population, who use mail ballots.
There would be political hell to pay if you focused on mail ballots. All it would take would be your opponent going “I don’t think we should disenfranchise our elders, who did so much for this great nation.” Look at you, big man, telling Granny she can’t vote when she’s voted all her life. Furthermore, elderly folks tend to vote more conservative than the poor, young, and/or non-white; and since voter ID is a notion advanced by conservative politicians… Well, you’re not stupid, you see the political calculus.
Which is why these voter fraud advocates aren’t worth anything. Because they’re too cowardly to focus on actual problems, so they focus on the conspiratorial ones that serve their interests.
The other great problem is that we’ve conflated “ineligible voters” with “voter fraud”. So this Valley Breeze story mentions seven people who are incorrectly registered. None of the people appear to have committed fraud with the intent of impersonating a voter or voting in the wrong place. Rather some of them appear to have completely misunderstood the mailing address/registration address difference (and that’s fair, it’s taken me a while to understand why there are even two addresses). The others likely didn’t know any better.
Properly educating voters would do far more to make elections fairer than any one law. But that would require government work, and if there’s one thing conservatives hate, it’s government reaching out to help people instead giving them the cold shoulder and a kick out the door.
Finally, I do believe the current straits we find ourselves in do reflect poorly on Rhode Island’s government. Rhode Island needs to do everything it can to project the idea of a clean and fair government. The 2013 session better include independent ethics and redistricting commissions, more open government laws, fewer to no closed-door meetings, speedy votes, and anything else that could possibly bolster the reputation of this state as a place for fair play. Because if these allegations of corruption are allowed to fester and nothing is done, people are going to get more and more fed up, and they’re going to completely lose faith.
And if people don’t believe in a government, then that government doesn’t count for shit.