Americans shouldn’t be fretting about voter fraud: The Brennan Center for Justice recently released a briefing filled with resources and links to studies showing the rarity of the supposed phenomena; a longer report details an overall documented electoral fraud rate of 0.000009% in 2004-2005; and a Washington Post article titled “Comprehensive investigation of voter impersonation finds 31 credible incidents out of one billion ballots cast” pretty much sums up the fact that it’s a non-issue. So why is voter fraud being talked about so much this election cycle—and why do so many intelligent, well-meaning people seem to believe it’s a real problem?
I liken voter fraud to the famous Hans Christian Andersen fable The Emperor’s New Clothes. In this tale, a vain Emperor hires two smooth-talking weavers who promise to make him the finest suit made out of a fabric that is invisible to anyone unfit for his position or “hopelessly stupid.” Everyone around him—from his closest advisors to the town’s peasants—plays along, as they don’t want to admit to themselves or each other that they’re not intelligent or worthy enough to see the suit. Finally, a child who is too young to abide by society’s pack mentality cries out that the Emperor isn’t actually wearing any clothes—he’s butt naked.
Similarly, voter fraud isn’t real. But people act as if it’s a factual reality because they don’t want to be called out as being stupid or as not being in on the farce. The blind follow the blind, and soon enough, the repeated falsehood becomes so real that you forget that you were only playing along in the first place.
Let’s call our version of the story The Voter’s New Woes. The cabal of reactionary forces known as the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) are the two weavers who make the Emperor his invisible suit. The ALEC is basically a nasty concoction of folk that includes the Republican Party, the alt-right, the Tea Party, and the Chambers of Commerce. It has been around for 45 years and is the backbone of the conservative movement in this country. If you trace back any news story over the past ten years about voter fraud, you’ll eventually run into ALEC.
The weavers’ original story was that the Emperor’s clothes are made of a fabric visible only to the worthy; they just wanted to create a way that allowed them to steal money without doing any work. ALEC’s story is that our elections are being tampered with by fraudulent voters; they want to create a problem that doesn’t exist in order to control the collective hive-mind with as little outside effort as possible. But why are they trying to fool us into subservience in the first place?
The answer has a lot to do with the fact that racial and ethnic minorities, along with queer people and women, are gaining increasing power in the US. With that change comes the possibility of a more progressive, inclusive, and liberated America—maybe even a more socialist America. When those pesky people participate in elections and other civic activities, they start to demand accountability and fairness in our society. They start to ask why so few have so much, and so many have so little. This is bad for ALEC and their corporate backers.
In The Emperor’s New Clothes, it was the weavers’ plan to fool the Emperor into paying for nonexistent clothes in order to get paid for doing nothing, because they were lazy. In The Voter’s New Woes, ALEC is fooling Americans with false claims of voter fraud in order to pass voter-suppression laws, because they don’t want their political opponents—including many people of color and young people—to vote.
For the past 10 years, ALEC has been introducing legislation to restrict voting laws in nearly every state across the US. Many of the bills are “copycat bills” with the exact same language from state to state. These laws include everything from voter-ID laws to shortening early-voting periods. These voter-suppression laws are the real problem that the news media and presidential candidates should be talking about—not voter fraud.
If you are under 40 or over 70, brown or a woman, these folks don’t want you to vote. They don’t want a democracy, because it stands in the way of their profit margin. That’s what’s really behind the myth of voter fraud: money. The only voter fraud being committed on Nov. 8 will be the people turned away at the polls because they forgot their ID at home or don’t have one, and the people who can’t vote because they work all day Tuesday and have no options for early voting.
So on Election Day, make sure you know your state’s ID laws, the times the polls are open, and if there are alternative voting options, like early or absentee. Be the young child in the story who cries out, “The emperor wears no clothes!” by voting, despite ALEC’s efforts to silence us.