The Fraudulence of Voter Fraud

Article excerpt

The Bush administration purged U.S. attorneys for failing to prosecute crimes that didn't occur

ON APRIL 6, 2006, in Washington, D.C., Karl Rove gave a speech to the Republican National Lawyers Association and issued this dire warning:

We are, in some parts of the country, I'm afraid to say, beginning to look like we have elections like those run in countries where the guys in charge are, you know, colonels in mirrored sunglasses. I mean, it's a real problem, and I appreciate all that you're doing in those hot spots around the country to ensure that the ballot-the integrity of the ballot-is protected, because it's important to our democracy.

When Rove talks about protecting "ballot integrity," that is shorthand for disenfranchising Democratic Party voters. Over the last several years, the Justice Department, with the help of White House operatives, has sought to boost GOP electoral fortunes by orchestrating a national campaign against voter fraud. But the administration overreached on Dec. 7, when President George W. Bush fired eight U.S. attorneys, a political scandal that some say could become this presidents Watergate.

When Republicans talk about voter fraud they are referring to illegal voting by individuals, as opposed to vote fraud-systematic attempts to steal an election by an organized group of partisans. This emphasis on voter fraud has convinced eight states to pass laws requiring voters to present official photo identification in order to cast a ballot-laws that studies have shown suppress Democratic turnout among voters who are poor, black, Latino, Asian-American or disabled.

Understanding that one way to win closely contested elections is to keep Democratic voters away from the polls, the Republican Party has tried to stoke public fears of voter fraud. On Feb. 15, 2005, the U.S. Senate Republican Policy Committee issued a report, "Putting an End to Voter Fraud," which said, "Voter fraud continues to plague our nation's federal elections, diluting and canceling out the lawful votes of the vast majority of Americans." To remedy the situation, the Senate Republicans advised Congress to "require that voters at the polls show photo identification."

But voting experts maintain that voter fraud is not a national problem. In March, Lorraine C. Minnite, a professor of political science at Columbia University, released "The Politics of Voter Fraud," a report she prepared for Project Vote, an advocacy group based in Arkansas. She writes:

The claim that voter fraud threatens the integrity of American elections is itself a fraud. It is being used to persuade the public that deceitful and criminal voters are manipulating the electoral system. ... The exaggerated fear of voter fraud has a long history of scuttling efforts to make voting easier and more inclusive, especially for marginalized groups in American society. With renewed partisan vigor, fantasies of fraud are being spun again to undo some of the progress America has made lowering barriers to vote.

This is borne out by a study from the Eagleton Institute of Politics at Rutgers University, which found that in the 2004 election, voters in states that required documentation of identity were 2.7 percent less likely to vote than voters in states where documentation was not required. Specifically, the study, commissioned by the U.S. Election Assistance Commission, found that Latinos were 10 percent less likely to vote, Asian-Americans 8.5 percent less likely to vote and blacks 5.7 percent less likely to vote.

What's more, despite GOP claims to the contrary, voter fraud is a very rare occurrence. In 2002 the Justice Department established the Ballot Access and Voting Integrity Initiative to ferret out fraudulent voters. On Oct. 4, 2005, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, with great fanfare, proclaimed, "We've made enforcement of election fraud and corrupting offenses a top priority." Yet according to an April 12 New York Times article, only 120 people have been charged with the crime over the past five years, leading to 86 convictions. …