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Pay no attention to the people behind the curtain

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Vote Fraud: The Freddy Krueger of our Republican friends

by folkbum

You remember Freddy Krueger--stripey shirt, slicey fingers, only shows up in dreams? But sca-reeee, yessir. Scare you to death.

Our Republican friends have their own Freddy Krueger going on, and it's vote fraud. They are absolutely conviced that it's real, it's rampant--and one of these days it's going to kill them.

Problem is, vote fraud as Republicans see it just doesn't exist, except in their fevered dreams. In fact, Republicans have to doctor science to try to make fraud seem a reality:
A federal panel responsible for conducting election research played down the findings of experts who concluded last year that there was little voter fraud around the nation, according to a review of the original report obtained by The New York Times. [. . .] The revised version echoes complaints made by Republican politicians, who have long suggested that voter fraud is widespread and justifies the voter identification laws that have been passed in at least two dozen states. [. . .]

Though the original report said that among experts “there is widespread but not unanimous agreement that there is little polling place fraud,” the final version of the report released to the public concluded in its executive summary that “there is a great deal of debate on the pervasiveness of fraud.”
The actual draft report (.pdf) is even more telling than the story makes it out to be; it notes the largest real, non-imaginary concerns when it comes to potential voter fraud:
There is virtually universal agreement that absentee ballot frud is the biggest problem, with vote buying and registration fraud coming after that. The vote buying often comes in the form of payment for absentee ballots, though not always. Some absentee ballot fraud is part of an organized effort; some is by individuals, who sometimes are not even aware that what they are doing is illegal. Voter registration fraud seems to take the form of people siging up with false names. Registration fraud seems to be most common where people people doing the registration were paid by the signature. [. . .] Most people believe that false registration forms have not resulted in polling place fraud, although it may create the perception that vote fraud is possible.
The report is even explicit that "voter impersonation, 'dead' voters, noncitizen voting and felons voting" are all rare. The expert who makes these conclusions "not unanimous"--because he insists in the face of evidence to the contrary that fraud is real--is Jason Torchinsky from the American Center for Voting Rights. Torchinsky is a long-time Republican operative, and ACVR, as I've noted before, is little more than a Republican front group that has strong connections to the group that Swiftboated John Kerry in 2004. That Torchinsky would be the only person cited as thinking polling-place fraud was rampant is not a suprise, as that has been the partisan Republican answer ever since the 2000 election alerted people to Republicans' own issues with vote integrity. (It's a particularly common bit of Karl Rove jiujitsu: Attack your enemy on your own weak points.)

I'm not suggesting no fraud happens--and the report is clear that it does, sometimes, and usually with absentee ballots in some form--and I'm not suggesting we shouldn't be concerned about the integrity of our voting process. However, we have to be clear what's real and what isn't: People making up names so that they can get paid more for registering voters? Real. People showing up and pretending to be someone else, especially as part of an organized effort? Very Freddy Kreuger. Which one should be our priority?

Christian Schneider, the former Dennis York (and, therefore, possibly, an expert on pretending to be someone else?), uses a reader email to suggest that anyone who denies wide-spread fraud is "silly." This comes on the heels of a report that in November, 2006, 82 felons may have voted, out of 2.2 million votes cast. Democratic state senator Jon Erpenbach is quoted in the story as saying that the "push for photo ID was a matter of people looking for a problem that doesn't exist." And Erpenbach's got the research, we know now, on his side. But saying it, I guess, is "silly."

The hyperbolic Jessica McBride is far worse:
Seriously, unless the government unearths some massive organized conspiracy by the state Democratic Party or Kerry campaign, voter fraud will never exist to the left. [. . .] What's the standard? What's enough for them?

Remember that more cases couldn't be brought by the feds in Milwaukee because of the disastrous record-keeping. The 82 felons isn't enough for them. The small organized conspiracies aren't enough (see: ACE). Tire slashing: Not enough. The double-voting incidents. Not enough. Smokes for votes. Not enough. What would be enough?

The real question is why we wouldn't do everything in our power to protect the integrity of our electoral system. In Iraq, they dipped their fingers in purple ink. Here, liberals think minorities are too incompetent to figure out how to get photo ids, or something like that. I think that's patronizing and insulting.
There are a couple of things to note about this rant. First is its inexactness: Slashing tires is not voter fraud, for example.

Second is the question of what McBride wants from us Democrats. To admit that fraud happens? When do we deny it? The ACE story was all about absentee ballot fraud--something that everyone admits is real and is the most prevalent form of fraud. And "smokes for votes" is that second-most prevalent kind of fraud, vote-buying. And in those cases, as in the case of the tire-slashers, the perpetrators were caught and punished by our legal system. Yay, system! Way to go!

But that last paragraph makes it clear what she really, really wants, and that's a voter ID bill. The state Assembly just passed the amendment version of that bill again yesterday. But which of McBride's fraud instances would have been stopped by requiring voter ID? Not the tire-slashing, not the vote buying, not the absentee ballot fraud, and not the felons voting, either (don't forget the stories of some felons registering to vote using their Department of Corrections IDs as proof of identity). The double-voting, maybe, but even then--as in the case of this guy Owen talks about--requiring an ID would not have stopped him, just, as Owen admits, made it easier to prosectute the literally one-in-a-million double voters like him.

So if Voter ID won't stop what we know to be the biggest causes of vote fraud--absentee ballot shenanigans, vote buying, and bad registrations--what will it stop? Oh, that's right, minority voters:
The study, prepared by scholars at Rutgers and Ohio State Universities for the federal Election Assistance Commission, supports concerns among voting-rights advocates that blacks and Hispanics could be disproportionately affected by ID requirements. [ . . I]n the states where voters were required to sign their names or present identifying documents like utility bills, blacks were 5.7 percent less likely to vote than in states where voters simply had to say their names. [. . .] Hispanics appeared to be 10 percent less likely to vote under those requirements, while the combined rate for people of all races was 2.7 percent.
A drop of 2.7% overall would have been nearly 60,000 Wisconsin voters last November--60,000 legal, legitimate votes prevented from being cast by a measure intended (though almost certainly not able) to stop 82 felons, or two double-voters, or a couple hundred bought absentee votes. Yes, every illegally cast vote cancels out a legal one. But even if voter ID would stop all the illegal votes--and it might not even stop a single one!--the balance of tens of thousands of stifled legal votes far outweighs the benefits of requiring ID. It would be "silly" not to see that.

But the Republicans, spurred by nightmarish dreams inspired by partisan front-groups like ACVR, continue to insist on the right to disenfranchise thousands of people across the state all in an attempt to kill their Freddy Kreuger. But there's an easier way to get rid of Freddy.

Just wake up.

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