Master impersonators taking on multiple identities to vote as other people. Dead people rising from their graves to haunt your neighborhood polling place. Non-citizens descending by the caravan to vote alongside true Americans.
The mythical beast known as “voter fraud” is as preposterous as it is seemingly invincible. No amount of research — and there has been plenty — has managed to slay it, and now, it has even found a majority on the Supreme Court to rule on its behalf.
By a 5-4 vote, the justices on Monday upheld Ohio’s aggressive purge of non-active voters from its rolls, which state officials say maintains “election integrity.” We say it is voter suppression, targeted at groups that lean Democratic — lower-income, minorities, young people and others who tend to move more frequently.
In 2015 alone, according to the Cleveland Plain Dealer, hundreds of thousands of voters were purged, including more than 40,600 in Cuyahoga County, home to Cleveland and a disproportionate share of low-income and black communities. A survey by Reuters found that Ohio’s purge struck twice as many voters from the rolls in Democratic-leaning neighborhoods in the state’s three largest counties as in Republican communities.
It’s not just Ohio. Multiple states similarly are fighting this war against imaginary or at least negligible voter fraud, tightening identification requirements at check-in, for example, or shortening early-voting hours. This even as study after study has found few legitimate cases of voter fraud. The most comprehensive research, by Justin Levitt of Loyola Law School, surveyed 14 years of elections in which a billion ballots were cast — and found 31 credible allegations of someone using another person’s name to vote. And not even all of those, Mr. Levitt has written, likely would stand up under further investigation.
As cynical as these election-protection efforts may be, there is a way to at least begin to ameliorate them — and it starts, ironically enough, by simply voting. Use it or lose it, in other words, to avoid getting purged from the rolls.
That, of course, is easier said than done. There are numerous reasons, from passion to practicality, why people sit out an election — if you work longer or non-traditional hours or have school, transportation, or child-care issues or have moved recently, it’s harder to get to the polling place no matter how much you care about the outcome of an election. And measures like Ohio’s create a cascading problem — you miss an election, you risk getting stricken and your right to vote in subsequent years.
As cynical and unjust as these election laws may be, this is the reality at the moment. But not taking the extra step — to get an absentee ballot or to find time to vote early — has all too clear consequences.
If nothing else, this past year has shown that elections matter. It matters to the kinds of laws that are enacted from the local to the global. It matters to the judiciary, from district to the highest level, that determines if those laws are indeed lawful. It most obviously matters in who we place in office.
Which brings to mind the results of a recent poll that found that the No. 1 issue for Maryland Democrats as they head to the polls for the primary election later this month is “removing Donald Trump from office.”
You could argue, correctly, that Mr. Trump is not on the Maryland primary ballot. Or that voters had their chance in 2016.
And some of those voters sat home, a passive act that nonetheless swung the election, according to data-crunchers. They have found that Hillary Clinton’s failure to draw Obama voters to the polls in Michigan, Wisconsin and other critical states helped propel Mr. Trump to victory.
Reliably blue Maryland went for Ms. Clinton, although our voter turnout rates have been shamefully low in some recent non-presidential years. It remains to be seen if this year’s governor’s race, and other high-interest contests such as Baltimore state’s attorney and Baltimore County executive will drive traffic to the polls.
Midterm elections traditionally attract fewer voters than a presidential year. And, according to Pew Research Center, those who skip the in-between years fit a particular demographic mold: They tend to be younger, less white and affluent and more Democratic-leaning than those who vote more consistently.
In other words, the same demographics of those who would denied the right to vote by tighter election laws. They may not have the power to change those laws, they can still avail themselves of a ballot.