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Pay no attention to the people behind the curtain

Friday, June 01, 2007

This is what "vote fraud" looks like

I've written about this kind of thing before--that vote fraud does indeed exisit, and it usually takes the form of something like vote-buying (.pdf):
There is virtually universal agreement that absentee ballot fraud is the biggest problem, with vote buying and registration fraud coming in after that. The vote buying often comes in the form of payment for absentee ballots, although not always. Some absentee ballot fraud is part of an organized effort; some is by individuals, who sometimes are not even aware what they are doing is illegal. [. . .]

There is widespread but not unanimous consent that that is little polling place fraud, or at least much less than is claimed, including voter impersonation, "dead" voters, noncitizen voting and felon voting. [. . .] Jason Torchinsky from the American Center for Voting Rights is the only interviewee who believes that polling place fraud is widespread and among the most significant problems in the system.
(You should read up on that exception.)

Today we learn that vote buying may well explain why Alderman McGee won his recall election so easily:
A secret John Doe investigation into irregularities during the recall campaign of Ald. Michael McGee yielded its first criminal charges Thursday, against a McGee campaign worker accused of paying people to vote.

The criminal complaint says that Garrett L. Huff, believed to be McGee's uncle, was "acting in concert" with McGee when he paid people $5 to vote absentee in the recall. [. . .] McGee campaign fliers promised free food and drink to people who showed up at certain locations with an "I Voted" sticker, the complaint says. Instead of food, the voters got cash, the complaint says.

Three undercover police officers were paid to vote as part of the scheme, the complaint says, and a fourth, who claimed he couldn't vote because he was on parole, was given $5 for bringing one of the others. [. . .] If convicted, Huff faces a maximum penalty of 3 1/2 years in prison and a $10,000 fine.
This is exactly the kind of work that needs to be done to identify and punish people who are indeed organizing and committing vote fraud, and the DA should be commended for taking swift action here.

However, this case is also a reminder of why Republicans' efforts at reforming voting laws--limited almost exclusively to trying to pass a photo ID requirement--will do nothing to curb the real problems. None of the people who voted under the influence of Huff and McGee pretended to be anyone other than who they were, or to live somewhere they didn't, or to be eligible to vote when they were not. It is entirely probable that had a photo ID been in place, overall turnout would have been lower, with legitimate legal voters unable to vote, and these illegally bought votes would have carried even greater weight.

Most of all, though, we have Huff facing a maximum penalty of 3 1/2 years in prison and a $10,000 fine. Granted, that sort of thing is certainly enough to dissuade me from going against my ethics and trying something like this. However, it seems an insignificant penalty for tinkering with the very heart of our democratic system, the electoral process.

If Republicans were truly interested in stopping fraud--as opposed to stopping minority voters--they could take this opportunity to strengthen the laws against this kind of fraud, the kind of fraud that we know is real and that must be stopped.

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