Saturday, October 20, 2012

Feedback on Voter Suppression: Good, Bad and Ugly

I really love this email list! I can quickly disseminate my views on things I care about – and also engage in enlightening conversations with a wide range of interesting people who challenge my ideas and from whom I can learn. I’ve gotten more feedback from yesterday’s emails than any I’ve ever sent. Without further ado, let’s dive into the mailbag:

1) Let’s start with the merits of the argument: is voter fraud a real issue and even if it’s not, what’s the harm of requiring a photo ID? One reader wrote:

Thank you for your interesting views on school choice and other issues.

You asked to be contacted immediately if someone thinks Republicans are really concerned  about voter fraud.

No doubt, there are those who use fraud as a pretext to gain an electoral advantage.   It seems no different than the gerrymandering in which both parties engage every ten years.

At a very minimum, however, there is a colorable argument that Minnesota’s very lax laws that allow for same-day registration present justifiable concerns for debating voter fraud.  

Some may argue about the motivations of Mr. York, John Fund, et al.  But it is the research and findings that should be scrutinized and debated—not their perceived motivations.

Accordingly, I do object to your blanket claim of racism or racist behavior.  It seems unnecessary to make your point and, at least in Minnesota, inaccurate.  Moreover, it is based on an opinion that African Americans cannot maintain valid driver licenses.  That opinion seems similar to teachers’ claims that Black children are incapable of learning.

I wish to continue to receive your emails.

Here was my reply:

You articulate your points well (and civilly – thank you), but I don’t agree with them.

Re. “It seems no different than the gerrymandering in which both parties engage every ten years.” This is the only honest argument I’ve heard – that both parties play lots of dirty political tricks, so why brand this one as uniquely despicable and racist? I suppose reasonable people could disagree, but to me is crosses way over the line, especially because it’s mostly occurring in states with sordid, racist histories (less than 50 years ago) of voter suppression via poll taxes, etc.

Re. “there is a colorable argument that Minnesota’s very lax laws that allow for same-day registration present justifiable concerns for debating voter fraud”. Show me evidence that same-day registration leads to voter fraud. Personally, I think people should be AUTOMATICALLY be registered to vote, unless they opt out, when they have ANY interaction with a government agency that requires identification: driver’s license, passport, social security, Medicare/Medicaid, putting your kid in a public school, unemployment benefits, a hunting license, welfare, etc. Then (if I were czar), I would do what Australia does and make voting compulsory, which results in 95% of citizens doing so (see To me, it’s like jury duty – a basic civic duty for all citizens of a democracy.

Re. York’s article (based on a book by conservative journalist John Fund and former Bush Justice Department official Hans von Spakovsky) claiming that voter fraud by convicted felons delivered the MN Senate seat to Al Franken (and gave Democrats the critical 60th vote needed to pass Obamacare), their claims have been completely debunked:

Lastly, I think you’re making a spurious analogy when you write that the views of me and others like me are “based on an opinion that African Americans cannot maintain valid driver licenses.  That opinion seems similar to teachers’ claims that Black children are incapable of learning.” There are millions of adults in this country who lack the ID required by these laws, disproportionately the poor, minorities and elderly (see next email for more details), and for many it would be a real burden to get such an ID – there are people in Texas who would have to drive 250 miles round trip to get an ID. In the absence of ANY evidence that in-person voter fraud is even a tiny problem, why should a burden be placed on millions of people who want to exercise their constitutional right to vote?!

Along the same lines, another wrote:

Why is it racist to ask all voters to prove that they are who they say they are?  Unless you are assuming disparate rates of fraud by race, it should have an even impact.

It strikes me that folks are looking for an excuse to explain in advance why turnout/enthusiasm will be inevitably lower for Obama.  The real answer is that "first times" are always more exciting than repeat performances.  

I am not trying to be political.   And I don't think you are either.  But I think you are assuming ill motives without any proof other than Bill Clinton says so.

You usually are more rigorous than this.  The snarky comment about the Brooklyn Bridge may be mildly amusing, if overdone, but you should have more evidence than you present to level the serious charge of racism.

My reply:

It’s not different rates of fraud, but different rates of holding valid photo IDs. According to one study, only 8% of whites and 11% of all adults lack a valid photo ID – but 25% of blacks, 20% of Asians, 19% of Latinos, 18% of 18-24 year olds, 18% of seniors, and 15% of those earning less than $35,000 do. One more statistic: there have been on 10 (TEN!) cases of in-person voter fraud in the entire U.S. since 2000 (other studies show a few more cases – but no more than 1/1,000th of 1%). As Jon Stewart correctly notes: “That's 0.000000284% of all votes! So you can see why Pennsylvania would want to enact a voter ID law that one study claims would potentially disenfranchise over 758,000 of that state's lawfully registered voters, or around 9% of the entire Pennsylvania electorate. But that's the price you pay to prevent something that doesn't happen.”

