Mass. Senate

Sen. Scott Brown called foul last week after voter registration forms were mailed to thousands of welfare recipients. Commentator Eileen McNamara calls it a “manufactured controversy.” (AP File Photo)

As more states adopt voter identification laws to try to restrict access to the ballot box, Senator Scott Brown is reserving his outrage for his own state’s laudable efforts to comply with a federal law to promote voter registration.

Would Brown have Massachusetts defy the law designed to ensure that all eligible voters have an opportunity to participate in the electoral process? Is his fear of being judged by a fully representative sample of his constituents really that great?

There is nothing sinister about the National Voter Registration Act of 1993, more widely known as the “Motor Voter Act.” The law requires states to provide voter registration materials to applicants for a driver’s license, unemployment insurance, food stamps and other public assistance. Congress designed the law to address the nation’s anemic voter participation rate. Only half of all eligible voters in this country are registered to vote. Of those who are registered, only 63.6 percent cast a ballot in the last presidential race, according to the Pew Research Center.

If Scott Brown is looking for a real cause for indignation this election year, it’s voter identification laws, not voter registration laws.

In Massachusetts, according to the 2010 census, only 58.2 percent of eligible low-income voters in Massachusetts were registered to vote, compared with 76.9 percent of higher income residents. In addition to poor people, unregistered voters tend to be young, disabled or non-white. That’s Brown’s real beef.

If the rolls swell with underrepresented voters, the junior senator fears too many of those ballots might well be cast for his Democratic rival, Elizabeth Warren. If they are, it won’t be because her daughter is the board chair of Demos, one of several voting rights groups that helped negotiate an interim settlement to bring Massachusetts in compliance with the law. Demos and its allies have been negotiating similar agreements across the country for years, most recently in New Mexico, which last month agreed to distribute voting information at its motor vehicle offices. That state, like many others, is resisting provisions in the law that require the same material to be distributed at welfare offices.

Massachusetts has incited the ire of Brown and his coat-holders at The Boston Herald by mailing voter registration material directly to recipients of public assistance. The cost of the stamps pushed them over the edge. The far more expensive, and indefensible, option of resisting the law in court apparently escaped their indignation about the waste of “taxpayers’ money.”

According to the lawsuit filed against the Commonwealth in May, public assistance offices filed 2,007 voter registration applications in 2009-2010, compared to 26,984 in 1999-2000. Of 174 welfare recipients interviewed by the plaintiffs last summer, 73 percent said they received no voter registration information.

That lawsuit was brought not only by Demos but by Project Vote, the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under the Law, the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Economic Justice and by the Boston law firm of Ropes & Gray. Brown wants you to see a conspiracy in the fact that Warren’s daughter works for Demos and Governor Deval Patrick’s wife works for Ropes & Gray.

This would be a manufactured controversy at any time, but Brown’s faux outrage is especially infuriating in an election cycle that has seen a proliferation of state voter identification laws aimed at suppressing participation in this fall’s election. Those who oppose requiring voters to present state-issued photo ID cards at the polls aptly describe these laws as a solution in search of a problem. They claim that voter fraud, the rationale for voter idenitification laws, is so rare that on the eve of a trial last month to defend its new statute, Pennsylvania said it won’t even argue the point. There “have been no investigations or prosecutions of in-person voter fraud in Pennsylvania; and the parties do not have direct personal knowledge of any such investigations or prosecutions in other states,” officials said in court papers.

Between 2002 and 2005 only 70 people were convicted for federal election crimes, according to a New York Times investigation. Of those, 41 were campaign or government officials; exactly five were voters who impersonated someone else.

Despite the rarity of voter fraud, 10 states have adopted photo ID laws since 2011. (Massachusetts is not among them despite Brown’s sponsorship of such a bill during his state Senate career.) More than 21 million Americans do not have the identification cards required to vote, according to the Brennan Center for Justice. A Philadelphia Inquirer analysis found that 9.2 percent of voters in that state lack the required state-issued ID; the number is closer to 18 percent in cities where poorer, non-white residents are more likely to live.

Two weeks ago, Mike Turzai was touting his accomplishments as House Majority Leader in Pennsylvania to a group of fellow Republicans. “Voter ID – which is going to allow Governor Romney to win the state of Pennsylvania – done,” he crowed.

If Scott Brown is looking for a real cause for indignation this election year, it’s voter identification laws, not voter registration laws.

Tags: Election 2012, Mass. Senate, Scott Brown

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  • durham kid

    A very thought provoking article

  • James DuPont

    You people just don’t get it – the problem isn’t the difficulties one faces in order to register to vote. My experience is that is has never been easier to register to vote than it is currently in Massachusetts and, moreover, if you have to go to extraordinary lengths to get someone to register to vote, you’ll have to work even harder in order to get them to actually vote. I’ve worked on countless campaigns – local, state, national – and can say the hardest task in all of them wasn’t convincing people whom they should vote for, it was convincing them that they should vote at all. Fewer and ewer people vote each year and, accordingly, fewer and fewer people register to vote each year. With me now – duuuuh! Let’s talk about why people don’t vote in the first place and stop trying to flatter yourself by engaging in pointless voter registration efforts. Nevertheless, though I do support show-ID-to-vote laws, I agree that most election fraud is committed by corrupt and inept election officials (hello, Miama-Dade 2000!)

  • Independant Voter

    A federally fund organization with a politically contacted board member sues multiple states on voter registration and only one, the one state that has the politically contacted member’s mother running for a major office decides to spend tax payer dollars in a mailing drive and you don’t see any ethics issues, let alone as a Mass taxpayer this is un-excusable waste of my money.

