Big money in a bigger threat to democracy than nearly non-existent voter fraud

August 15, 2012 in Are you concerned about new voter ID laws?, Featured Question of the Week, Question of the Week by Peter Gathje

Are you concerned about new voter ID laws? Are we doing enough to prevent fraud and other problems? How can we make voting as accessible as possible while still safeguarding the democratic process?

For people of biblical faith it is important to remember the focus of biblical justice on justice for the poor, for those on the margins. Voter justice from this biblical perspective would be most concerned to address how people on the margins are excluded from the political process.

The democratic process is not under any significant threat due to voter fraud. This is so because voter fraud is so insignificant it practically does not exist. The closely examined 2004 gubernatorial election in Washington State revealed a voter fraud of 0.0009%. The similarly closely-analyzed 2004 election in Ohio revealed a voter fraud rate of 0.00004%. National Weather Service data shows that Americans are struck and killed by lightning about as often.

So, why all the attention to “voter fraud”? The Republican Party is doing all that it can to keep voters who would be most likely to vote for Obama from voting at all. And, what a surprise, the people being targeted are mostly people of color and mostly low-income.

Given the lack of voter fraud and how legislation to address this non-problem will disenfranchise those on the margins, our attention as people of faith needs to be on corporate dominance of the political process.

Indeed, the greater threat to the democratic process is the control of the electoral process by big money. The natural gas industry has spent more than $747 million as part of a 10-year lobbying and political spending campaign to persuade federal authorities to ignore the dangers of hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking.” In the past decade, the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) funded by major corporations such as Walmart and Coca Cola have invested more than $370 million in state elections. ALEC has drafted and supported legislation that is ant-union, anti-minimum wage, and anti-environmental protection. You don’t see many Republicans or Democrats standing up against this corporate threat to democracy.

We are quickly (and perhaps already have) moved from democracy to plutocracy, government by the rich for the rich. The extreme concentration of wealth in this country is a much greater threat to democracy than the miniscule voter fraud that occurs. The growing disparity between the wealthiest and the rest of us is causing a similar gap in political power. There are a number of academic studies that indicate excessive economic inequalities undermine the foundations of democracies. As people of faith, we are called to attend to justice for the poor, and in the context of the democratic process, this means attending to how corporate dominance of the electoral process is undermining democracy and increasing the collusion between big money and politics.