Tag Archives: voter suppression/fraud

I Was Undocumented in Arizona

Real Americans carry ID

When I turned 50 a few years ago, I started doing something sort of paranoid: I always jog with my driver’s license and medical card, in case I have a heart attack. So far it’s never come in handy, but I keep doing it.

Paranoia has its costs, though. Almost two weeks ago, I was at Logan Airport in Boston when I flipped my wallet open and stared at an empty plastic window. My driver’s license was in a t-shirt pocket in my laundry hamper. I had no other photo ID.

My first thought was to change my flight and come back tomorrow, but that would mean missing a whole day of the conference I was going to – the Unitarian Universalist General Assembly in Phoenix – so I went with my second thought: See what happens.

I got a boarding pass from a machine that didn’t care what I looked like, then waited in line with everybody else and apologetically told my story to the TSA guy. He called over a supervisor, who looked at what I did have: two credit cards and prescription bottle. Making no promises about what would happen when I tried to come home, he let me through.

Eight days later, TSA in Phoenix was more thorough. They scoffed at my credit cards and pill bottle, as well as at my business card (which has a photo), and the ID the conference had given me. They asked about my health-insurance card, which of course was keeping my driver’s license company in the laundry hamper. They would have liked to have seen some mail with my address on it or maybe a utility bill, which I might have packed if I had known I was going to forget all my other ID.

So they called up a government database and started asking me questions about myself: my address and phone number, my wife’s maiden name, other towns I had lived in, and so on. Some of the stuff I didn’t know, like the names of the neighbors in my apartment building. Eventually they did an explosives-residue test on my hands, and then let me through.

At no time was I treated with anything other than respect. No one implied that I was a criminal or that I was trying to get away with something.

While I was undocumented, I learned two things of political significance:

First, those advocates of voter-ID laws who claim it’s no big deal because you already need a photo ID to do absolutely everything else in this society – they’re just wrong. A lot of people will ask for a photo ID, but if you don’t have one they work around it. For example, some places took my credit card without asking. When someone did ask, nobody batted an eye when I said, “Oh, never mind, I’ll pay cash” or called my wife over to charge it on her card. They may have had other work-arounds, but I didn’t ask.

TSA definitely will work with what you have, because they’re just trying to verify your identity, not stop you from traveling. On the other hand, when you try to vote in a Republican state, you run into a process that absolutely won’t work if you don’t have an official state-issued photo ID, and even a state-university ID isn’t good enough. That’s unusual, and you have to wonder if that’s because the purpose is to stop you from voting.

Second, it was ironic that I was on my way to Phoenix, and that one of the things I would do there was protest the Arizona immigration law, S.B. 1070, which is sometimes known as the papers-please law.

I wandered around Arizona for a week with no proof that I’m a US citizen other than my white skin, my Illinois accent, and a nice pair of khakis. Nobody cared. I never had to explain myself and I never had cause to be afraid.

Everybody who heard my license-in-the-hamper anecdote thought it was funny and wanted to know how I got through TSA. But if I’d been brown, poor, and speaking with a heavy Hispanic accent, the story might not have been so entertaining.

So I was undocumented in Arizona and nothing happened. No drama, no excitement.

That’s how white privilege usually shows up: Nothing happens. Think about that the next time you’re out in public and nothing is happening.

Jim Crow Returns

A fascinating new analysis technique has added weight to the claim that voter-ID laws are functioning as “Jim Crow 2.0“.

In state after state, the Republican governors elected in 2010 have been pushing voter-ID laws that follow the ALEC template. The Brennan Center for Justice has been on this issue for a long time, pointing out how these laws erect unfair barriers to voting by the young, the old, minorities, and many women (particularly those recently married or divorced, who might not have ID in their current names) — all constituencies that tend to vote Democratic.

Ostensibly, these laws are intended to prevent the voter fraud that allegedly alters elections through the high-risk/low-reward process pictured below:

Lately, judges and the Justice Department have been agreeing with the Brennan Center that disenfranchising marginal voters is not just an unfortunate side-effect, but is the true intention behind these laws.

Prior to the Voting Rights Act of 1965, blacks had been virtually disenfranchised in many southern states. The Act dismantled the Jim Crow laws that enforced that disenfranchisement, and gave the Justice Department veto-power over any new laws in Jim Crow states that would affect the voting rights of minorities (rather than letting the laws take effect and requiring disenfranchised voters to sue). The Justice Department has used that power to invalidate voter-ID laws in South Carolina and Texas.

