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The struggle continues 

Columnist's note: Readers often ask me why I don't engage Mr. Fonzi's misunderstanding of climate science. I point the perplexed to research by Dan Kahan and colleagues showing that additional facts will not cure Mr. Fonzi of his delusions. See "The Polarizing Impact of Science Literacy and Numeracy on Perceived Climate Change Risks" 2 Nature Climate Change 732 (2012).

Our electoral process has been much improved since the days of Tammany Hall, when the 19th century Democratic machine in New York controlled election outcomes by physically dragging poll watchers out of the polls, and sending in rounds of supporters multiple times, after having shaved their beards. Over the centuries, the implementation of the secret ballot, the expansion of the suffrage and the elimination of property requirements, poll taxes, and literacy tests, and the professionalization of election administration have greatly reduced election irregularities of all types.

Of course, no electoral system is fraud proof. But what sorts of fraud are most common? In previous essays I have demonstrated just how rare voter impersonation is, despite what our chronically dishonest president claims ("The meaning of fraud," Feb. 16). In 2016, it appears that two women, one in Iowa and one in Texas, voted for Donald Trump twice, but there is no evidence that they were trying to impersonate other voters. As a recent Brennan Center for Justice report demonstrates, while there have been thousands of allegations of voter fraud over the last decade, an investigative journalism program headed at Arizona State University confirmed only 10 cases of voter impersonation fraud between 2000 and 2012. Most of the few dozen people convicted of illegal voting were temporarily prohibited from exercising their rights (such as felony conviction) or otherwise voted by mistake.

Statistically speaking, people are more likely to claim that they have been abducted by aliens than to commit voter impersonation fraud. What is far more common is attempting to manipulate vote totals through the fraudulent use of absentee ballots or otherwise altering vote counts through stuffing ballots, buying votes, or electioneering. In big cities like Chicago, it is not unusual for hundreds of allegations of electioneering to be made on Election Day. In San Luis Obispo County, we are likely to see only a handful, but it is still more common than voter impersonation.

Electioneering can take a number of forms, ranging from signs, T-shirts, buttons, or other election material displayed within 100 feet of a polling precinct, deterring the other side's voters, or conducting get-out-the-vote efforts near precincts. This last offense is what one of our local Republican Central Committee members, and long-time partisan official Edith Knight was recently convicted of, and for which she paid a mere $500 fine.

Edith Knight was operating as a poll watcher for Supervisor Debbie Arnold's campaign, but also running as a candidate on the ballot as a GOP official, and veteran campaign worker. Typically, poll watchers are deployed by campaigns to select precincts at 9 a.m., 12 p.m., 3 p.m., and 6 p.m. to record who has voted, and to take that information back to campaign headquarters to contact their remaining voter base. Campaigns regularly monitor each other to make sure each is playing by the rules, and Edith was caught recruiting voters in the lobby of a voting precinct. That's electioneering, and she knew it, that's why she asked the person who caught her not to report it. Given that she is an elderly white lady (imagine if a young Latino working for a Democrat was caught doing the same thing?), she was offered no fine for an admission of guilt, but refused. So she quickly lost at trial, and is now a convicted criminal. Unfortunately, her fine was so low, it will probably not serve as a sufficient deterrent for Arnold's future campaign staff, who appear to be undeterred by basic campaign ethics and law.

Rather than dwell on the hypocrisy of GOP supporters who came to Edith's defense while clinging to the conspiracy theory that millions of Mexicans denied Donald Trump a popular vote victory, let us instead come together to acknowledge the sanctity of our electoral process and the importance of protecting it, not from phantom threats, but from attempts to prevent the right of citizens from casting an equally weighted vote in free and fair elections. As has historically been the case, the greatest threat to democracy is by those who seek to protect the status quo from a changing electorate. This was the motivation behind the first literacy tests, poll taxes, white primaries, and it is today the same motivation behind voter ID laws, registration restrictions, and the manipulation of election laws.

The struggle continues to protect the "the most powerful instrument ever devised by man for breaking down injustice and destroying the terrible walls which imprison men because they are different from other men."

Michael Latner is a political science professor and Master of Public Policy Program director at Cal Poly. Send comments through the editor at clanham@newtimesslo.com.


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