In the early 1980s, crime in New York City was out of control. It wasn’t safe to ride the subway or to jog through Central Park. But could anything be done?
City officials (including Mayor Rudy Giuliani, 1994-2002) decided to adopt a strategy based on the so-called broken windows theory. Political scientists had argued that seemingly minor factors created social norms that could either accelerate or decrease crime rates. A rundown physical environment invited crime, while a wellmaintained environment discouraged criminal behavior. Want to reverse the overall crime rate?
The move to clean up the physical environment and a “zero tolerance” policy for minor infractions had a dramatic effect on New York. The subways were soon safe again. Crime rates dropped dramatically.
Those who oppose voter ID laws and cleaning up voter registration rolls scream that such laws attack a problem that doesn’t exist, insisting again and again that the idea of widespread voter fraud is a myth. Ask voters to provide the same kind of identification they’d need to cash a check or get on an airplane? “Jim Crow is back!” they shout.
Why such an extreme reaction?
In part, what the left is defending is a series of effective but deeply flawed methods of maximizing Democrat voter registration and election turnout. In 2008, for instance, the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now submitted registration applications for more than 1.3 million new voters. ACORN hired hundreds of workers, paying them a bounty for each registration they submitted. They ended up with some unscrupulous “bounty hunters” who padded their paychecks by submitting fraudulent applications — and 400,000 of the ACORN-submitted applications ended up invalidated. And many applications that should have been invalidated slipped through the cracks.
Enough to influence the outcome of an election? Probably. On election night in November 2008, incumbent Republican senator Norm Coleman of Minnesota appeared to have held off a challenge by Al Franken. But after a long, messy recount, Franken emerged the winner — by 312 votes out of the 2.9 million cast.
It’s nearly certain that illegally cast votes provided Franken his narrow victory.
But it wasn’t just ACORN that was to blame for the “stolen” election. Like many Democratic state and county officials throughout the nation, Minnesota officials had refused to enforce the provisions of the 1993 “Motor Voter” act and remove ineligible voters from voting lists. The justification: poor and minority voters would end up unfairly excluded: following the law would be racist.
Opponents of the clean-up-New-York policies had brought the same charge against Giuliani: Enforcing laws against vagrancy and vandalism disproportionally affected minorities and was therefore racist. But as it turned out, underprivileged minorities were in some ways the greatest beneficiaries of the overall drop in urban crime rates.
Art Marmorstein, Aberdeen, is a professor of history at NSU. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. The views are his and do not represent Northern State University.