    • Reality has a liberal bias

      1993. The law is from 1993. How far back in time do your paranoid fantasies allow you to go?

      • Eric Pleim

        I tried that reality has a liberal bias line in the Herald, and predictably got creamed by the faithful. When I said the saying was at least partially tongue in cheek, no one got the humor. We are doomed.

    • jefe68

      Oh please. Go find another conspiracy to flaunt.
      Scott Brown is wrong, period. By the way, did you know that most people who are on welfare tend not to vote.

  • Wheelman

    Interesting … at least Liz get’s it. She understands that government creates wealth and that we must spend money if we want money … no need to actually create value. Why do people think you can;t keep taking more from those who work to give to us who add no value? They’ll always be someone dumb enough to actually work … or, we can keep borrowing from the Chinese .. teach you kids and grandkids chinese now while you can

  • ginbibi

    I couldn’t agree more. The efforts the Republicans, Scott Brown’s party, have made nation-wide to prevent certain constituencies from voting are shameful. Mr. Turzai’s comment removes all doubt about their motivations. Now, Senator Brown is outraged. He’s beginning to show his true colors after hiding behind being an “independent” voice of the people.

  • JP Gal

    It’s now easier in some states to buy a gun than it is to vote. Why are some constitutional rights more equal than others?

  • Sheldon Ville

    OK so let me see if I understand this: The Commonwealth of Mass does not require anyone to present an identification card to vote; The Commonwealth of Mass does not deny anyone the right to vote (excepting convicted Felons); and now all of your knickers are knotted up and bunched up because the Commonwealth of Mass spent a quarter of a million dollars mailing information to people who no longer live where they mailed the documents to register to vote. Oh yea, this is a really good use of resources. I am sick of the negative ads from Warren and all the others like her. She touts we need to spend more money on infrastructure but she fails to say where she’s going to get the money. Duh? Hellloooo? It either has to come from higher tax revenues or from cuts, but printing it at the printing press doesn’t make money – it prints it. Brown is a good guy and he’s always been steady. If he were a Democrat they would be praising his record like he’s the second coming. But he’s not a Democrat so that makes him a bad guy? Puhleeze!
    Here’s a novel idea: Why don’t we all just try working for the AMERICAN PARTY – you know the one that is comprised of all Americans? This partisan bickering is like a bunch of 10th grade HS girls deciding who is cool enough to sit at their table at lunch.

    Grrr! Time to put AMERICA first and knock off this “he said-she said” childish stuff.

    Oh and the lawyer Warren can lie about her 1/32 native american heritage giving her and her beloved Hahvahd HUGE benefits; she can demand Brown release his tax returns but refuses to release her own for same time period and that’s ok? She’s dug in in the 1% of this country and doesn’t want anyone to know that because she’s rich from bilking people by deception. Warren is a woman who has a severe attitude of entitlement resulting from her own abuse of the system which has rewarded HER richly. Make no mistake here folks, she’s a one per-center but doesn’t want anyone to know that because she’s going get a whole lot more if sent to Washington.

    • Joel

      I am really really tired of stuff like this. Affirmative action is mostly about African-American and Latino ancestry. For better or worse, there are not many points given for hiring Native Americans. Nobody who knew Warren during per past career was even aware of her Native American ancestry. It’s a box on a form. Should she have lied about it because someday someone might accuse her of taking advantage of it??
      Also about that bickering – in 2009 Obama tried manfully (maybe too hard) to work with Republicans to find compromises that would satisfy everyone and get the job done. Republicans would have none of it and refused to participate in anything that would appear to give the President a victory. After the 2010 election giving Republicans control of the house, all real progress ground to a halt. Remember the “do-nothing Congress” that Truman complained about? In 1947-48, they passed 906 laws. As of May 2012, this Congress has squeezed out just about 106, with that low tally due mostly to Republican inaction and grandstanding on bills that were never going to pass the Senate or be even remotely acceptable to the President (eg, repeal of ACA or “Obamacare”). Their goal of recapturing the White House is put far ahead of the country’s welfare. That is what make me sick. These people a bunch of self-interested, self-righteous ideologues. They are so convinced their way is the only way that they are willing to torpedo the entire country to get the chance to prove themselves right (while in the process doing precisely the opposite!).

  • jo

    Just another left wing hack from academia.

    • Joel

      take a look at the piece on Elizabeth Warren in the Globe. Like Obama, she is not really a liberal. Unlike Obama, she was a registered Republican until 1996. People on the right don’t understand how well they have succeeded. Moderate Republicans of the past are now viewed as center-left. Warren’s views haven’t changed, but the definitions have changed around her.

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  • Va

    Will the Republicans be able to steal this election? I am sickened by the lack of enforcement of constitutional law which protects voters rights and the partisan effort of Republican state legislators and judges to get around this right around the country by denying the elderly and poor from voting by demanding a photo ID. I’m sickened. This is a diabolical and calculated effort to undermine democracy. “And the rich shall inherit the earth.”

  • joel

    If the effort to force voters to produce an ID before voting in person were really about preventing fraud (which is clearly a vanishingly small problem), then why haven’t these same state legislatures also tightened up the rules about absentee voting? Note the recent allegation of vote fraud in East Longmeadow just this week (see Tuesday Aug 14 Boston Globe) involving absentee ballots and a Republican candidate for the state legislature. The reason the Republicans have no interest in this is that, while poor in-person voters are more likely to vote Democratic, absentee voters are more likely to vote Republican. If the video clip of Mike Turzai were not enough proof of the intent of this effort, then the lack of proposals for absentee ballot ID verification is proof enough in itself.

  • gardenia

    Scott Brown’s phony outrage is amusing. He votes a straight Republican ticket. I believe they, for the most part, do not wish to hamper anyone wishing to purchase a gun. His attitude reminds me again that he got his popular start posing NUDE for Cosmo Magazine, i.e. He is not too smart and not at all Independent.