The Texas law is particularly egregious. ColorLines reports:

Texas has no driver’s license offices in almost a third of the state’s counties. Meanwhile, close to 15 percent of Hispanic Texans living in counties without driver’s license offices don’t have ID. A little less than a quarter of driver’s license offices have extended hours, which would make it tough for many working voters to find a place and time to acquire the IDs.

Now Texas has struck back: Its lawsuit claims the Voting Rights Act is unconstitutional, because southern states aren’t being treated the same as northern states. The Supreme Court is probably going to have to decide this.

When they do, I hope they take a hard look at the work of LeoT on Daily Kos. LeoT examines the historical frequency-of-use of terms like election fraud, vote fraud, and voter fraud. (Don’t you just love the Google tools that make this possible?)

All the terms have similar usage patterns except voter fraud. The term was virtually unknown until around 1960, then mysteriously in 1965 its usage began a steady increase, uncorrelated with the other election-fraud terms, until now it gets more usage that vote fraud.

LeoT interprets:

“voter fraud” … increased in usage 15,000% (150x) between 1965 and 2008, while “election fraud” increased 250% (2.5x) in the same period. Apparently, “voter fraud” didn’t matter until you weren’t allowed to disenfranchise minority voters.

Conclusion: The voter fraud issue has been manufactured to justify Jim Crow 2.0.

The Return of Death Panels and other short notes

Recently this topic showed up on my church’s email discussion list, so I know it’s making the rounds: An anonymous “brain surgeon” called into Mark Levin’s radio show in November, claiming to have seen a unpublished document from HHS describing “what the Obama health care plan would be for advanced neurosurgery for patients over 70.” He said:

Basically what the document stated was that if you were over 70 and you’d come into an emergency room and you’re on government supported health care, that you’d get “comfort care”.

When Levin responds “So Sarah Palin was right. We’re going to have these death panels, aren’t we?” the caller says “Oh, absolutely.”

Tuesday morning, Mariefla on Daily Kos went looking for details after she heard an outraged doctor raise the issue in a hospital staff meeting. She found this letter on the web site of the American Association of Neurological Surgeons. The AANS notes “factual inaccuracies” and says the caller was not a neurosurgeon, they are not aware of any such document, and the AANS conference in which the caller supposedly saw this document never happened. They’ve asked Levin to remove the podcast from his web site, which he hasn’t.

HHS unequivocally told rumor-investigating Snopes.com: “No such document exists and no such presentation took place.”

It’s unsettling to realize how easy this kind of fraud is. Anybody can call into a radio show claiming to be anything and to have seen anything. (“I’m a retired Air Force captain and I used to work at Area 51 with the wrecked alien spaceships.”) If their story supports somebody’s propaganda, a well-oiled machine sends it rocketing around the country.


Alejandrina Cabrera was running for City Council in the Arizona border town of San Luis when her ability to speak English became an issue — not a political issue, a legal issue. The mayor filed a lawsuit remove her from the ballot.

The Enabling Act that set up Arizona’s government in 1910 says:

ability to read, write, speak, and understand the English language sufficiently well to conduct the duties of the office without the aid of an interpreter shall be a necessary qualification for all state officers and members of the state legislature.

And Arizona voters declared English the official language in in 2006. However, 90% of San Luis residents speak mainly Spanish. Cabrera is running to represent them, even though she speaks only “survival level English” according to a linguistics professor appointed by a Yuma county judge to test her. Wednesday, the judge ordered her name removed from the ballot.

Reader comments on the various news stories fall into two camps: Those supporting the lawsuit go on to indict local high schools for allowing her to graduate with such poor command of English, while those opposing it want the voters, not the courts, to judge candidates’ qualifications for office.


Fox News psychologist/consultant Keith Ablow explains to us why Newt Gingrich’s infidelities will make him “a strong president“. Steven Colbert observes: “Somebody without Dr. Ablow’s psychiatric insight might misdiagnose Newt as a sociopathic pussyhound.”

Vodpod videos no longer available.


I can’t predict how practical the Hiriko electric car will be, but it’s got an off-the-scale cute factor. If I were 3 feet tall, I’d really want this half-size prototype.


