BY ALICIA MENENDEZ
On Tuesday, April 3rd, a guy named James O’Keefe tried to steal my vote. His organization, Project Veritas, sent a woman into my Washington, DC polling place, seemingly claiming to be Alicia Menendez. Then, he taped it so that I could watch.
In the video, my stand-in —- who was not brave enough to show her face on camera —- has already given the poll workers my name. Perhaps their first indication that something was awry was that I had already gone to the polls earlier that morning to cast my vote. The poll workers ask the faux Alicia Menendez to furnish identification. She claims it’s in the car, and never returns.
Watching this on video took me back to when I was eight years old, when my mother and my brother and I walked into our home and found two robbers there. I remember watching one escape through the kitchen window. Though they took very little, just seeing our clothing in heaps on the carpet and knowing that they had gone through our stuff terrified us for months. Not since then have I felt the level of violation that I feel watching this video.
That’s what O’Keefe wants. He and his team want me and you to feel fearful, that we might come to believe that imposters are out to steal our votes. As a target of voter fraud, the logic goes, I should now become a proponent of legislation being proposed across the country that mandates photo identification at the polling place.
Only that’s not quite right. The brazen acts being committed in the video are shocking, but you won’t see them in the real world. For starters, there are already systems in place to assure that this type of thing can’t happen. If two Alicia Menendez’s showed up at the poll, the second to arrive would have been given a provisional ballot, and only the real vote would have counted. And then there is the rarity of voter fraud itself. So rare, in fact, that O’Keefe could not find any real voter fraud to scare us with, and had to pretend to commit some himself.
The truth is, the only fraud here is the ‘voter fraud’ Project Veritas is trying to get us to swallow.
The scary part is that their efforts seem to be working. Polling shows that a majority of Americans support voter-ID laws. Who can blame them? Requiring an ID sounds practical and fair, and groups like O’Keefe’s have drummed up enough fear to convince people that keeping illegitimate voters from voting is more important than making sure that all Americans have equal access to the polls.
Never mind the one in ten Americans (mainly our elderly) who don’t have the necessary identification and would be barred from voting, voter-ID laws don’t even solve the imaginary problem they’re meant to address. Voter ID laws only prevent one voter from impersonating another. Imagine the absurdity of trying to tip an election on a one-by-one basis —especially when the existing penalties for such a crime are five years in prison and a $10,000 fine.
So why are O’Keefe & company pushing a solution in search of a problem? In 2008, a wave of inspired first-time voters flocked to the polls. That level of participation and infusion of enthusiasm is good for our democracy, regardless of how those Americans vote. But some people couldn’t abide the candidates the voters chose, and so they are trying desperately to keep a similar surge of new voters from voting this year.
O’Keefe and the people who fund groups like his want to stop people who traditionally vote against their candidates, almost all Republicans, from voting at all. To do that, they are trying to re-raise the barriers to voting that we tore down in the civil rights era. They are trying to scare us into believing that there is a massive wave of “voter fraud” sweeping the country. I will not be scared into believing their myths and neither should you.
There is something honest here though: they honestly do not understand why more people don’t try to commit voter fraud. That’s because voter suppression fraud — the kind where you keep people who don’t vote your way from voting at all — has been a standard part of their playbook for years.
For the most part it’s easy to get away with — you put anonymous flyers in neighborhoods where people don’t vote your way arguing they should “skip the election,” or you organize robocalls targeted at certain communities, claiming that their candidate has already won so no need to vote. These are crimes, and sometimes perpetrators get caught, but by the time justice is served, the election is already over and the damage is done.
This “voter fraud” fraud is fundamentally un-American. Americans’ right to vote is one of the most precious rights we have. We can’t let these guys take it away from us.
ALICIA MENENDEZ, NBC Latino contributor and Founder of DailyGrito.com
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