I'd always assumed that Republicans made this argument as a matter of simple rhetorical dishonesty; Democrat = democracy, Republican = republic. If the United States was founded as a republic only, Republicans -- by virtue of their party's name -- could convince the weak-minded and logic-challenged that Republicans were closer to the founders' original vision. Not the best or most rational argument, but -- let's face it -- the GOP doesn't waste a lot of time on outreach to brainiacs. Think back to the Tea Party protests for examples of the deep thinkers the party attracts.
But there's a darker reason for the argument; Republicans aren't big fans of democracy. Here's the co-founder of the rightwing Heritage Institute and the Moral Majority, the late Paul Weyrich:
Now many of our Christians have what I call the goo-goo syndrome -- good government. They want everybody to vote. I don't want everybody to vote. Elections are not won by a majority of people, they never have been from the beginning of our country and they are not now. As a matter of fact, our leverage in the elections quite candidly goes up as the voting populace goes down.
For Republicans, voting is only good when the right people vote -- and if you can discourage the wrong people from voting, that's great. If you can actually prevent the wrong people from voting, that's even better. Is that democracy? No, it's not -- which explains why the GOP is big on this republic argument.
And Republicans are currently waging a War on Democracy, in the form of restrictive voter ID laws. According to their arguments, voter fraud is rampant across the nation and must be dealt with. As a result, laws are passed that -- merely coincidentally, mind you -- make it more difficult for minorities, the poor, seniors, and students to vote. All blocks that tend to vote Democratic or oppose GOP policies.
After getting some pushback from voters and in the media, the Republican Party apparently felt they were in a "put up or shut up" situation. They had to prove that voter fraud was a massive problem, so the Republican National Lawyers Association collected data from 2000-2010 showing election fraud in 46 states (apparently, there were no instances of fraud in four states). The problem; if this was a "put up or shut up" situation, they would've been much better off choosing "shut up."
[Debbie Hines, Huffington Post:]
Viewing the data for the period 2000-2010, the report by its own account shows there is no link between voter fraud in states and the need for stricter voter ID laws. The data shows that during the entire 10 year period, 21 states had only 1 or 2 convictions for some form of voter irregularity. And some of these 21 states have the strictest form of voter ID laws based on a finding of 2 or less convictions in ten years. Five states had a total of three convictions over a ten year period. Rhode Island had 4 convictions for the same 10 years. Taking a close look at the RNLA data shows 30 states, including the District of Columbia had 3 or less voter fraud convictions for a 10 year period.
Voter ID laws enacted now in over half the states, require voters to present some form of identification as a requirement to vote. Fourteen states require a government issued photo ID when voting in person. At the time of registering to vote, other states like Kansas and Alabama further demand proof of citizenship beyond the federal legal requirement that citizens swear they are citizens. Kansas had one conviction for voter fraud in ten years; Alabama had three convictions in the same time period. During the 2011 legislative session, five states -- Wisconsin, Texas, Tennessee, Alabama and South Carolina -- joined Georgia and Indiana by enacting the strictest form of photo ID requirement for voters, and most of these newest changes will first come into effect for the 2012 elections.
As thin as the data is, it's padded. Included are incidents of election fraud (vote buying and ballot tampering, for example) that voter ID would do nothing to prevent. In trying to provide evidence to bolster their claims of widespread voter fraud, they've only managed to prove just how trivial a problem it actually is. In fact, even if all these instances had happened in the same year, rather than over a decade, there just wouldn't be enough of them to change the outcome of an election. Taken as they are -- ten years of data -- they show numbers so tiny that rounding errors and miscounts would be more consequential. In short, they've proved conclusively that voter fraud is not a problem.
But, then again, voter fraud isn't the problem they're trying to solve. People who aren't likely to vote Republican are the problem they're trying to solve. If you doubt that, show me the election that would've had a different outcome without voter fraud.
Republicans have cured themselves of Weyrich's "goo-goo syndrome." Now they're trying to cure the nation. We may be a republic that uses the system of democracy now, but they're working on fixing that problem.