Whitehead on Voter ID Laws

Another example of why, despite some disturbing positions in cases like the Freshwater situation, I still have respect for John Whitehead of the Rutherford Institute. He’s one of the few conservatives who is serious about civil liberties. In his latest commentary, he takes on the voter suppression laws being passed by Republicans around the country.

Despite the propaganda being advanced by the government, the purpose of voter ID laws is not to eliminate voter fraud and protect the integrity of elections. Rather, their aim is to silence and suppress as many American voters as possible and increase the already widening chasm between the electorate and our government representatives. In fact, voter ID laws are the icing on the cake when it comes to public officials shutting Americans out of the decision-making process, silencing dissent, and making sure that those in power stay in power and have the last word on government policy. In other words, voter ID laws are the final step in securing the American corporate oligarchy, the unchallenged rule by the privileged and few.

Voter ID laws which have swept the nation since 2011 effectively erode our system of representative government by blocking access to the seats of power by those who need it most: the young, the old, women and minorities. For example, Viviette Applewhite, who marched with Martin Luther King Jr. during the Civil Rights Movement, has cast a ballot in almost every presidential election since she first voted for John F. Kennedy in 1960. However, as a result of Pennsylvania’s new voter ID law, which requires voters to present a photo ID to election officials on Election Day, this may be the first year the 93-year-old is not able to vote because she, like many others, does not have access to the required legal documents necessary in order to acquire a photo ID…

Surprisingly, there is an overwhelming lack of evidence that voter fraud—the official justification for these laws—is occurring on a mass scale. For example, Florida has only seen 31 potential cases of voter fraud in the past three years, only three of which resulted in arrests. Between 2002 and 2007, the Justice Department conducted an investigation in order to rout out potential voter fraud. During that time period, there were 300 million votes cast, but only 86 successful convictions under anti-voter fraud laws. Of those 86 convicted, many were simply ex-felons and immigrants unaware that they were unable to vote.

Then there are the innocent victims. Take, for example, Kimberly Prude of Wisconsin who did not realize that she was not allowed to vote while on probation for cashing a counterfeit check. Once she realized her mistake, she went to election officials to rescind her vote. The reward for her honesty was being sentenced to over a year in prison. Usman Ali of Florida, a Pakistani immigrant who owned a jewelry store and, for all intents and purposes, embodied the American dream, had lived in America as a legal resident for ten years with his family. During a visit to his local DMV to renew his driver’s license, Ali was handed a stack of forms to fill out, including a voter registration form. Ali completed the form, not realizing that his honest mistake constituted a federal misdemeanor. For his so-called “crime,” Ali was deported back to Pakistan.

Clearly, voter fraud is not the real reason for these laws, so what’s really going on? Once again, the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), which epitomizes the Corporate State, i.e., the incestuous liaison between mega-corporations and the government, has been working behind the scenes. As The Nation reports, ALEC’s “‘Public Safety and Elections’ task force … has been the prime vehicle for proposing and advancing what critics describe as voter-suppression and anti-democratic initiatives—not just restrictive Voter ID laws but also plans to limit the ability of citizens to petition for referendums and constitutional changes that favor workers and communities.”

This is corporatocracy in action—what former presidential advisor Bertram Gross referred to as “fascism with a smile.” “Anyone looking for black shirts, mass parties, or men on horseback will miss the telltale clues of creeping fascism,” warned Gross in his 1980 book, Friendly Fascism: The New Face of Power in America. “In America, it would be super modern and multi-ethnic—as American as Madison Avenue, executive luncheons, credit cards, and apple pie. It will be fascism with a smile. As a warning against its cosmetic façade, subtle manipulation, and velvet gloves, I call it friendly fascism. What scares me most is its subtle appeal.”

Moreover, as Gross recognizes, “the subversion of constitutional democracy is more likely to occur not through violent and sudden usurpation but rather through the gradual and silent encroachments that would accustom the American people to the destruction of their freedoms.” In fact, the elite utilizes “triplespeak” to keep the public in line, feeding people myth and jargon to divert them from the truth. And, of course, the apathy and naivety, or possibly the cynicism and hopelessness, of the American citizenry contributes to their own oppression.

