I spoke with Richard Hasen, a University of California, Irvine, election law scholar, while ten Pennsylvania residents were arguing in court that the state’s new voter ID law will disenfranchise them and hundreds of thousands more. In that talk, Hasen said, “Pennsylvania looks like it really doesn’t have its act together, and if that law goes into place it could actually have a significant effect on turnout.” But neither of us really though that would happen, mostly because the hearing seemed to make Hasen’s point so clearly. Less than a week later, a Pennsylvania judge proved us wrong when he refused to block the law.
On Hasen’s election law blog, which is widely read by journalists and academics alike, he wrote that he was “surprised by the ruling.” To understand his bewilderment, you may want to pick up his recently released book, The Voting Wars: From Florida 2000 to the Next Election Meltdown, which details hyper-partisan battles around election reform over the past twelve years that have culminated in courtroom showdowns such as those in Pennsylvania and Texas.
In The Voting Wars, Hasen argues that parties involved in election reform issues fall into one of two camps: one focused on eliminating voter fraud, no matter how little of it exists, and the other focused on expanding voter access—the former occupied by conservatives and the latter by progressives. In our talk, we unpacked what that means along racial lines, specifically around purging, ACORN and the Voting Rights Act.
Before The Voting Wars you developed a reputation for pissing off both the left and right for issuing critiques on both sides of ballot reform issues. Are they equally at fault?
I think that Republicans have been more to blame in the period since 2000 than Democrats, although there is blame on the left, [such as] an exaggeration of the extent to which election changes made by Republicans are going to disenfranchise voters. So for example, there is no good reason to cut off early voting, but it’s not clear that it will negatively affect turnout. In fact, as Democrats publicize acts of what they characterize as voter suppression it actually increases turnout by getting people on the left fired up about voting. In the same way, I think much of this talk about voter fraud is about getting the [right’s] base excited and getting them to come out and vote.
In the book, you say there is a small problem in the nation with non-citizen voting. Explain.
There is some evidence of non-citizens who are registered to vote. There’s much less evidence that these non-citizens are actually voting, but there are occasional cases where it happens. This seems to happen mostly for two reasons: one, a person is on a path to citizenship and doesn’t realize that he or she is not yet eligible to vote. The second is when private parties go in and try to register people to vote and mislead them about whether or not they are allowed to register to vote. There doesn’t seem to be a lot of evidence of non-citizens deliberately signing up to vote knowing that they are not eligible to vote, athough [John] Fund and [Hans] von Spakovsky in their new book [Who’s Counting? How Fraudsters and Bureaucrats Put Your Vote at Risk] argue that people do this in order to get other government benefits, and I’d like to see proof of that.