Friday, October 05, 2012

Federalist Society

Going to a Jesuit Law School in Boston, I assumed coming in that it would be a fairly liberal education. I also assumed that my classmates and the staff would lean more heavily left. I was not mistaken. My teachers are unabashedly liberal (well, all but one, who may still be, but who doesn't make Romney jokes in class). 

I decided to go to the Federalist Society meeting for two reasons yesterday. The first was they offered free lunch. Not gonna lie. The second was that they were offering a speaker and topic I wanted to hear about. The speaker was J. Christian Adams, author of Injustice a book about...well, I couldn't say because what he talked about didn't seem to mesh with what is on the cover of the book.

I will say that the Federalist Society did something I've not seen any other group do--they had a guest speaker who took the adversarial position. A Professor from Vermont Law School came as well, and the two had equal time to debate the issue. (Oh, and they had Chipotle instead of pizza, but they didn't order enough so I didn't eat. On that note, they came out a net zero.)

Basically, here were the points on either side:
  1. The Brennan Center for Justice report on voter fraud often cited left off many reported and verified cases of voter fraud in America. (see report here)
  2. There is no national tracking of registered voters because that is un-Constitutional.
  3. Outside groups, such as a Pew Report show that there are thousands upon thousands of people double-registered to vote in multiple states.
  4. (A sub point here, he went over several anecdotes of proven voter fraud--3 to be exact).
  5. In Minnesota alone, where 243 people have already been convicted of voter fraud and Al Franken won by only 350 +/-, control of the Senate was decided. (I will add here, the speaker implied they had all been convicted, but there is a large difference between "on trial for" and "convicted of")
(Vermont Law Professor whose name I've forgotten)
  1. Cleaning up voter rolls is a good and important thing to do.
  2. The various forms of voter fraud (multiple absentee voting, voting in multiple states, voting for dead people or those people who have moved by absentee ballot) each have different ways to stop them, none of which can be addressed by voter ID laws.
  3. The number of cases of voter fraud that can be stopped by voter ID laws is not higher than the number of people who cannot get IDs and are thus disenfranchised. 
  4. Anecdotal evidence of how difficult it is to get an ID (three examples)
  5. At this point the Professor made an entirely unrelated point (dig?) that he would take more seriously voter fraud as strictly care for democracy if those who support it so vigorously also supported campaign finance overhaul. (through the entire lunch, this was the only off point message given and seemed pretty poorly added.)
After that were counter arguments and questions. To sum up the counter arguments:

  1. Needing an ID would not stop multiple district voting, but make it easier to prosecute.
  2. Most states with voter ID laws aren't that hard to get IDs and have a safeguard where if it is too hard you can swear to that and vote anyway.
  3. Same day voter registration is a bad idea because there's not enough time to vet the registrants.
After that came questions (answers follow):
  1. If Motor Voter laws auto register us to vote when we move, how do people who move often ensure 1. they are registered in time to vote and 2. are un-registered in their prior home of record?
  2. Same day registration or "vouching" registration make it easy for people who move quickly before an election or are uninvolved until a short period before to vote. How do you protect that with strict voter registration laws?
  3. Wouldn't it be better to focus efforts not on prosecuting voter fraud afterwards than it would be on voter education as well as cleaning voter rolls within each state?
  1. There was no good answer for number 1. but for number two, one must write a letter to the prior voting district and request to be removed from the rolls.
  2. States can have a fail-safe where if you register that day, it is a provisional ballot that must be vetted. This way, if someone registers the day of the election, their vote will still count, but it will allow for vetting instead of joining the pool or prior registered and vetted voters.
  3. No answer to that one.
All things considered, it seems the third point was the best. Voter Fraud and Voter ID laws, it seems, as well as the fight against them, are just proxy fights. The real issues have to do with enfranchisement, with ease of voting, with protecting the democracy and how to do that. There are ways to do it which shift the burden of responsibility as well as the damage to democracy from one group to another. The voter rolls won't be perfect, so either there will be disenfranchisement or some fraud.  But, we can minimize both if we focused our efforts at cleaning the rolls in a way that doesn't just round up Latinos (as in Florida) or blacks (as in Louisiana) and then force them to prove their suffrage rights. But, that is not likely going to happen--finding common ground to address a problem that exists isn't nearly as important as grandstanding for your "side".

As a side note, I would have taken the speakers claims to "not care about politics" and instead only cares "about our democracy" if his book jacket weren't a blatant play of both the race card and political tribalism. His title alone would sit well next to Ann Coulter's books or others like them. If one really cares only for democracy, then why choose a jacket cover designed to pander to the far right absolutists?


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