Republicans were apoplectic on social media yesterday over the cancellation of Republican attorney general candidate Leslie Rutledge‘s voter registration (Rutledge is also registered in Washington D.C. and possibly Virginia). K. Ryan James, campaign manager for Bruce Westerman — the GOP candidate for Congress in the Fourth District — compared the cancellation to the Violence Against Women Act, which Democrats support because it aims to protect women from domestic abuse, rape and other forms of violence. I suggested to James that perhaps comparing Rutledge’s situation to victims of domestic abuse and rape was an ill-considered analogy. He didn’t see it my way.
(Republicans who don’t understand the policy critique to begin with often clumsily attempt to troll on the “War on Women” line, failing to see that Democrats are talking about public policy which impacts women, not political attacks on individual female politicians. It is a manner of trolling uniquely positioned to re-convince themselves.)
To be honest, I feel some sympathy for Rutledge here. Benji Hardy reported on this yesterday and will have more today I’m sure on all the legal niceties. But as a general matter, if the long and the short of it is that she didn’t properly cancel her previous voter registration after several moves — as Benji noted yesterday, that has to be an extremely common mistake. I’ll confess right now that I have no recollection of cancelling my voter registration in Louisiana, so maybe I’m in hot water too if anyone cares to look. Yes, the difference is that Rutledge is running for attorney general and it’s natural to hold her to a higher standard (and candidates have to know that oppo teams are coming after them, so it appears she was sloppy). However, as a matter of principle, I’m never pleased to see someone who is clearly a citizen residing here stripped of voter registration over a technicality (perhaps Pulaski County Larry Crane‘s hands were legally tied, but I’d at least argue that the law should allow for some discretion.)
Rutledge has produced her 2013 voter registration card issued in March of 2013, by Crane, and noted that she voted without a problem in several Arkansas elections. This seems to me to be beside the point. No one disputed that she was registered in Arkansas; the question is whether that registration was legal and proper given the technicalities about registration in other places. By analogy, no one would use the fact that someone succeeded in voting fraudulently in the past as an excuse if the clerk’s office put a stop to the practice today.
Of course, no one is accusing Rutledge of fraud in the sense of actually trying to vote in two different places to sway multiple elections or some such thing. The Voter ID debate, when stripped of the partisan agenda (okay, maybe that’s impossible, but stick with me), is about access to the ballot and the integrity of the ballot. Democrats argue that access to the ballot is sacred and that voter fraud is extremely rare; Republicans argue that the integrity of the ballot is sacred and that voter suppression is rare. Without getting into the thicket of Voter ID, I’ll just say that I fall firmly on the access side. In a democracy, voting should be easy, not hard. In a democracy, in my view, our highest vigilance should be ensuring that someone who wants to vote and would be eligible to vote can vote. I am horrified by barriers to that right, whether via force of law or the soft power of confusing or burdensome bureaucratic requirements.
Rutledge can still register to vote this fall, but putting aside the politics for a moment (ha!), creating extra burdens on a citizen who clearly lives in Arkansas because of technicalities or simple mistakes is an unfortunate business. Should Rutledge have known better? Probably so (and of course there’s the sticky legal question of what this means in terms of her filing to run for office). Here’s hoping that this ugly experience will make Rutledge more vigilant in protecting access to the ballot.
p.s. Several commenters have brought up the shameful practice of vote caging, which made Tim Griffin famous and stands as one of the most reprehensible examples of restricting access to the ballot in recent memory. That is a textbook example of the way in which voter suppression can be achieve via slippery bureaucratic means: barriers to access, legal technicalities, litigious nit-picking over honest mistakes, etc. It’s a useful example here because one could imagine vote cagers using precisely a mistake like Leslie Rutledge’s to purge voter rolls.