Chris Christie speaks the truth about vote suppression


    Chris Christie prides himself on being a straight shooter, so it was great the other day when he spoke the truth behind the GOP’s vote suppression crusade.

    The oft-told Republican lie, as we’ve heard so many times, is that the photo-ID laws are essential to stop the scourge of voter-impersonation fraud. There’s no such scourge – at least not in the empirical world – but this is a party that knows how to stay on message, even if the message is a crock.

    Every so often, however, someone commits candor. Pennsylvania House GOP leader Mike Turzai said in 2012 that the state’s photo-ID law “is gonna allow Governor Romney to win the state,” because Turzai knew which voters were less likely to have government photos. GOP strategist Scott Tranter said in 2012 that his party wanted to employ every possible tactic to win its races – “sometimes we think it’s voter ID.” Conservative activist Phyllis Schafly said last year that voters without government photos “are expected tp vote for Democrats.” North Carolina GOP official Dan Yelton said last year, referring to his state’s photo-ID law, “If it hurts a bunch of lazy blacks that want the government to give them everything, so be it.”

    • WHYY thanks our sponsors — become a WHYY sponsor

    And now it’s Christie. Tell it, governor!

    Would you rather have Rick Scott in Florida overseeing the voting mechanism, or Charlie Crist? Would you rather have Scott Walker in Wisconsin overseeing the voting mechanism, or would you rather have Mary Burke? Who would you rather have in Ohio, John Kasich or Ed Fitzgerald?…You’re going to care about who is running the state in November of 2016, what kind of political apparatus they’ve set up and what kind of government apparatus they’ve set up to ensure a full and fair election in 2016.

    At least Christie was subtler than Yelton. He voiced those remarks last week at a U.S. Chamber of Commerce confab, plugging his party’s gubernatorial incumbents – but, actually, he wasn’t subtle at all. What he basically said was that Republicans need to be running those states in 2016 so that they can craft a “government apparatus” to control “the voting mechanism” and thus boost the party’s presidential candidate.

    Apparently, in Christie’s view, elections aren’t decided by the largest possible pool of voters, exercising their constitutional franchise; rather, elections are supposed to be skewed by partisan governors who control “the voting mechanism” for partisan advantage.

    Well, at least he was honest about it. I suppose candor is better than the usual crock about combatting “voter fraud.”

    That Republican myth – which is right up there with the myth that massive tax cuts generate revenue and balance the budget – has long been dead on arrival. When Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett’s lawyers had to defend the state’s photo-ID law in court, they couldn’t cite a single instance of voter-impersonation fraud. When the journalism consortium News21 surveyed district attorneys nationwide, it determined that during the past decade, voter-impersonation fraud was “virtually non-existent” – a grand total of 10 cases, one for every 15 million eligible voters.

    And as conservative federal appeals court judge Richard Posner, a Reagan appointee, wrote last month in a Wisconsin photo-ID case, “There is no evidence that voter-impersonation fraud is a problem….Some of the ‘evidence’ of voter-impersonation fraud is downright goofy, if not paranoid.” Posner clearly knows which voters are most inconvenienced by the photo-ID requirement; he estimates that the cost of compliance (in terms of documentation, travel time, and waiting time) is as high as $175. In his wry words, “We (judges) are given photo IDs by court security, free of charge. And we have upper-middle-class salaries. Not everyone is so fortunate.”

    All told, the Reagan appointee wrote, “There is only one motivation for imposing burdens on voting that ostensibly designed to discourage voter-impersonation fraud, and that is to discourage voting by persons likely to vote against the party responsible for imposing the burdens.”

    As for Christie, it’s ironic that he wants Republican governors to control the “voting mechanisms” – because supposedly he’s the rare Republican who is popular with minority and downscale voters. Yet apparently, he’s not confident that he can win them over as a ’16 nominee. Hence the only alternative: Use the “voting mechanisms” to discourage those voters.

    Actually, there’s another option. Jason Thigpen, an Army vet who was weighing a Republican congressional bid in North Carolina, said during the summer of ’13 that the GOP should “inspire people to get out and vote rather than telling them they cannot vote.”

    Hey, what a great idea! But naturally, he was ignored – and he quit the party last winter. Unlike Chris Christie, he spoke the wrong kind of candor.


    Follow me on Twitter, @dickpolman1, and on Facebook.


    Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

    Together we can reach 100% of WHYY’s fiscal year goal