A Shakespearean Glance at the People and Issues of the Day.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Richard III and Voter Fraud


Shakespeare takes on the issue of voter fraud in Act I scene IV of Richard III. Here the famous villain Richard, who is not yet the Third but would certainly like to be, murders a succession of successors to the throne whose claims are above his own. There was recently a pleasant Hollywood spoof on this theme starring John Goodman as the last remaining (American) claimant to the British throne, who is coronated following a regal mishap involving a photo shoot of the royal family, electricity and a wet floor.

Rich: "Clarence still breathes, Edward still lives and reigns;
When they are gone, then must I count my gains."

Translated into modern democratic terms, what Richard was murdering was the concept of legitimacy, the idea that transfixed Shakespeare through his entire eight-play history cycle (ten if you count the two non-consecutive history plays).

Richard carries this dark torch of illegitimacy into the 15th century, sending two murderers into the Tower to kill the legitimate democratic aspirations of the American people, I mean to kill Clarence, a legitimate heir to the throne who today would represent the entire body politic, all those dutiful and trusting voters who can't quite believe that the problem of voter fraud is really as bad as it now appears. When he says, "your brother Gloucester," the second murderer is referring to both Richard and to your state legislature and voter registration department (Richard is Duke of Gloucester):

2nd Mur: "You are deceived. Your brother Gloucester hates you."
Clar: "O, do not slander him, for he is kind."

1st Mur:: "Right, as snow in harvest. Come, you deceive yourself
"Tis he that sends us to destroy you here."

Clar: "It cannot be, for he bewept my fortune,
And hugged me in his arms, and swore with sobs
That he would labor my delivery."

1st Mur: "Why, so he doth, who he delivers you
From this earth's thralldom to the joys of heaven."

2nd Mur: "Make peace with God, for you must die, my lord."

Whether the death of democracy is something we must make our own peace with is, of course, up to us. But willing murderers, or at least unwilling protectors, there are. Only twenty states ask voters to provide identification at the polls. Of the twenty, only six require photo identification, the same type needed to rent a car or to apply for a video rental card at Blockbuster, and that's assuming Georgia's new law receives federal approval from the Department of Justice. The remaining thirty states, both as to voting and in most cases even as to initially registering, are as is often said of French husbands, complaisant.

In 2002 (yes, vote fraud stories are always a bit outdated; but if you wait to be outraged by cheating in the next election, you'll always be one behind), the senate race in South Dakota was understood to have involved massive voter fraud on Indian reservations. To assist in collecting registrations for the Democrats, Maka Duta bought a county history book containing local names, which began turning up in new voter roles. In Dewey and Ziebach counties, registered voters far exceeded the number of residents over 18 counted in the 2000 census. A Shannon county clerk, Renee Doss, received 1,100 new registrations in a county of only 10,000 people. "Many," she has said, "were clearly signed by the same person."

So how has the governor of Minnesota respond to this wake-up call in his neighboring state? He has just vetoed a bill that would require the state's voters to present photo identification when they vote. Oh and yes, the governor is a Democrat; his state legislature which passed the now vetoed law is in the hands of the Republicans.

Lest this sound like unjustified partisan piling on, in Indiana, after a similar law was passed this past May, the Democratic Party sued to have it overturned (a malmsey butt is a barrel of malmsey wine):

Clar (to 2nd Mur):
"My friend, I spy some pity in thy looks,
O, if thine eye be not a flatterer,
Come thou on my side, and entreat for me,
As you would beg, were you in my distress.
A begging prince what beggar pities not?"

2nd. Mur: "Look behind you, my lord."

1st Mur:
"Take that, and that! (Stabs him.) If all this will not do,
I'll drown you in the malmsey butt within."

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