On Election Night 2008, the race for Senate in Minnesota ended with Republican candidate Norm Coleman ahead by 215 votes. A recount later changed the outcome, and Democrat Al Franken was elected to his first term by 225 votes. Franken thus became the 60th vote the Democrats needed to railroad Obamacare through the upper chamber.
With a razor-thin election result delivering such consequences, fresh interest was aroused in the topic of voter fraud. After all, if a mere 226 fraudulent votes had been counted for Franken, hundreds of thousands of Minnesota voters (and, through extension of the legislative consequences, millions more around the country) would have been disenfranchised. The notion that Franken’s victory was enabled by voter fraud seemed highly plausible, though difficult to prove.
After winning majorities in both houses of the legislature in 2010, Minnesota Republicans placed a voter photo identification measure on the ballot. They coupled it with a proposed constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage. Democrats couldn’t have asked for a better context in which to run in 2012. “Minnesota nice, vote no twice” became a rallying call, and it was successful. Democrats defeated both ballot measures and retook the state senate. Rightly or wrongly, Minnesota voters rejected the case for voter photo ID as an effort to limit who could vote.
Fast forward to the present and swing south to Virginia. Democrat Governor Terry McAuliffe has provoked an outcry from Republicans for signing an executive order which restores the voting rights of 206,000 ex-felons. The move is seen by many has a naked attempt to tilt the electoral balance in the state toward Democrats. Speaking to that accusation, McAuliffe had a message for Republicans in an interview with ABC’s “This Week.” From Politico:
McAuliffe on Sunday said the restoration would represent an opportunity for all politicians and parties to earn the support of the previously disenfranchised group.
“Well, I would tell the Republicans quit complaining and go out and earn these folks’ right to vote for you. Go out and talk to them,” the Democratic governor told George Stephanopoulos. “I find it very—and in fact, I think some of the language that has come out of the Republicans, I would tell them to be very careful at how they frame this, very careful of their rhetoric.”
Republicans, he continued, “have an opportunity to go out and get these individual new voters to vote for them. But make your argument.”
Regardless of McAuliffe’s motives, and regardless of whether one agrees with his methodology or its effect, the governor has a point. If Republicans put half as much energy into developing new constituencies as they have in trying to shave a few ballots off around the margins, they would not have to worry about voter fraud. As the Minnesota example demonstrates, efforts to deny voting rights not only run the risk of failing to prevent whatever fraud might be taking place, but also turn actual voters off to the entire Republican brand.