Former Rep. Artur Davis (D-AL) hasn’t been making many waves since he left office, lost his bid for Alabama governor and joined a Washington law firm. About the only time he’s been in the news is when he was offered up as an expert to say the Justice Department’s case against John Edwards is weak (an area in which he might have a point).
Still, an editorial he wrote recently in support of voter ID laws has managed to ruffle some feathers. Davis wrote that as a member of Congress he “took the path of least resistance on this subject for an African American politician” when he “lapsed into the rhetoric of various partisans and activists who contend that requiring photo identification to vote is a suppression tactic aimed at thwarting black voter participation.”
Now he’s had a change of heart.
“The truth is that the most aggressive contemporary voter suppression in the African American community, at least in Alabama, is the wholesale manufacture of ballots, at the polls and absentee, in parts of the Black Belt,” Davis wrote.
Davis wasn’t ever exactly a dyed-in-the-wool Democrat. Some positions he took during his time in Congress included “supporting a constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage, voting against a bill to prohibit workplace discrimination against gays, voting for a ban on partial birth abortion, backing a renewal of the Patriot Act, and voting to allow oil and gas drilling in the Arctic Refuge in Alaska.” He was also the only black member of Congress who voted against President Obama’s health care bill.
Setting aside Davis’ nod to absentee fraud — a problem a voter ID law would do nothing about — the meat of his op-ed is this:
Voting the names of the dead, and the nonexistent, and the too-mentally-impaired to function, cancels out the votes of citizens who are exercising their rights — that’s suppression by any light. If you doubt it exists, I don’t; I’ve heard the peddlers of these ballots brag about it, I’ve been asked to provide the funds for it, and I am confident it has changed at least a few close local election results.
Some pretty serious accusations he’s making there, but Davis isn’t naming names. TPM asked him to provide specific examples of when he witnessed voter fraud and why, especially as a former federal prosecutor, he didn’t report such schemes to authorities.
“I know that those are the talking points that some groups opposed to my article have disseminated and I choose not to play that game with you or them,” Davis told TPM in an email. “It strikes me as the ‘shoot the messenger’ politics both the left and the right deploy and I hope you will do me the courtesy of printing my reply.”
Davis said he has “seen numerous vote fraud prosecutions in Alabama including guilty pleas involving a former Circuit Clerk in Hale County as recently as 2009 I believe.”
He elaborated in an email to Dave Weigel:
“I choose not to make allegations regarding specific individuals in the media,” Davis told me, via e-mail. “As you might guess, the purpose of my editorial was to voice an opinion and to state the foundation for it, not to engage in name calling. Anyone who is even a casual observer of Alabama politics, however, knows quite well the frequency of absentee ballot charges and convictions within counties in the congressional district I represented, specifcially Hale, Greene, Lowndes, Perry, and the Bessemer areas within Jefferson County.”
Weigel points out that one voter ID case out of Greene County has been a major talking point for conservatives who support voter ID initiatives.
Asked why more voter fraud cases weren’t prosecuted, Davis told TPM that “common sense suggests that the use of the names of dead or fictitious people does not leave a victim to swear out a complaint.”
Davis said it was his sense that most fraudulent voter schemes “do not involve knowing fraud by election officials, but instead fraud by organizers.”
“Of course, the fact that voter ID won’t end all fraud is no more persuasive than saying end bribery laws because bribes still go on or end securities laws because insider trading persists,” Davis said.