Richard Smith maneuvered his 2010 Honda Civic into the open spot in the town hall parking lot. He turned the key, listened as the engine silenced, exited, and followed the “VOTE HERE” signs toward the entrance.
Since the county Board of Elections decided to open polls later this year, at noon, Richard assumed most would vote on their way home. He waited only about five or six minutes. He stepped up to the table, smiled at the woman manning the sign-in register, and gave his name.
The woman flipped for some seconds through the “S”s. “Last name again.”
“Smith,” Richard repeated. “Richard Smith.”
Without looking up, the woman continued flipping. “I have an Alberto Smith.”
“No relation,” Richard said.
She slid a long finger down the list of names. “Richard, you said?”
“Jennifer Smith…Carl Smith…Winston Smith…Earl Smith…Eleanor Smith…” The woman stood, looked Richard squarely in the eyes. “We don’t have you registered. I’m sorry. We can give you a provisional ballot.”
“But I voted in the primary, in April.”
She made some irrelevant motions again through the signatures. “No. I’m sorry. Would you like a provisional ballot?”
He took the proffered placebo ballot to a long table set up in back and proceeded to fill out the obligatory information. He rose, handed the sealed ballot to the awaiting election volunteer, and quietly slipped out the door wondering what had just happened.
“Richard P. Smith?”
“Richard J. Smith,” he corrected.
Richard felt badly for the little bald man riffling through the register of names. The line was building and people were starting to grumble their displeasure at having to wait so long to cast a simple ballot. The voter in front of Richard had stormed out after being informed he wasn’t registered.
The little bald man couldn’t look Richard in the eye when he told him there was no “Richard Smith” on the list.
“It’s Richard Smith,” he said to the election volunteer sliding her finger down the list.
“No Richard Smith on my list. Did you move recently?”
“Maybe you didn’t register.”
“I called the county board of election office two weeks ago to check my status,” Richard explained. “I even checked online.”
“I understand,” the volunteer said. “I would call again when you get home, and you can come back. Polls are open until nine.”
Richard looked at his watch then behind him at the eighty plus-deep line of people filing in to vote on their way home from work. His house was over twenty miles away. It was 5:47 p.m., probably too late be able to reach anyone at board of elections.
There are 2,376,206 Americans surnamed “Smith”, according to U.S. Census data. It is the most common surname in the United States, respectively topping Johnson, Williams, Brown, Jones, Miller, Davis, Garcia, Rodriguez, and Wilson.
If your last name is Smith, or any of the aforementioned, because you carry one of the most ubiquitous names in America, unbeknownst to you, you are susceptible to one of the most insidious high-tech voter suppression tactics Republican-led states are practicing today, something called the “Interstate Voter Registration Crosscheck Program”.
Crosscheck is the brainchild of Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach. In 2013, Kobach boasted his Crosscheck system uncovered 697,537 “potential duplicate voters” in 15 states. That’s right– 697,537 “potential duplicate voters”. But before you applaud Kobach for his staunch defense of the almighty American ballot, it’s important to know those “potential duplicate voters” are listed by first and last names only, on the supposition they are running around from state to state on election day casting multiple ballots. Everyone with that first and last name is kicked off subsequent nationwide voter roles irrespective of other identifying information, such as Social Security numbers, addresses, or birth dates.
According to investigative reporter Greg Palast, in his Rolling Stone piece “The G.O.P.’s Stealth War Against Voters”, “the Crosscheck list disproportionately threatens solid Democratic constituencies: young, black, Hispanic and Asian-American voters — with some of the biggest possible purges underway in Ohio and North Carolina, two crucial swing states with tight Senate races.”
For example, Donald Alexander Webster Jr., of Dayton, Ohio appears on the Crosscheck list a second time as Donald Eugene Webster from Charlottesville, Virginia. Another example is James Evans Johnson listed the same as James P. Johnson. Palast reports “one-fourth of the names on the list actually lack a middle-name match. The system can also mistakenly identify fathers and sons as the same voter, ignoring designations of Jr. and Sr. Hundreds of men named “James Brown” are suspected of voting or registering twice, 357 of them in Georgia alone.