I know you’re a savvy and seasoned political operative, so I refuse to believe you don’t understand as clearly as I do exactly what the impact of these laws would be – and exactly what is motivating Republicans to push for them. If not, that bridge of mine is still for sale…

Re. your 2nd paragraph that Democrats are worried about turnout, indeed we are. But in states where Democrats are the majority, are you seeing attempts to pass laws to make it easier to vote? The sleaziness is only on one side.

Re. your last two paragraphs, you must have missed some of my emails – I’ve written quite a bit about this and the evidence regarding both the impact and the intentions is overwhelming, so I think it’s your rigor, not mine, that’s lacking. In my next email are various links that will bring you up to speed on what your party is really up to. This 8:23 segment by Jon Stewart captures it beautifully (and it’s funny!): (the transcript of it is here: In addition, a friend wrote: “The new Greg Palast book, Billionaires & Ballot Bandits: How to Steal an Election in 9 Easy Steps [], is an incredible expose of the voter suppression effort. It is truly nauseating.”


I love being on your email lists… but on this issue, I disagree. 

What about the reports of bringing busloads of people across state lines to affect the polls?  There are accusations that ACORN did this in the 08 primaries, and reports of falsifying registrations for people and busing them off to illegally vote against Scott Brown in MA (apparently making stops at multiple voting locations).  Others include bringing people into Wisconsin for the ‘recall’ vote with hundreds of same day registrants listing the election commission HQ as their home address, and financial incentives of Election Day employment to get people on buses to Omaha.  Obviously I have zero hard evidence having seen only dubious online reports.   But, heightened partisanship combined with no ID/same day voting registration certainly makes this possible.   So, if people can get to the polls I don’t see harm or racism in asking them to get to a govt office for an ID.

Plus, I don’t buy the argument that the low number of voter fraud cases means it isn’t happening much.  It’s sort of like jaywalking in midtown… there’s very few prosecutions but it happens at nearly every red light.  A lack of enforcement makes people feel comfortable attempting what they shouldn’t, so I support efforts by govt to ID voters because it will deter fraud. 

My reply:

There’s a lot of right-wing nonsense out there claiming that voter fraud happens a lot, but there’s no credible evidence that it really exists to any detectable degree (read this: Just think about it: people jaywalk (or drive too fast) for a reason: to get somewhere faster. Or drink underage because it’s cool and fun.

But where’s the basic human incentive for individuals to commit voter fraud (which is a felony in most places I think)? I can understand why a candidate or party might want people to vote twice or import voters from another state to help them win an election, but do you REALLY think they can get a lot of individuals to go along with something so blatantly wrong and illegal? C’mon!

(Below are various links and articles with more information about this issue.)

2) Some readers didn’t like my tone and/or said it was over the top or counterproductive to say that what the Republicans are doing is racist:

Whitney, like many Republicans on your list, I'm fairly conservative. No one appreciates your passion more than I do.

The reason we love hearing from you is your ability to pull together so many people on a cause near and dear to us all. You are truly one of the centers of influence on ed reform.

But most are not here to be lectured to (it feels that way sometime) about complex topics like illegal immigration where intelligent people disagree.

I worry that these few non-educational emails drive a wedge between like-minded ed reformers. While they don't bother me, they obviously bring out non-productive passions from viewers. We all receive a lot of emails and our time is precious; we are really here to get excellent ed updates.

I hope these thoughts seem as heart-felt as they are. Please do NOT remove me from your list.

My reply:

Fair points and elegantly stated. But this isn’t illegal immigration (or Obamacare, Iran, taxes, or the countless issues our parties disagree on) – a line has been crossed here and I’m willing to anger/annoy/irritate some of my readers on this – because it is precisely those readers (like both of you) who have influence in the Republican party (I obviously have none) who can end this immoral crusade. Don’t you see that if you boil it down, what’s really going on here is that your party is engaged in a widespread attempt to bring back thinly disguised poll taxes?

And even putting the morality of it aside, don’t you see that politically it is blowing up in your faces? Obama’s going to eke out a victory in 2½ weeks (it’s 70% likely today), despite this being an election that Romney SHOULD WIN given the state of the economy, the massively lower level of enthusiasm for Obama among Democrats, etc. After Romney loses (and Democrats continue to hold the Senate), I sincerely hope that, amidst the recriminations and finger pointing, intelligent moderates take back the Republican party after this failed experiment with extremism. While it would likely be bad for the Democratic party, it would be very good for the long-term future of our country.

