Columns » Max Brantley

Caution: voter fraud

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Republicans have been raising the alarm for years about voter fraud.

It's a concern, yes. But the most worrisome fraud is ON voters, not BY them.

Republicans say we need Voter ID laws to insure that a voter is who she claims to be.

There's no evidence that voter impersonation is a problem. You must provide concrete proof of ID to register. You must sign to vote. Your vote may be challenged if election officials doubt you are who you say you are.

Vote fraud doesn't happen much because it isn't efficient. How does a potential fraudulent voter know voters are dead, or won't be immediately in front of him in line, if he attempts to impersonate someone else? Scaling fraud up to productive levels is impossible. Bundling of dubious absentee ballots is another matter. But Voter ID laws won't cure that.

The fraud is that Voter ID laws are intended to suppress voting by constituencies that tilt Democratic — college students, the elderly, minorities. Republican leaders also oppose extended voting hours and early voting, which give working poor more opportunities to get to the polls.

Fraud is a favorite red herring in politics. Propose to raise taxes and a Republican wack-a-mole will pop up shouting "fraud and abuse." Yes, there's waste in government, from $750 toilet seats to GSA junkets to Las Vegas, but cumulatively it's insignificant against needs and the historically light tax burden being put on the wealthy.

Fraud was on the lips of an Arkansas Republican this week, the new Republican House leader, Bruce Westerman of Hot Springs Village. Westerman is a teabagger. He believes there's no government service or beneficiary that couldn't benefit from a little strangling.

This week, Westerman suggested to an Democrat-Gazette reporter that the state should investigate fraud in ARKids, the monument to Republican Gov. Mike Huckabee that has extended health insurance to most of the children in Arkansas. Westerman has no proof of fraud. Indeed, Arkansas runs one of the better programs for rooting out the ineligible. But greedy Republicans, who know the dark inclinations that lurk in their own souls, are sure people out there are scheming to find a way to get the state to pay for their kids' insurance rather than paying themselves.

Fraud is possible in any human endeavor. To get a tax deduction, people lie about how much money they give to their churches. But it doesn't mean we eliminate the tax deduction for honest people to punish the cheats.

Fraud isn't Westerman's aim. His game is slashing spending on ARKids and other services for the working poor. The cutoff for participation — $46,100 for a family of four — is too high, he says. How low is too low? Westerman doesn't say. I suspect the depth of the cut depends on how much money Westerman and his Republican pals have to raise to pay for an income tax cut (if the Kansas model is followed, it would primarily benefit the wealthy). They'll worry later about the long-term cost of giving up cheap early medical screening and treatment for expensive future problems.

Republican politicians have never been clearer that they want to slash taxes, slash government environmental regulation and slash government programs on which a poor state depends. Many voters seem to believe a return to feudalism will be good for them. I still think the day will come — though I may not live to see it — that those voters will say it wasn't they who cast those votes in 2012, it was a horde of impostors.

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