Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Schultz's Crusade Disenfranchises Legitimate Voters

One of the dangers of arguing from the absolute is that a single counter-example shatters the argument.

Republicans have defended the puny results of Matt Schultz's voter fraud crusade with an absolute argument: that even one illegitimate voter justifies the effort, and by extension justifies the voter ID law Schultz wants to leave as his legacy as he tries to exit for Congress.

That's a flawed justification, because none of the handful of cases was someone impersonating someone else who could have been stopped by ID. But that's also a tangent from that main point: even one case is too many.

It's the ultimate question of justice. Which is worse: the guilty going free, or the innocent being punished?

Well, now we have our counter-example: proof that the innocent HAVE been punished.

Ken Kline, the Cerro Gordo County auditor, reports that one non-felon and two ex-felons were mistakenly included on a list of felons ineligible to vote in Iowa – but the problem wasn’t caught until after it was too late to include their ballots in the official tally.

“I enjoy my job, and take pride in serving as county auditor in Iowa, where we have a strong history of fair and impartial elections,” Kline wrote in the letter (to Schultz). “One thing I dislike intensely is when I have to send a letter to a voter, notifying the voter his or her ballot was rejected. To have rejected a ballot based on an error or incorrect information is troubling, to say the least.”

In his letter, Kline suggested Schultz pursue two fixes: Analyze how the list of felons is compiled and identify how the three errors happened in the first place, and have the DCI investigate all Iowans flagged as possible felons in future elections before the vote is final.

Kline told the Register that he sent letters to the three voters on Tuesday notifying them that they are indeed eligible to vote, and one man telephoned him to thank him, saying it meant a lot that his vote will count next time.

The Register article makes much of Kline's party, making it the first word in the headline. But I knew Ken for years before I knew his affiliation, and knowing him I think he'd be disappointed with that emphasis. So read that headline as "ELECTION official: Mistakes on elections list wrongly barred three Iowans from voting." Because that's how he sees himself.

Ken Kline is universally respected by the other auditors of both parties and was the state's pioneer in rolling out computerized poll books for use at precincts on election day. (Tangent: Schultz has tried to roll out competing software but nearly all counties are staying with the "Precinct Atlas" program originally developed by Kline's staff.)

I've had to tell people "you can't vote," and even if the reason back before election day registration was just procrastination or lack of awareness, it's still heartbreaking. And having to tell someone "you can't vote" when in fact they had done nothing wrong and fully HAD that right is simply unacceptable.

And scaring away people who have the right to vote is just as bad. For that's the real point of this crusade: not the tiny handful of people who made a mistake, misunderstood a confusing law that has changed and then changed back, and then got caught and prosecuted when a strongly worded letter should have been sufficient.

No, the real point is the hundreds and thousands of people who will hear those stories and say to themselves, "I'm not taking any chances." The poor and the disenfranchised and the marginalized are USED to the system messing with them. They EXPECT it. If you make voting a hassle with the law, people will avoid the hassle.

Even more to the point, the poor and the disenfranchised and the marginalized are overwhelmingly likely to vote a particular way. Mission accomplished, Matt.

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