This election season, there's been a lot of false information spread about the idea of "voter fraud." We hear almost daily that this election is "rigged."
The reality is that voter fraud is extremely rare. Statistically, it's nonexistent. Not only is this message a lie, it is undermining the very idea of our democracy and the integrity of voting. Calling elections "rigged" and making false claims about "voter fraud" also distracts from the actual real problems many voters do experience. Voter suppression is the real problem. It's keeping people away from the polls to vote for the issues that matter to them, like clean air, clean water, and healthy communities. Let's talk about the people most impacted by voter suppression: African Americans, Latinos, young people, and low-income Americans, and women across all races.
There is power in voting. That is at the very foundation of our democracy. One person, one vote. Since our country's founding, there has been a debate about who should have access to that power. Only wealthy, land-owning, white men were granted that power at first.
Even once women and people of color and 18-year-olds were protected from discrimination in voting, those in power found other ways to suppress the vote of people they didn't want influencing decisions. In 1964, Congress passed the Voting Rights Act (VRA) to combat some of the systemic oppression happening throughout the South. Racist and reckless leaders, trying to hold onto the Confederacy, had implemented poll taxes, literacy tests, and the creation of laws that disenfranchised people with felony convictions. They instituted laws intentionally to target people of color. This continues to take place today. Today, over 6 million Americans can't vote because they have a felony conviction. This includes 3.1 million people who have already completed their sentences.
After the Tea Party swept into state legislatures around the country in 2010, we saw the largest attack on voting rights since before the passage of the VRA. In total, 181 bills were dropped in 41 states that would make it harder, and in many states impossible, for Americans to register and to vote. Many of these laws were blocked by federal courts and the VRA. But, a second major blow to protect the vote came in 2013 when the Supreme Court gutted the Voting Rights Act. Within days, many of those states that passed legislation in 2011 rushed to pass laws shutting down early voting, make registering to vote harder, and pass extreme voter ID laws requiring very specific and costly forms of photo identification.
The justification provided by the proponents of these extreme laws is often voter fraud. As stated above, voter fraud is not real. An analysis of election data between 2000 and 2014 of billions of votes cast around the country found just 31 instances of legitimate fraud by a voter. Thirty-one. Out of a BILLION. An election supervisor in Florida said, "You are more likely to walk out of your office and get hit by a bolt of lightning," than experience voter fraud in his state.
In Missouri, the Republican-controlled legislature put a measure on the 2016 ballot that would change their state Constitution and remove the guaranteed right to vote. If passed, it would amend the Constitution of Missouri to state that voters will be required by law to present identification a very specific government-issued photo ID. About 220,000 currently registered Missourians don't have the proper ID to cast a ballot. Many of those that would be affected are African Americans, seniors, and college students and young people. It costs money to get a driver's license. DMVs are not always accessible. About a quarter of African-Americans don't have a government-issued ID. Voter fraud is not a major problem, especially when comparing its rarity to the millions of Americans who can't vote due to targeted and racist voter suppression efforts.
We must ask ourselves, then, why are a handful of legislators and pundits actively spreading lies about voter fraud and passing laws to fix a problem that doesn't exist? Power. Voting is the direct path to picking the people who make the decisions impacting our lives. Decisions like whether a pipeline is built through our land and drinking water, or whether the corporation operating the coal plant that dumps toxic pollution should be held accountable, or whether our public lands are destroyed to drill for dirty fuels.
States, cities, and counties around the country are implementing policies making it harder for very specific people to vote. And at the same time, corporations, including big polluters, and the super wealthy individuals who profit off of corporations are dumping billions of dollars into elections to elect people to office to do their bidding. Those handful of individuals and the corporations they run are doing damage to our democracy. They are attempting to rig elections in their favor. The communities that face the worst environmental injustices and a disproportionate share of climate change's effects are also many of the communities most impacted by suppressive and discriminatory voting laws.
So, to recap, fraud committed by voters is not the problem. Data and facts prove that. But, more than a dozen states have new suppressive and discriminatory laws on the books for the first time ever this election. Candidates are recruiting people to show up at polling locations where students and people of color are likely to vote to intimidate them. However, a few people have figured out that if they cannot convince the majority of their opinions, then they will just change the rules of the game and cut those people out. But the major way we can counter this attempt to undermine our democracy and take away the voice of the people is to vote. While these restrictive laws do exist, they have not completely co-opted the system. It's critical that we push back on Election Day. And it's even more critical that we continue to work together to push back on this attempt by a handful of super wealthy, racist, polluters and corporations to shut out the voices of the majority. Vote today. Tomorrow, let's fight to protect the right to vote.