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Two men are standing on a street corner on Main Street, USA. One of them is standing on one foot and waving a large stuffed penguin over his head. The other man asks what he is doing.

"Keeping polar bears away," is the reply.

"You fool," says the other man. "There's not a polar bear within thousands of miles."

"See how well it works?"

Replace "polar bear" with "illegal voter" and you have an idea of what many public officials, generally Republicans, are gesticulating about. They are afraid of something that scarcely exists. And they want credit for fighting it off.

But, unlike the poor soul who was only making a fool of himself with his bear-repelling activities, election officials who see voter fraud around every turn are in a position to do real harm to those who cannot instantly prove their bona fides as citizens, or who won't even know their qualifications were being challenged until they show up on Election Day and are turned away.

Research and fact-checking done by various organizations, including the Associated Press and New York Times, have documented attempts by state officials and activists — mostly in swing states in this year's election — to purge thousands of improperly registered voters. But as the process went along, even the most aggressive pruning could only find about 150 to 200 people per state who, because they weren't citizens, shouldn't have been on the rolls.

The problem is that, if democracy is the goal, the cure is much worse than the disease. Pogroms designed to wipe the rolls clean of noncitizens, felons or others who are not supposed to be voting are bound to sweep up innocent, and fully qualified, voters in their paths. Most of them, of course, will be the elderly and the poor, who can't easily produce birth certificates, passports, even driver licenses, to prove their citizenship. And who, just by the way, trend toward the Democrats in national elections.

Voter roll purges are just one way to suppress the number of voters and skew electorates toward the wealthy and white. Other tricks include onerous ID laws, new rules that make it harder to register or that reverse a recent trend toward extended voting periods.

All of these efforts continue despite the fact that the number of proven incidents of in-person voter fraud — that is, an ineligible person presenting himself at the polls and illegally casting a ballot — is infinitesimally small.

We cannot pursue a real democracy based on fibs and fairy stories. Voter suppression efforts must end.

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