Young People, Minorities, Unmarried Women and Dead Dogs

Speaking of dumb stories: I groaned aloud when I saw this headline from the site of a local TV station in Virginia: “Bedford County dead dog receives voters registration forms.” You can guess the rest:

When Tim Morris got his mail last week he found a pretty big surprise, a document asking his dog Mozart to register to vote.

Not only is Mozart a dog but he’s been dead for two years.

“I opened it up and looked at it and I just laughed,” Morris said. “I thought it was a joke at first and it turns out it’s real.”

The form is addressed to Mo, the family’s nickname for the dog.

What amazed Morris is that if Mozart was human he would have been eligible to vote for the first time in 2012.

“He would have been 19 years old this year and he passed away two years ago,” he said. “I still have no earthly idea how they got his information.”

Here’s where the investigative journalism comes in, thickening the plot:

10 On Your Side looked deeper and found that the voter registration forms were sent by the non-profit Voter Participation Center, not the State Board of Elections.

So we contacted the Voter Participation Center and found that they purchase mailing lists from vendors and while they do try and check every name the organization admits that some do fall through the cracks.

The voter registration efforts are focused on groups like young people, minorities, and unmarried women.

Aha! Those people. Obama voters. What are law-abiding Virginians supposed to do?

The Board of Elections said they’ve received similar complaints but since the Voter Participation Center is a private organization they can’t stop them from sending voter registration forms.

Voter fraud! Voter fraud!

And sure enough, the Daily Caller picked up the “story” right away.

It’s a big part of the myth of voter fraud that sinister “outside agitators” are signing up ineligible voters left and right; that’s the rationale for new laws–notably in Florida–aimed at exposing non-party “independent” voter registration groups to large fines if they make any mistakes, as Ben Adler explained at The Nation in March:

These same laws that require voters to present state issued photo identification at the polling both—nominally aimed at preventing voter fraud—also sometimes contain provisions that are placing onerous requirements and stringent limitations on third party voter registration efforts.

The targets are national and statewide organizations that use volunteers or paid staffers to canvass underrepresented communities to register new voters. Often these voters are young, poor or non-white and thus lean Democratic. A study by the Brennan Center for Justice found, “54 million eligible Americans are not registered to vote. More than 25% of the voting-age citizen population is not registered to vote. Among minority groups, this percentage is even higher— more than 30% for African Americans and more than 40% for Hispanics.” Registration drives typically focuse their efforts on these historically disenfranchised populations, as well as elderly and disabled voters who may have trouble reaching a government office to register. Perversely, as the Brennan Center notes, “Instead of praising civic groups who register voters for their contribution to democracy, many states have cracked down on those groups.”

The crackdown can be directly traced to claims that ACORN–the very heart of the Obama conspiracy, you know–swept the dregs of society onto the voting rolls in 2008, stealing the election, based on a scattered cases where the group submitted registration forms that turned out to be from non-eligible voters.

What always seems to be lost in these scandalized accounts is that possessing or even submitting a registration form is not the same as voting. The famous ACORN cases were in fact detected before a single person voted, and were probably sent in in accordance with state laws requiring non-selective submission of forms collected as part of voter registration drives (to avoid the ancient practice of partisan groups “registering” voters and then discarding the forms of those suspected to be on the wrong “side”).

There was never any real danger that Mozart was going to vote; nor is there any real danger that voter registration drives by third-party groups are sneaking non-eligibles by the registrars. Aside from the standard review of registration forms, people actually voting have to provide information and swear oaths related to eligibility. And the irreducible fact remains that repeated GOP efforts, including the famous U.S. Attorney drive during the Bush administration that caused that administration so much trouble, to document actual voter fraud have repeatedly failed to deliver the goods.

But I’m sure next time Republicans justify their efforts to restrict the franchise, Mozart the dead dog will be a data point.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.