Pick Wayne's Brain

May 10, 2014

The Myth of the Voter Fraud Problem

Filed under: Commentary — Tags: , , — Wayne A. Schneider @ 1:41 PM

In recent years, Republican-controlled states across the nation have enacted stricter voting laws, sometimes requiring people to possess a document they can only get at great personal expense, if they can get it at all. The justification they use is to say the new laws are necessary to combat Voter Fraud. There is something very important you need to understand about this: They’re lying. There is no “massive” voter fraud problem in this country. Period. That’s not to say it doesn’t happen from time to time, but it does not happen on a scale anywhere close to “massive.” But try telling that to James Simpson of the misnamed group Accuracy in Media. Like many on the right who decry the non-existent massive voter fraud problem, Mr. Simpson appears not to even understand what voter fraud is. Calling it an “existential threat to America” (more on that later), he cites as a blatant example of “official voter fraud” a story of how the Illinois House Legislature improperly voted approval of something they weren’t supposed to approve or even vote on. Whether or not the story itself is true is irrelevant. It was not an example at all of the kind

of “voter fraud” these new laws were meant to prevent. It was just an excuse to attack the Democrats and the President (the story involved a vote on his presidential museum.) According to the Brennan Center, “voter fraud” is fraud by voters. When an individual casts ballots knowing they are ineligible to vote (or to vote at that location) in an attempt to defraud the voting system, you have voter fraud. A key aspect of what makes an act one of voter fraud is an actual attempt to cast a vote. If you aren’t actually trying to cast a vote, then whatever illegal thing you did that violated election law was probably not voter fraud.

The most common misdeed incorrectly touted as voter fraud is voter registration fraud, and it is an entirely different thing. For one thing, it does not involve an actual attempt to cast a vote, which is the only thing that can affect an election’s outcome. Registering under a false name is registration fraud. That only becomes voter fraud when you try to show up to cast a vote under that false name. And the fact of the matter is that compared to the total number of votes cast in any election it hardly ever happens. A group ironically calling itself “True The Vote” is perpetuating the lie that America has a massive voter fraud problem that justifies requiring all citizens to present a photo ID when voting. To do so, they cite examples in 46 states of voter fraud. As near as I can tell from checking a few, there’s just one example from each of these states, and they aren’t examples of the kind of voting irregularity presenting a photo ID will prevent. In their New York State example, some local Democratic party officials fraudulently filled out absentee ballots in an effort to subvert a primary. Photo IDs do nothing to prevent fraud by absentee ballot. The Louisiana example, from 2002, was of someone offering to buy a vote, and another of someone trying to bribe a voter. Again, nothing a photo ID would have stopped. The example to justify North Carolina’s recent Voter ID laws leads to a 404 error – which doesn’t prove their point at all. A search for “voter fraud” on the newspaper’s website does bring up 154 stories, but, again, nothing that a photo ID would stop. Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett said he would not appeal a state court’s striking down of their recent unnecessarily harsh photo ID law. (This was the law about which a Republican saying it would help them win Pennsylvania, “Voter ID – done!”) In defense of the law, supporters were unable to produce a single example of in-person voter fraud, which is the only thing a photo ID might stop.

Voter ID laws were not being passed to overcome the effects of a massive voter fraud problem, and anyone who tells you differently is lying to you. There is no massive voter fraud problem. Supporters of these new laws often falsely claim that we are saying voter fraud doesn’t exist, but that is also untrue. Not only do we not say it doesn’t exist (it happens once in a great while), but we are also saying that what some on the right are calling “voter fraud” has nothing to do with a voter trying to illegally cast a vote in an election. I can find many stories of voter registration fraud, often committed by Republicans trying to register voters. (They like to throw away the registrations of Democrats, which could potentially lead to that voter inadvertently attempting to vote illegally, thus actually committing voter fraud, except there was no attempt to do it knowingly.) But I cannot find any stories of massive in-person voter fraud. (The recent North Carolina story of thousands of people supposedly voting in two states is still being investigated. And if history is any judge, it was probably a mistake on the part of the person who took down the data, or an erroneous assumption about the significance of the matching voter data.) Republicans are not trying to prevent illegal fraudulent voting, they are trying to prevent legal Democratic voting. When they’re willing to accept a hunting license has proof of ID, but not a state-issued university student photo ID as equally valid, don’t try to tell me they’re only trying to prevent in-person voter fraud. You’re lying, just like them.

One more thing about this “existential threat” nonsense – BULLSHIT! It’s nothing but a buzz phrase (often used by the right, and often used as justification for supporting Israel’s policies of pre-emptive strikes) that usually refers to a theoretical threat, not an actual threat. For example, Israel will say they killed a group of people because they did something that indicates they might commit a terrorist act years down the road. That doesn’t mean they actually might do that act, just that they theoretically might. In other words, Israel uses its overactive imagination to imagine a dangerous future situation for which it takes real action today. And that’s what Republicans are doing with these voter ID laws. They are imagining something that isn’t happening, and destroying any possibility that it might happen down the road. And it is wrong. On both of them.

Think about it: If Democrats were fraudulently casting votes in as massive a number as the Republicans claim, then why don’t they control the House of Representatives or most state legislatures, like the Republicans do? The simplest explanation is that the Republicans claims aren’t true.

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