While too many Republican-dominated state legislatures have been making it more difficult for minorities, young adults and the elderly to vote, Marylanders have taken important steps toward the democratic ideal of “every voter counts, every vote is counted.”
Those who are imposing more onerous voter registration and voting requirements on groups that voted for President Obama in 2008 often seek to justify those measures as protection against “voter fraud.” They do so despite the evidence that actual voter fraud cases are few, the legal penalties are more than sufficient, and the prosecutions for those frauds that do occur are vigorous and nonpartisan.
In sharp contrast to this “myth of voter fraud,” America has known since the 2000 presidential election in Florida and the decision in Bush v. Gore that undemocratic voter suppression efforts are alive and remain dangerous to the future of our nation.
Closer to home here in Maryland, fraud by voters is rare. Unfortunately, in the past, we have experienced frauds upon our voters far too often.
In 2002, for example, a brochure distributed in African-American precincts by the campaign for Republican Bob Ehrlich included a picture of Mr. Ehrlich and me at my church, along with other African-American leaders. That brochure declared the patently untrue assertion: “Democrats for Ehrlich.”
In fact, I was a leading supporter of Mr. Ehrlich’s opponent, Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, in that election.
Then, in 2006, running against Martin O’Malley, Mr. Ehrlich’s campaign once again distributed fliers designed to trick African-American Democratic voters into voting for him. Those fliers again suggested (inaccurately) that Mr. Ehrlich was supported by African-American Democrats.
These examples are not meant to impugn former Gov. Ehrlich personally. Political campaigns are difficult to manage, and I have no way of knowing the extent to which he was aware of these schemes, approved them or made efforts to prevent them.
What had become clear by last year, however, was that those of us who believe that we should encourage (not suppress) voter turnout had to make a major effort to protect Maryland voters. We had to have an organized effort to counteract unjustified challenges to our right to vote and fight deceptive efforts to influence the voters’ decision-making process.