Election Rigging 101

Phoenix Magazine – July 2016

Mike O’Neil


WE LIKE TO THINK we have a democracy. Candidates run, citizens decide. Democracy.

In theory, yes. But voter laws restrict voting in ways that, while more subtle than Jim Crow-era literacy tests, serve the same function.

Black churches organize “souls to the polls” operations on Sundays? End Sunday voting.

Hispanic organizations collect early ballots? Criminalize “ballot harvesting,” which the Arizona legislature did this past spring.

Here are some other common methods of selective disenfranchisement.

Voter ID requirements. Arizona is among the 33 states with such laws. No big deal for the middle class – most of us carry several. But not all poor and elderly citizens do. (Some states have even made partisan choices of acceptable documents: gun registration cards are OK, but college IDs are not.)

Felony conviction? No dice, even after you’ve served your time. Nationally, 13 percent of all black males nationally can’t vote. Arizona is one of nine states that permanently ban at least some felons from voting, disenfranchising thousands of Arizonans. Forever.
Advance registration requirements. Downscale voters tend to rent rather than own homes. Renters move more often. So advance registration requirements hit them harder.

Voter roll purges. A vigorous purge in Florida likely altered results of the 2000 Presidential election.  In Arizona, purging those who missed several elections was proposed, but not passed.  On the other hand, there is a federal lawsuit investigation our recent Presidential primary about the number of citizens who found themselves unregistered or registered in another party.

Even traditional Tuesday voting favors white collar workers with flexible work schedules.

See a Pattern Here? Lawmakers try to justify these laws as fraud prevention, but have produced scant evidence of fraud – one G.W. Bush era Justice Department probe found just 26 cases out of 197 million!  Meanwhile, the effective impact of voter laws overwhelmingly lands on the poor, minorities, the very old and the very young – all Democratic leaning groups.  It sure smells like the system is being gamed.

Rule-makers Stacking the Deck.  The justification “well, we elected the people who made these rules” rings hollow against the sacrifice of basic democratic principles.  It is a slippery slope from a stacked deck to versions of “democracy” practiced in nations we are not comfortable comparing ourselves to–Putin and Saddam Hussein’s “elections” come to mind.

Mike O’Neil is a sociologist and pollster who has analyzed public attitudes in Arizona and the nation for over 35 years. He is host of the public affairs program, The Think Tank, on KTAR-FM 92.3. Most of his recent articles are available at www.mikeoneil.org.