Another wrote:

Sad. Whitney, even if you are right,  you are engaged in the kind of abusive, righteous, and bitter rhetoric that poisons our political system.  I know you feel passionately and it is the heat of the political season.  But your blanket and vitriolic smear of an entire political party and ascribing motivations that you assign to someone who might disagree with you is over the top. Your argument about voter ID laws could be right (but you should have the humility to consider you might be wrong in part) but who wants to listen to anyone who is spitting condemnation in their face? I believe you will wake up in a few days or weeks and realize that your lack of civility is deeply wrong. I hope for your sake that you do.

My reply:

I think I have measured views on most issues and rarely demonize a person or party with the opposite point of view. I support Obamacare, for example, but I don’t doubt that those who want to repeal it care about the problem of nearly 50 million uninsured people – they just may weigh this differently than I do when considering other factors like costs. But sometimes a line is crossed and I let loose – civility be damned. Two of my all-time favorite quotes are: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” (Margaret Mead) and “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing” (Edmund Burke). Do you think Mead and Burke are calling on people to be calm, polite, and civil? Also, I don’t recall you emailing me to tell me to tone it down when I blasted the unions in CA for killing a bill that would make it easier to get rid of sexual predators in the classroom, or for violating a court order to deny parents in Adelanto their rights after their parent trigger vote. Sometimes I go too far – but this isn’t one of those cases.

3) A lot of Republicans are as disgusted as I am with what their party is doing on this issue (and, in general, about how it’s gotten hijacked by extremists):

I agree with you 100%. I am a Republican and my party sickens me.  The Republican party has been hijacked by extremists who have warped social views and are clueless around climate change issues.  Really embarrassing and a discredit to most mainstream Republicans.


I am a Republican and support your commentary on this ultimately racist behavior.  The most powerful thoughts I have heard on the issue came early on in the campaign when I got to listen to a Republican former governor call for Mitt Romney to make a forceful statement demanding an end to the voter identification push.  He argued, and I agree, that not only would it have been an important moral and ethical stand (the overriding rationale for such a stance), but, as a pragmatic bonus, but it would be a political masterstroke in demonstrating a personal style of leadership independent from the scarier and more sinister corners of the right wing, a move that would have won over many of the key middle-of-the-road voters. 

With the passage of time, I am only more aware of how right he was about the moral cowardice that failing to do so demonstrates AND the political value such a stand would have had.  Doing the right thing is not always impractical. Keep fighting the good fight and calling them as you see them.  Thanks for your efforts. 


Whitney, as a real, true Republican, I just had to write to back you up on this. I agree with fighting voter fraud, and I disagree a bit with you because I don't think instituting stronger requirements to vote is necessarily a bad thing. But Republicans in the state houses around the nation where they passed all these laws could have done a simple thing to make these new laws acceptable: Have them take effect in two or four years for the NEXT election, not this year's. That's silly, wrong, and a transparent political move. And in doing so, we (Republicans) ceded the higher ground to Democrats on this issue. Shame. I just thought I'd chime in with some words of support. Never take me off of your email list!


GOOD FOR YOU for standing up to that nonsense. I know plenty of conservatives (e.g. my dad) who used to consider themselves Republicans and now are furious with racist, classist, sexist, everything-ist direction GOP is going in, dominated by religious right and Tea Party. It's a shame.


As a Republican, I want to assure you that I took no offense from your comments. While I understand the political realities that drive the behavior, I agree that most of these voting rules are discriminatory; however I think they are more often targeted at the poor and at immigrants than at any particular race (although there is clearly a correlation between both groups, so maybe my point is moot).

I also completely agree with your last point: my party has been completely "hijacked by anti-intellectual extremists."  I am a big fan of Mitt Romney's record in both the private and public sectors, and I will be voting for him in the upcoming election, but I am incredibly disappointed with the way he's turned his back on so much of the progress he's made, most notably on healthcare reform in Massachusetts and on social issues he's previously supported like abortion rights, simply to appease the right-wing crazies.  Again, I understand the political reality of his situation, but it's frustrating to see.

I am a young professional working in private equity and living in NYC and I frankly find the current political landscape disheartening.  Too many of my friends feel our political views are stranded on an island, where on the one hand we want smaller government and fewer social programs (Republican) but on the other want increased tolerance and acceptance of social movements for gay marriage, abortion rights, and healthcare reform (Democracts).  I typically vote Republican but find supporting either party harder and harder each day.

Separately, I wanted to say thank you for all the work you do both in putting these e-mails together and on the issue of education.  I recently got involved with KIPP NYC on the Associates Council after a talk you gave last year at Bain's offices.  You've forged a path for non-partisan and effective education reform and I'm excited to be a part of the work you and others are doing. 


