Wednesday, October 15, 2008

The Myths of Voter Fraud

It appears very little in the way of actual facts or consistent information is needed to whip up a frantic panic on behalf of talking heads and GOP pundits who wail about voting fraud. (Of course, many of these same fervent faithful are repeating such myths while demanding Sen. Obama is a terrorist and treasonous Destroyer of Worlds.) (NOTE: R. Neal has more on this sad tactic.)

So some facts (sure to be ignored by the anxiety-ridden voter):

Via ProjectVote. org:

• Voter fraud is extremely rare. At the federal level, records show that only 24 people were convicted of or pleaded guilty to illegal voting between 2002 and 2005, an average of eight people a year. The available state-level evidence of voter fraud, culled from interviews, reviews of newspaper coverage and court proceedings, while not definitive, is also negligible.
• The lack of evidence of voter fraud is not because of a failure to codify it. It is not as if the states have failed to detail the ways voters could corrupt elections. There are hundreds of examples drawn from state election codes and constitutions that illustrate the precision with which the states have criminalized voter and election fraud. I f we use the same standards for judging voter fraud crime rates as we do for other crimes, we must conclude that the lack of evidence of arrests, indictments or convictions for any of the practices defined as voter fraud means very little fraud is being committed.
• Most voter fraud allegations turn out to be something other than fraud. A review of news stories over a recent two year period found that reports of voter fraud were most often limited to local races and individual acts and fell into three categories: unsubstantiated or false claims by the loser of a close race, mischief and administrative or voter error.

Via Salon:

On Sept. 10, the 240,000 Wisconsin voters who had registered by mail since 2006 found their voting status up in the air as the state's attorney general, J.B. Van Hollen -- a McCain campaign co-chair -- sued the state’s Government Accountability Board. In Michigan that same week, Macomb County GOP party chairman James Carabelli told a reporter that he would use publicly available lists of foreclosed home addresses to “make sure people aren’t voting from those addresses.” In early October, the Montana Republican Party challenged the eligibility of 6,000 voters in university towns and heavily Native American counties."

"But Minnite says that the latest Republican uproar over ACORN is part of "a far broader effort to corrode public confidence in the electoral process." Minnite is a co-author of the forthcoming book “Keeping Down the Black Vote: Race and the Demobilization of American Voters" and a research fellow at Demos, a public policy think tank based in New York. She predicts that as Nov. 4 approaches, Republican allegations about voter fraud are certain to continue. Minnite spoke with Salon by phone recently from her office in Manhattan.

Do you believe that voter fraud poses a threat to the validity of American elections?

No. No threat.

The statistics bear me out. From 2002 to 2005 only one person was found guilty of registration fraud. Twenty people were found guilty of voting while ineligible and five people were found guilty of voting more than once. That’s 26 criminal voters -- voters who vote twice, impersonate other people, vote without being a resident -- the voters that Republicans warn about. Meanwhile thousands of people are getting turned away at the polls.

Political parties and corrupt election officials, on the other hand, do seem to present a potential problem. We should be a great deal more worried about who has access to the ballots. In terms of illegal aliens voting and people voting twice -- the popular images of voter fraud -- no I don’t think that there is any risk at all.

How did you come to this conclusion?

It is very difficult to find information on voter fraud. I’m quite fluent with political science data sets, but the more I would look, the less I would find. There was simply no information.

People were also uncooperative. Starting in late 2000 -- under state open-election laws -- I sent letters to all the attorneys general and secretaries of state in the U.S. asking them for statistics on voter fraud and those sorts of election crimes. Pennsylvania said they wouldn’t respond to me because I wasn’t a citizen [of the state]. I got the same from Virginia and Oklahoma. The attorney general of Michigan wanted me to pay $1,400 for the information because "it was going to take this many hours and this outrageous copying fee." I started to realize why there were no studies on the incidence of voter fraud, no criminal justice statistics. I also sent Freedom of Information requests to the Department of Justice. That became a two-year deal of delay and obstruction as well.

Under the “Voting Rights Act of 1965,” the Department of Justice’s Voting Section is legally bound to stop “voting practices and procedures ... that discriminate on the basis of race, color or membership in a language minority group.” Do you think the Bush administration's Justice Department has fulfilled this mission?

Threatening localities for not taking enough names off voter rolls in reaction to nothing and based on no evidence of fraud -- while increasing the possibility of disenfranchisement -- suggests a department more interested in furthering a political agenda than following that legal outline.

Let’s talk about the Ballot Access and Voting Integrity initiative that was started under Ashcroft in 2002. It was advertised as a program that would combat voter fraud and voter suppression equally. But if you look at the program, it actually was geared almost entirely toward voter fraud. They wanted to see if they could bring cases against individual voters. The [federal] government has spent a lot of money pursuing this over the years and convicted almost no one. Then we hear all this propaganda about how much voter fraud there is.

At the very least the Department of Justice has had its priorities backward. There are thousands of people having trouble casting ballots and the federal government has decided to go after poor people in Milwaukee and Florida to create the impression that there is voter fraud. The U.S. attorney firing scandal made it hard for anyone to claim that the Bush Justice Department wasn’t politicizing voter fraud."

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