Until this week, I’ve been having trouble explaining exactly what bugs me about Mitt Romney’s corporate-raider career at Bain Capital. Sure, it looks bad to walk away with a pile of money from deals that leave so many other people unemployed or otherwise holding the bag, but wasn’t he serving the overall cause of efficiency? Doesn’t the profit come from re-purposing assets to more productive uses?

Then a Chris Hayes tweet pointed me to this 1988 paper co-authored by former Treasury Secretary Lawrence Summers. Starting with the idea that a corporation is a “nexus of contracts, some implicit, between shareholders and stakeholders”, the paper argues that hostile corporate takeovers are profitable because the new owners can renege on the corporation’s implicit commitments to workers, suppliers, retirees, and the surrounding community. The process is “wealth redistributing, not wealth creating”.

It goes on to argue that corporations’ ability to make trustworthy implicit commitments has real economic value. But corporate raids destroyed that trust for all corporations, because now all parties know that managers who try to keep such commitments when they become unprofitable are likely to be raided and replaced.

So Romney’s profit at Bain comes not just from efficiency, but also from selling the social capital of the entire corporate system.


Romney bristles whenever anyone mentions the 99% and the 1%. That’s “dividing America,” he says.

Privileged classes always blame social divisions on the people who call attention to them, rather than the people who cause them and benefit from them. The Gandhis and Martin Luther Kings are honored after they are safely dead, but while they are alive they are denounced as troublemakers. King’s “Letter From a Birmingham Jail” is his response to those who accused him of creating “tension” between the races.


So, did dead people really vote in South Carolina? No.


And finally, because I never get tired of listening to Elizabeth Warren:
Vodpod videos no longer available.

Four Fantasy Issues of the Right

In 2012, the two parties differ on a number of issues that voters really should be thinking about: the role of government in the economy, inequality of wealth and income, climate change, what to do about the 50 million Americans without health insurance, how to handle the 11 million undocumented immigrants, and so on.

It’s hard to have any of those debates, though, because in addition to the legitimate issues that divide Republicans from Democrats, conservatives have trumped up a number of issues that are pure fantasies — they are based on nothing that is really happening.

The construction of pure fantasy issues is a tactic so outrageous that most Americans have trouble grasping it. Voters are used to hearing exaggerations, rhetoric that makes mountains out of molehills. But making a mountain out of the pure flat plain is something totally different and relatively new. “Surely,” the average voter thinks, “there is some fire under all that smoke.”

But these four issues are pure smoke. There is absolutely no fire under there anywhere.

1. Creeping Sharia.

Supposedly, Islamic law (i.e. Sharia) is being surreptitiously introduced into the American justice system “with the goal of transforming American society from within”. This is sometimes called a stealth jihad.

At first, this fake issue was confined to a fringe represented by Pamela Geller, Chuck Norris, or the American Family Association’s talkradio host Brian Fischer. But like Birtherism and other fringe issues, it has crept into the Republican mainstream, with endorsements by Republican presidential candidates like Newt Gingrich and Michele Bachmann. A constitutional amendment against Sharia passed in Oklahoma, and similar amendments have been proposed in other states.

The reality? In a decision denying Oklahoma’s appeal of a lower court’s injunction against the Oklahoma law, the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals wrote:

Appellants do not identify any actual problem the challenged amendment seeks to solve.  Indeed, they admitted at the preliminary injunction hearing that they did not know of even a single instance where an Oklahoma court had applied Sharia law or used the legal precepts of other nations or cultures, let alone that such applications or uses had resulted in concrete problems in Oklahoma.

In examining instances where “creeping Sharia” is alleged outside Oklahoma, I haven’t found a single one that stands up to scrutiny. (The “halal turkey” is no more creeping Sharia than kosher franks are creeping Judaism.) Typically, the cases involve Muslims demanding the same respect that Christians and Jews take for granted, and say nothing at all about Sharia.

In this case, for example, a small-college adjunct professor cherry-picked offensive quotes out of the Quran and presented them as representative of all Islam. When Muslim students objected and the college administration refused to discipline them, he resigned. Brian Fischer then presented him as “a victim of Sharia law“.

In truth, there is no court in America where Sharia is being granted the force of law, and neither party is proposing that there should be.

2. Things Obama never said.

Mitt Romney’s New Hampshire Primary victory speech was full of references to things President Obama has “said”.  For example:

this President wakes up every morning, looks out across America and is proud to announce, “It could be worse.”