Database expert Mark Swedlund, whose clients include eBay and American Express, examined the Crosscheck data, and stated, “God forbid your name is Garcia, of which there are 858,000 in the U.S., and your first name is Joseph or Jose. You’re probably suspected of voting in 27 states.”
Swedlund says African-American, Latino and Asian names dominate the Crosscheck list. And those common last names I mentioned at the beginning? It turns out U.S. Census data confirms minorities bear 85 out of the top 100 of them. With the name “Washington”, there is an 89 percent chance a person is African-American; “Hernandez”, a 94 percent chance he or she is Hispanic; Kim, a 95 percent chance he or she is Asian.
Republicans will argue these efforts are designed to do nothing more than “prevent voter fraud”. That may be convincing in the Fox so-called News conspiracy spin machine, but so-called “voter fraud”, like the Benghazi “cover-up” and the “Clinton email scandal”, is a right-wing fabrication.
According to Loyola Law School professor Justin Levitt, over the fourteen-year period he studied, there were “31 possible incidents of in-person voter fraud, comprised of approximately 241 fraudulent ballots.”
Most of those incidents were unproven. He describes one of them like this:
Nov. 2012: A vote was apparently cast at the polls in the name of Evan Dixon in the general election in San Diego, CA; there is an Evan Dixon listed as dying 11 years earlier. It is not clear whether the two are the same person, or whether the death reports are accurate, and poll book records do not appear to have been investigated to determine whether the record of voting represented an impersonated signature or a clerical error.
The Washington Post reported, “The most significant chunk of those 241 are from 145 ballots that were cast between 2008 and 2011 in Michigan, where names, dates of birth and addresses of people who cast ballots matched those of people who’d died…It’s not clear if that’s because someone had been signed in incorrectly at the polling place or if there had been some other clerical error.”
That last part, clerical error, is a factor The Brennan Center for Justice cites most responsible for incidents of alleged voter fraud. “The [Truth About Voter Fraud] report reviewed elections that had been meticulously studied for voter fraud, and found incident rates between 0.00004 percent and 0.0009 percent. Given this tiny incident rate for voter impersonation fraud, it is more likely, the report noted, that an American ‘will be struck by lightning than that he will impersonate another voter at the polls.'”
When we also take into consideration the penalty for voter fraud, it begs the question why anyone would want to commit it for casting a simple ballot. A federal conviction of voting illegally can result in five years in prison and a fine of $10,000 for each fraudulent act. Most states have their own additional penalties as well. Logically, if an individual is bent on crime, it is unlikely he or she would perpetrate it through voting more than once.
The real crime here speaks for itself in the lengths Kris Kobach and other republicans are going to frustrate voters so they don’t bother showing up in November, or if they do show up, their votes are discounted. They reinforce this with memes like “voting doesn’t matter”, and “we’re only voting for the lesser of two evils anyway; the outcome is already determined”.
Don’t let this fool you. If voting didn’t matter, special interests like the Koch brothers wouldn’t be suffucing obscene amounts of money into elections attempting to pack ballots from the presidency to local school boards with Tea Party conservatives. They wouldn’t be plotting intricate methods to frustrate us enough to stay away from the polls through voter I.D. laws, decreasing the number of polling places, and opening polls later so fewer people have the opportunity to vote on their way to work. Our turnout at the polls is the lowest it has been in decades, which indicates the tactic Kris Kobach employs is working. It sounds perverse, but we should only be so fortunate to have enough of the electorate that passionate about voting they are willing to risk incarceration to do it more than once.
So let’s get more passionate! I don’t suggest we attempt to vote more than once, but I do suggest we vote. Every election, from county surrogate court judge, school board. Without fail. Don’t surrender to the pressure to skip the election because if we don’t demonstrate voting’s value, we are conveying it is irrelevant. Once that happens, it will be. Democrats win when voter turnout is high; that’s why Republicans cheat.
So, when Donald Trump pontificated the presidential election is going to be rigged because people are “voting many, many times,” he was repeating a Republican appeal to fear fallacy responsible for G.O.P. wins all over this country. Trump wants you to stay home (unless you’re voting for him), and if he gets his way, we could be looking at a Trump presidency simply due to foul play. So, yes, he’s right the vote would be rigged. That’s exactly what he’s hoping.
Please check out the clips of interviews with Greg Palast and other recent media coverage about this issue, below.