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Election reform laced with fraud

July 22, 2012

Editor’s Note: Views expressed in guest columns and letters to the editor reflect the views of the author, not the views of The State News.

Election law is boring. There’s really no way around that fact. It doesn’t boast the furor and excitement that surround political issues such as gay marriage, abortion, gun regulation or even taxation mainly because it’s not easy to classify positions on election law into a form that can be ragefully shouted or quaintly packaged onto a placard at a rally.

We live in a pro-this/anti-that political atmosphere, where nuance is an increasingly foreign concept. When an issue arises that has more shades of gray than being black or white, we collectively shrug our shoulders, as if to say “If I can’t scream ‘yes’ or ‘no’ unequivocally, I really have no position.”

It is in these issues that our apathy can be taken advantage of, and before we know it, our collective not caring has allowed the proverbial rug to be pulled out from under our indifferent feet. Especially as college students, “indifferent feet” are usually just “feet.” No matter how boring election law seems, it is fundamental to keep an eye on that rug. Well, the rug came out recently.

A bundle of bills reforming election laws reached Governor Rick Snyder’s desk this summer. One would have imposed vague and confusing “training” regulations on voter registration drives, another demanded voters at the ballot reaffirm their citizenship status before receiving a ballot and the final bill mandated a voter show his or her ID when picking up an absentee ballot. Michigan is already a voter identification state that requires citizens to show ID at the precinct, but for the Republican-controlled state legislature apparently this is not enough.

The argument for stricter voter ID laws and restrictions on voter registration drives is this: we need to ensure the integrity of our elections — key phrase, remember this — by eliminating voter fraud.

Voter fraud is a resounding non-issue in determining the outcomes of American elections. Fortunately, voter impersonation and fraud happens extremely rarely at the ballot. A study by Advancement Project reflected on the impact of fraud on a national scale: “National data on illegal registration and voting in the 2002 midterm and 2004 presidential elections in which a total of more than 197 million votes were cast show that the percentage of illegal votes was statistically zero.”

On top of voter fraud being a complete non-issue in deciding elections, efforts to “curb” it — like the trio of bills presented to Snyder — actually serve to dissuade groups of voters from casting a ballot, or making it harder for them to register in the first place. These groups — the less educated, those at or near the poverty level, minorities and the elderly — are adversely impacted by these restrictions because they are less likely to have valid ID, and voter registration drives tend to target these very groups, according to a report about Indiana voters by the University of Washington.

Snyder broke the party line on stricter voting rights laws by vetoing these bills, and House Speaker Jase Bolger said he was “deeply disappointed” by the vetoes.

Now we come to the second effort to pull out the rug from under our apathetic feet. While Bolger was attempting to pass the aforementioned laws through the House — the ones that he intended to ensure the integrity of our elections from unscrupulous actors — he was simultaneously attempting to defraud the voters of House District 76. Pot, meet kettle.

The plot: in order to facilitate Grand Rapids state Rep. Roy Schmidt’s secretive switch from the Democratic Party to the Republican Party, and ensure his victory as a Republican in the fall election, paperwork for the secret party-switch was filed shortly before the May candidate filing deadline.

Bolger and Schmidt recruited a politically unknown 22-year-old to file as a Democrat in the district. As compensation, the 22-year-old fall guy was offered $450. Later, the sum allegedly escalated to $1,000, and the fall guy promptly declined the whole deal and backed out. Bolger initially claimed to have no knowledge of the payment, but only a true naïf would believe that.

Text messages between Bolger and Schmidt read as if giddy junior high school students wrote them while hatching a crack scheme to fix a student council election. Dialogue highlights include such face-palm-inducing phrases as “Super!”, “All systems go!”, “We have our man” and “I am so nervous at this point — just want it to go perfect!” If this dialogue came from a pilot episode of a new political intrigue show on cable, the script writer would be laughed at for lack of imagination.

Bolger, one of the most powerful players in our state government, preyed on the apathy of the people he took an oath to serve, thinking he could pull a fast one on the people of Michigan and on democracy. Are we to assume that a man who was engaging in a fraudulent attempt to defraud voters actually cares about the integrity of elections?

The answer is painfully, unequivocally clear: of course he doesn’t. But we will continue to be taken advantage of by manipulative politicians, regardless of party — this time around it happened to be a Republican, but no doubt it will be a Democrat in the future — until we demand accountability and consequence.

Will Bolger keep his job? Most likely. Will he be rewarded with re-election this fall? Most likely. A man like that has no place in public service, and his allies that represent us in the state legislature will no doubt protect him. If we collectively don’t demand that people like Bolger get thrown out of office after blatant embezzlement of power, we deserve every last attempt they make to destroy our democratic rights. If Bolger stays in power, we have defrauded ourselves.

Bobby Busley is a guest columnist at The State News and an urban and regional planning senior. Reach him at busleyro@msu.edu.

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