I went looking for this quote. Several Republican blogs and radio hosts attribute “It could be worse” to this event, where the words “It could be worse” actually don’t appear. In spite of the quotation marks, it’s a paraphrase. Obama was actually saying that, while unemployment was still too high, it would have been higher without the stimulus.

So a paraphrase of something that Obama almost sort-of said a year and half ago has become a verbatim quote that he says “every morning”.

What else? Obama “believes America’s role as leader in the world is a thing of the past.” That’s a quote from a right-wing book about Obama, not Obama himself.

“He apologizes for America.” Back in February, the Washington Post fact-checker awarded this claim its lowest truth rating — four Pinocchios, reserved for “whoppers”. But Romney keeps repeating it because … well, he’s running a post-truth campaign.

When caught misquoting Obama in an ad, the Romney campaign admitted the deception, but defended doing it.

The Romney campaign was forthcoming about the entire context of the quote in its press release and in its comments to the press Monday night. And indeed, they seemed to be reveling in the fact that we were now talking about that particular part of the ad.

And then Romney said Obama had called Americans “lazy” — another four Pinocchios.

So in general, if you think President Obama has said something that makes you angry — especially if you heard it from Mitt Romney — look for the YouTube or the transcript. (The transcript of every official Obama speech is on the whitehouse.gov site.) If you can’t find it, chances are excellent he actually said nothing of the kind.

3. Voter fraud.

No one denies that America has a colorful history of vote fraud. Election officials have been known to lose or find ballot boxes, mis-program voting machines, fake absentee ballots, or otherwise misrepresent electoral results.

What we don’t have, though, is a history of widespread voter fraud. Americans do not often show up at polling places claiming to be someone else. Why would we? It’s time consuming, and there’s always a risk that somebody at the precinct knows either you or whoever you’re impersonating. (One conservative trying to prove how easy voter fraud is recently got caught this way.)

Even if you get away with it, all you’ve done is steal one vote. If you’re that committed, you can probably change more votes through legitimate campaigning. Go work a phone bank or something.

Nonetheless, it has become a truism on the Right that this kind of fraud is so widespread that we need a whole new system of voter-ID laws to prevent it. But even advocates of these laws can’t provide examples of actual voter fraud. When Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach claimed illegal immigrants were voting by impersonating dead people, he gave one example. The Wichita Eagle then found the “dead” guy raking leaves in his yard. Another allegedly dead voter turned up right here in Nashua this week.

If these laws were just useless, we might shake our heads at the waste. (Wisconsin’s Legislative Fiscal Bureau estimates their new voter-ID bill will cost $5.7 million.) But they’re actually sinister. People who don’t already have drivers’ licenses, passports, or other recognized photo-IDs are mostly in groups that vote Democratic: the poor, the disabled, the very old, students, and recently naturalized citizens. Discouraging them from voting is the real point.

4. Obama is a Kenyan Muslim Marxist.

The Birther lie has been widely debunked, but it still gets winked at by folks like Donald Trump, one of the Romney sons, Rick Perry, and Fox News. In the 2010 cycle, most Republican congressional wouldn’t go full-on Birther, but would instead call on Obama to settle the “legitimate questions” that the Birthers raised. John Boehner expressed his personal belief that Obama was American, but wouldn’t rein in the Birthers in his caucus.

All that, in spite of the fact that there was never any reason to doubt that Obama was born where and when he said he was. Not one.

Muslim? Again, no reason at all to raise that question. Obama and his long-time church agreed that he was a Christian.

Marxist? Other than gay rights (where he has been following public opinion, not leading it), Obama’s program is what moderate Republicanism used to look like. Is it Marxist to roll out RomneyCare nationwide? to attack global warming by the same cap-and-trade system Bush Sr. used to fight acid rain? to want to restore the tax rates Bill Clinton negotiated with Newt Gingrich?

It’s tempting to say, “That’s politics.” But it isn’t. There are no comparable lies in the mainstream of the Left. Obscure liberal blogs might have promoted the fact-free tabloid rumors that 9-11 was an inside job, or that Bush had started drinking again, but high-ranking Democrats never pandered to them.

All these charges are attempts to give substance to the vague feeling that there’s something “not right” about Barack Obama. But you know what the substance really is? He’s black. That vague sense that there’s something “wrong” with him that you just can’t put your finger on — that’s what subconscious racism feels like. Deal with it.