The Meme of Voter Fraud

Source: Atiba R. Ellis, Catholic University Law Review, Vol. 63 No. 4, 2014

From the abstract:
The idea that the political system is subject to rampant and invisible voter fraud has animated recent debates over the regulation of elections. Election integrity advocates have claimed that this threat justifies voter identification laws and other laws that have narrowed the ability for some citizens to vote, while voting-rights advocates have claimed that these measures are a form of voter suppression. These legal changes have occurred despite research that has demonstrated that virtually no actual voter fraud (specifically voter impersonation fraud) exists. While the consensus is that these voter suppression initiatives are driven by naked partisanship, this consensus fails to consider how longstanding ideological traditions about voter participation (and their interrelation with race, gender, and class myths) influence the debates over how to adequately regulate the right to vote.

This paper will propose a different theoretical framework to address the voter fraud myth: memetics. This paper argues that the most appropriate way to think about the myth of voter fraud is as a meme. A meme is “an idea, behavior, style, or usage that spreads from person to person within a culture” without regard to the truth or falsity of the idea. Memes spread because the ideas re-enforce the views of the purveyors of the meme and increase the purveyor’s power. In a sense, our memes can program us to accept or explain away ideas and can form the basis of our ideologies.

When viewed as a meme, the voter fraud claim can be analyzed as the latest variation on the ideology of exclusion of the “unworthy” from the franchise. The voter fraud meme replicates through both evoking myths and stereotypes about the worthiness of certain voters and motivates individuals and legislatures to replicate the meme through a belief that the unworthy voter will be a threat to the democratic process. This process of replication has contributed to the passage of voter identification and similar legislation, the popularity of heightened regulation of the voting process, and private acts of voter vigilantism. This account will demonstrate how the meme of voter fraud interferes either intentionally or inadvertently with the democratic value of inclusion and forces policymakers to fail to account for the effects of structural exclusion. Courts, scholars, and policymakers can use the analytic framework offered in this paper to more thoroughly understand the ideological forces behind the meme of voter fraud. This paper concludes by offering a framework by which courts and policymakers can separate the voter fraud meme and other such ideology from fact-driven analysis of right to vote issues.