Some years ago, I was in New York and saw a state lottery scratch off game in a shop that was so goofy, I had to buy one. Normally, I don't throw away my money on such things (I prefer to throw away my money on Powerball, thank you very much), but this one was irresistible.
It featured the picture of a bug-eyed fellow sporting a manic smile alongside the words, "Hey, It Could Happen..." The combination of absurd optimism and cynical self-parody was too much. I bought one (and lost).
That kind of "You Never Know!" spirit still lives in the city these many years later, if one is to judge by Robert Popper's op-ed in yesterday's Wall Street Journal. Only, instead of a tasty ten buck lotto payoff, Popper has high hopes for a legitimate case of voter fraud.
In the piece, entitled "Political Fraud about Voter Fraud," Popper takes umbrage at President Obama's citation of a 2012 study by News21, showing only 10 cases of voter impersonation over a 12-year period.
Popper's first objection to the study was that, while the Arizona State University students had direction and help from journalists in conducting their investigation, it was--gasp--students themselves who sent out the surveys to state and county officials and compiled the returned results.
Furthermore, the study itself acknowledged that not all officials surveyed returned results. Some state and county elections supervisors and registrars of voters declined, stating that their laws didn't require public disclosure of voter fraud, and some didn't even track cases.
"Given these limitations," opines Mr. Popper, "It is hard to believe any valid conclusions about voter fraud can be drawn from this study." The ten instances cited are, in essence, merely anecdotal, and anecdotal data is never to be taken as comprehensive. There could be plenty of cases not reported. Hey, it could happen...
Perhaps we should also apply that same skepticism and "it could happen" extrapolation to reports of legitimate voters being denied the franchise because of new ID requirements. After the 2012 election, ThinkProgress' Ian Millhiser was able to easily dig up nine people turned away at the polls because of ID/registration card mixups and other problems due to newly-imposed laws.
So, let's compare one "anecdotal" study which found an average of .8 phony voter attempts a year and another which found 9 actual voters denied their rights in a year. Sounds like there may be merits to the complaint that the "solution" is far worse (more than an order of magnitude) than the "problem."
Of course, these numbers are over a year old. The problem clearly won't be as bad this year, right? Well...
With the Supreme Court striking down Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act last year, the floodgates opened to a whole new passel of voter-suppression efforts. The Brennan Center, which offers an annual roundup of new voter restriction legislation, cites 8 states which have further restricted ballot access in 2013.
As to whether new voter ID laws will add to our anecdotes of franchise denial, we can only look to Texas, whose laws allow ballot-blocking for reasons as small as a middle initial on one form of ID missing on another. And, in last year's Texas elections, our anecdote sack got a good bit heftier.
And, naturally, we're not done yet. The National Conference of State Legislatures reports 24 states with new or pending pieces of ballot access legislation. While it's hard to imagine any of these bills will increase Mr. Popper's hypothetical "missing" fraudulent voters, many real problems will undoubtedly result from their passage.
Conservatives are getting worried. Their pundit-proclaimed likelihood of ruling both houses of Congress are getting less likely by the day, as more Americans find they like having both health insurance and neighbors of many hues and habits.
They need all the help they can get from 'Pub legislators, pumping up the ID laws and shortening voting hours (less time for fake voters there, I guess).
With ballot restriction going full-tilt and the Kochs pumping tens of millions into state after state, they are hoping that, somehow, voters will put in representatives that will pass laws to make them poorer, sicker, more frightened and less hopeful.
And, if we don't GOTV like never before, hey, it could happen.