How Racial Disparity Concerns Become Voter Fraud Allegations


One of the dishonest quirks of cable television that we’ve all become accustomed to is the way old information is often presented as new. This goes beyond any reference to “breaking up”, even when it “snapped” hours earlier. It seeps into the cover itself, with things that aren’t new being presented as new.

Sometimes that seems to be nefarious, like when Fox News repeatedly aired old riot footage over the summer of 2020 to suggest violence was happening. At other times, it’s probably best attributed to laziness.

That would be my guess about a claim made on Sean Hannity’s Fox News show Monday night.

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“Now,” said Hannity, John Fetterman, the Lieutenant Governor of Pennsylvania and Democratic candidate for the U.S. Senate, said “voter ID laws are racist because he thinks minorities don’t have identity card”.

The “now” seems to refer to an article published Monday on the Fox News site. It reviews a number of Fetterman’s past comments on voter ID laws, with no clear reason to do so. (In an unrelated aside, did you know that sometimes party communications teams feature roundups of comments made by their opponents and sell them to friendly news outlets? I don’t know what made me think of that. .)

This item arrived around the same time as a december interview with Fetterman circled right. Here is an excerpt from it.

A few months earlier, Fetterman had describe voter identification requirements as “a solution to a non-existent problem of voter fraud”.

His arguments are entirely defensible.

First, although voter fraud does occur, it is almost not a problem in determining election results, and there is no evidence that fraud goes unnoticed or unpunished to any significant degree. Donald Trump’s machinations around 2020 are a good example of how the specter of voter fraud can be useful, but this election, and the enormous attention given to it, also shows how rare it is that a real fraud to happen.

Fetterman says voter fraud is a “non-existent problem,” which isn’t technically accurate. That’s like saying shark attacks are a non-existent problem. Fraud exists, but treating it as a crippling epidemic (or even a regular occurrence) instead of a rare anomaly doesn’t make sense.

His assertion that poor, non-white Americans are less likely to have valid government ID is also accurate. The American National Election Study is a survey conducted around each presidential election. In 2020, ANES determined that black Americans were about three times more likely than white people to have neither a valid passport nor a valid driver’s license. Hispanics were more than twice as likely to have neither.

For the poorest households, the numbers were even starker. About a quarter of black and Hispanic Americans in households with household incomes below $50,000 reported not having valid identification in some form.

These are national numbers, so I can’t speak to numbers in Pennsylvania. But the point remains that a voting system that mandates the possession of a valid driver’s license or passport is a system that will exclude more non-white people from voting. Implementing this type of restriction just to try to reduce the handful of fraud cases each year is like draining Long Island Sound to prevent people from being bitten by a hammerhead shark.

To Hannity, of course, this is all fodder to make Fetterman a leftist crackpot. Hannity introduced the segment by having a reporter ask Pennsylvania voters what they thought of the lieutenant governor’s candidacy, using objective prompts such as saying that Fetterman’s “big problems are the safe areas for heroin users… or the emptying of prisons”.

Hannity then invited Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.) to weigh in on the general election. Scott serves as chairman of the Republican National Senate Committee and, as a result, has double-invested in selecting Republican Senate candidates as hyper-attractive juggernauts. As he touted Fetterman’s opponent, he broached the issue of voter identity.

“He wants to commit election fraud by getting rid of the voter ID card,” Scott said. “I mean, this guy is a radical.”

Do you see this flip? Fetterman doesn’t just want to block a voter ID requirement, he “wants to commit fraud.” Normally, this idea is not said, because it is indefensible. Republicans merely wink at him or suggest that blocking voter ID warrants would allow fraud to occur. In the post-2020 world of Republican politics, however, Scott is just drawing the line.

It is very useful here to point out that Scott is very familiar with the political utility of claiming that elections are tainted by fraud. In 2018, when he first ran for the Senate, he found himself in a tight race with the incumbent Democrat at the end of election night. So he began to allege — without proof — that heavily Democratic counties were counting ballots tainted with voter fraud.

It turned out – unsurprisingly – that there was no significant fraud found. But Scott (with loud attaboys from President Donald Trump) was setting the stage to challenge new ballots that were added to the total. The idea that elections are riddled with examples of fraud was about to come to his rhetorical aid. In the end, he won by a wide enough margin that this safety net was not needed.

On Hannity’s Monday night show, Scott was doing something similar: suggesting that the Democratic Senate candidate from Pennsylvania was going to make sure the fraud happened. Making allegations of fraud for one’s own political gain.

(Why preach to that choir, though? Surely Hannity viewers weren’t going to vote for Fetterman anyway? The answer is simple: fundraising. Scott made several direct appeals for people to contribute, explaining the easy way to do via SMS then.)

The whole thing was a neat encapsulation of how allegations of fraud are used in politics. Eight months ago, Fetterman offered an arguable reason to oppose voter ID laws. Two months before the general election, his stance is presented as racist, by Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.), or as an effort to foster voter fraud, by Scott.

Not so surprising, really, considering Fetterman leading in the polls.

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