Let me be clear: This entire debate over voter ID laws isn’t about voter fraud and electoral integrity. Nor is it about Republicans trying to pull a fast one at the polls this year or suppress minority voters, although the facts would suggest otherwise. If these laws appear to favor one party or one segment of the populace over another, that’s just smoke and mirrors—something to keep us distracted and convinced that we have a say in whatever happens on Election Day. Yet when all is said and done, these voter ID laws are just one small piece of a systematic, wide scale effort to ensure that our corrupt, bloated, bilious government populated by self-serving politicians, bureaucrats and corporate yes-men remains exactly as it is—entrenched and unchanging.

I think he’s right in identifying the problem but wrong in his analysis in that last paragraph. To blame this on the “corporate elite” rather than on the Republican party specifically is simply inaccurate; the corporate elite dominates the Democratic party too, but that party opposes voter suppression efforts. I have no doubt that is a matter of political convenience too; if such laws benefited the Democratic Party, they would likely embrace them just as the Republican Party has. But those laws clearly benefit Republicans and that is the reason why the GOP favors them. But it doesn’t matter which party it benefits, it matters that it is a violation of one of the benchmark rights of a democratic society, the right to vote.

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  • unbound

    Actually, I think Whitehead is correct in his last paragraph. Although there is plenty of corporate influence in the democratic party, it isn’t nearly as pervasive as it is in the republican party which is why the extremist corporate party line sticks better there. I think the democratic party is only 10 to 20 years behind, but they will get there too.

  • d cwilson

    It’s a question of degree only. The democrats are about 50% dominated by the corporate elite while the GOP is a wholly-owned subsidary of our corporate overlords.

  • Artor

    “Nor is it about Republicans trying to pull a fast one at the polls this year or suppress minority voters, although the facts would suggest otherwise.”

    Pesky thing about those facts. They’re hard to ignore, and they do indeed suggest that this is ALL about Republicans suppressing minority voters.

  • What Artor said.

    From what I read about the 2000 election, Florida hired a private firm ahead of time to “clean up” its voter roles. So, say there was a felon named Arthur Johnson who was registered to vote — the company would remove him, and maybe a few other (black) Arthur Johnsons, and a few (black) Art Johnsons, and a few people who were black, had a name that began with “A” and the last name Johnson. And for good measure just some random black people.

    Because you can never be too sure about these matters. And you know how they all look alike and such.

    “An investigation by Leon County Elections Supervisor Ion Sancho revealed that 95% of those purged in his county were, in fact, legally entitled to vote. Greg Palast of the BBC found that more than half those wrongly purged were African-Americans, even though African-Americans represent only about 11% of the electorate and that the purge list contained almost no Hispanics, notwithstanding Florida’s sizable Hispanic population.” — http://www.sourcewatch.org/index.php?title=Voter_roll_purges

    Hell, that means in one county (Leon County is home of the capital city, Tallahassee) there likely were enough people disenfranchised to have put Gore over the top in the state. No wonder the reThugs are so voter-suppression happy. It works!

  • Trebuchet

    Anyone looking for black shirts, mass parties, or men on horseback will miss the telltale clues of creeping fascism.

    Dark grey suits, on the other hand…

  • Dennis N

    Despite the propaganda being advanced by the government

    By “the government”? Talk about vague. You mean the Republican party. Republicans gain power complaining about “the government”. Then govern poorly. Then complain about “the government”. How convenient.

    I just can’t quite muster up respect for him when he frames an issue this disingenuously.

  • bksea

    This made me think whether a different spin could stir this up a bit: What if someone started promoting the idea that this was all about the government trying to keep tabs on who was voting so they could punish those who vote against them, etc. You could really stir up those anti-government republican types. Could be fun.

  • Chris from Europe


    What I can’t understand, is that so many people were surprised when the problems in Florida were known before.