Salon.com has an interview with voting rights expert Lori Minnite, who I’ve interviewed for my stories at the Michigan Messenger. She makes some very important points about the entirely manufactured “voter fraud” claim by the Republican party. As Gerry Hebert told me, genuine voter fraud is extremely rare but the Republicans love to take anecdotal stories about a dead guy still being registered to vote or a voter registration card in the name of Mickey Mouse being turned in somewhere and use them to convince people that there is rampant duplicate voting and voter impersonation going on to try and steal elections. It’s a huge scam, as Minnite points out:
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.
The Republicans love to equate voter registration fraud, which is quite rare itself, with actual voter fraud, which is even more rare. Yes, it’s absurd when some canvasser somewhere turns in a registration card in the name of Mickey Mouse or some dead person, but this has nothing to do with actual voter fraud. Neither Mickey Mouse nor the dead person is going to show up and vote illegally, for crying out loud.
In Michigan yesterday, Attorney General Mike Cox made a huge deal of announcing that a single canvasser who worked for ACORN several months ago turned in six voter registration cards that are apparently fraudulent (the people were contacted and said that they did not fill out the applications, so he probably just grabbed them out of the phone book or something like that). And he sounded the requisite alarm:
“This is an obvious case of forgery and that is why I am taking action today,” said Cox. “This office will not stand by while criminals interfere with the voting rights of Michigan citizens.”
But this case doesn’t have anything to do with interfering with anyone’s voting rights, nor does it have anything to do with trying to steal any election. This was one guy trying to scam the organization he worked for. It doesn’t have any effect on the voting in the election at all. No one is going to show up to vote that shouldn’t vote because of it, no one is going to be prevented from voting because of it. Absolutely nothing will be any different on election day because of those fraudulent registrations.
Those six cards were almost certainly flagged by ACORN themselves (I’m waiting for confirmation of that) because their quality control staff tries to call each applicant 3 times to make sure the card is valid before turning them over to election officials. If found to be suspect, they are sent in to the county clerk separate from the other registration cards with a letter explaining why they may be bad. By law, they have to turn over every single card, they can’t decide on their own that a registration is invalid.
Minnite also notes how the DOJ has been playing games with this issue:
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.
A perfect example of the wildly exaggerated claims of voter fraud by Republicans is what happened in Milwaukee in 2004. 4 days before the election, the Wisconsin GOP produced a list of more than 37,000 voter registrations that had “questionable addresses” and demanded that all of them be challenged. The vast majority of those “questionable addresses” turned out to be things like addresses with the wrong apartment number or without an apartment number, things like that. Reviews of the list by Milwaukee city attorneys and the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel found only 68 that were actually questionable. The rest were simply the result of clerical errors between the registration list and the post office’s list of known addresses.
The GOP loves to put out these kinds of challenge lists where they compare voter registration lists with state driver’s license lists or post office lists. Anything that isn’t an absolutely perfect match gets challenged at the polls and they put out these lists with tens of thousands of discrepancies in some big city. But the vast, vast majority of those discrepancies turn out to be clerical errors, apartment numbers missing or wrong, or someone’s name having a slight variation in it (missing a “jr” or “sr” or something like that in one of the databases). And in those that aren’t, it still has nothing to do with actual voter fraud. Someone may have moved and their address has been updated in one system but not another, for example, but that doesn’t have anything to do with anyone actually voting twice or voting without being eligible to vote.
And here’s what she has to say about the allegations against ACORN:
The McCain campaign and Republican pundits have been trumpeting the threat of ACORN over the last few weeks. Do you think that ACORN presents a real threat of voter fraud?
I am struck by the ferocity of the attack on ACORN. I am not privy to the campaign strategy of the Republican Party, but I have to assume that it is the result of a coordinated disinformation campaign aimed not only at undermining ACORN’s work, but also as a part of a far broader effort to corrode public confidence in the electoral process.
We see the repetition of wildly exaggerated allegations about ACORN’s “criminality” by people like Michelle Malkin, a right-wing blogger; John Fund, who’s been attacking ACORN for years from his vantage as a Wall Street Journal columnist; and Roger Stone, a longtime Republican operative so devoted to Nixonian dirty tricks that he’s tattooed an image of Nixon’s face on his back. His blog, by the way, is sponsored by the same law firm that launched a phony voter fraud attack on ACORN in Florida during the last presidential election.
These are the people that seize on faulty registrations as proof that massive voter fraud is going on. This is an obviously faulty assumption. Do fake registrations equal fake ballots? No. They waste election officials’ time … we don’t elect people through registration. Confusion, on the part of election officials, while unfortunate, still has more to do with our convoluted laws than with any effort to deceive or manipulate by ACORN.
Let’s remember, as the Republicans make a furor over the Indiana registrations, that ACORN itself separated out those registrations — found the 2,000 faulty ones and flagged them for election officials — in the first place. They try to work with elected officials. The fact is that ACORN has been smeared by the Republican Party. Some of their employees do seem to fake registrations, sure, but when Macy’s has some of their employees stealing from them, we would not call them a quasi-criminal organization — we still call them a department store. ACORN is trying to help underprivileged people vote.
I believe that what we are seeing are efforts to create mass public confusion, to turn people off, and to create chaos on Election Day. This is a campaign strategy to distract people from the voter suppression efforts that actually distort electoral outcomes and to preemptively discredit the potential Obama presidency as fraudulent.