I am surprised that anyone who receives your email would respond in such a way. Must have been a casual reader. As a Republican, I am troubled by the extent to which the GOP has lost its way--especially with regard to education. Jack Kemp inspired me with his desire to use markets, economics and ideas to create a true Opportunity Society for every citizen. I saw (and still see) education, particularly public education, as the critical first step for that to be possible.

I believe the pendulum is swinging to a point where Republicans will again become intellectually engaged with constructive ideas to forward education reform. Our politics lack civility and thoughtfulness right now. Hopefully through all of our efforts that will begin to change soon.

By the way, I was at New Profit Foundation's Gathering of Leaders in Coral Gables in February and Jeb Bush was one of the featured speakers to a predominantly Democratic group of social entrepreneurs. His message truly resonated and several colleagues expressed their thoughts that he was a Republican they could vote for. Keep slugging. I always find your messages to be both inspiring and validating of the hard work with which we are engaged.


As another D who spends much of my personal and professional time pushing and criticizing my own party, I expect R's to do the same. Frankly, I have to spend quite a bit of time educating R's on the issue too: all kids can learn, supply side alone isn't going to "solve" the problem -- we need great teachers and great schools for all children, plain and simple.  

4) Two other readers with good points:

Thank you for being able to say what most leaders today cannot.  It is a cruel irony that our first black president can do no more than allude to racial inequality (witness his watered down comments about Arizona's immigration law during the Hofstra debate) without being smeared by Fox News and their ilk as a race baiter or an angry black man.

I'm a Teach for America corps member in Jackson, Mississippi and 98% of my students are black.  People from their communities are the prime demographic for voter suppression -- indeed, this state's voter ID law has attempted just that.  It has been up to both non-partisan (e.g., SPLC) and partisan (e.g., OFA) organizations to tell voters that the law is not in effect this year; the Secretary of State
refuses to help spread the word.

I've observed an unspoken belief among people of all races here in Mississippi that with the civil rights movement behind us, all the racial inequality that can be fixed has been fixed.  We've lost the language to talk about privilege and inequality.  We desperately need a national conversation about race, which I bet, among other things, will make your moderate Republican ex-readers less defensive about seeing the word "racism."

Let's hope that in a second term, Obama feels more empowered to start that conversation, and let's hope that leaders across the spectrum are brave enough to join in.


I think you'd be much better off with the phrase "racial discrimination" rather than "racist". The most common definition of racist is someone who believes that one race is superior to another. I think you are referring to a definition that suggests someone who (or some policy that) discriminates against people of a certain race. (I'm not even sure that this is a proper use of the word "racist" but let's assume that it is.)

Even if the goal of Voter ID is to reduce Democrat votes, I don't think that suggests that the Republicans responsible believe that one race is superior to another. Meanwhile, I certainly like the idea of trying to minimize voter fraud but not in a manner that unfairly discourages people from voting.  I have no opinion on the details of Voter ID, but I wish more of the debate were about discussing those details rather than name-calling.

5) Finally, thanks to the many of you who sent words of support and encouragement:

·         This is so incredibly well said. Only point of disagreement is that you've played a "small" role in D's getting their act together. What DFER has accomplished - especially given its budget and relative newness - is unbelievable. Pound-for-pound the best fighters in ed reform, by far.

·         After that reply, can you put me on your list twice?
·         Mr. Tilson - you are an inspiration!  If you ever visit Utah - please look me up, we can hit the slopes together :)

·         Please never stop living with a moral spine. 

·         Bravo. My response to people who ask me how I could "possibly be a Democrat?" is simple: I tell them that I can't vote for candidates from a party that doesn't believe in evolution anymore. It usually shuts them up.

·         This made me giggle which I haven't done in a while. Thank you. I truly enjoy being on your list. 

·         Well, I just got on your list. I am old white southern and republican but not angry. Can I stay on your list?

·         Yay! Go Whitney! Your passion inspires people across party lines so don't ever back off or back down.

·         I deeply appreciate your emails.  Thank you for galvanizing people to become more engaged in this election.  We need more people to call attention to all of the attempts to suppress voter turnout. Please continue your political emails.  It's very important.  Too much is at stake this election.

6) As promised, here’s a summary of links and articles with further information:

·        Jon Stewart’s done the best job of exposing what’s really going on here:

2) (Jessica Williams explains how Republican state legislatures' voter I.D. laws will end the free ride for America's minorities and other disenfranchised demographics.)
3) (Larry Wilmore explains the world of voter suppression, in which black folks are the delicious tuna and senior citizens are the innocent dolphins who get pulled up in the net.)

·        Below are two NY Times editorials and two op eds, followed by an article that discredits Republican claims of voter fraud.

·        Last but not least, a friend wrote: “The new Greg Palast book, Billionaires & Ballot Bandits: How to Steal an Election in 9 Easy Steps [], is an incredible expose of the voter suppression effort. It is truly nauseating.”

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