This may have escaped your notice, but the U.S. is currently in the midst of a presidential campaign season. If you’ve hard anything about it at all, you’ve probably heard a great deal about voter fraud. And if you’ve heard anything about voter fraud, you’ve heard that it’s Democratic voters who do it, and that they do it in multitudes, and that it frequently produces stolen elections. And if you’ve heard all of this, you’ve heard the sound of a huge barge load of bullshit being dumped on your head.
How big a problem is voter fraud? Mother Jones notes that UFO sightings are more common. And that’s not just an expression; it’s literally true. In fact, there are far, far more UFO sightings than cases of voter fraud: Mother Jones’ numbers for the period from 2000 to 2010 are: 47,000 UFO sightings compared to 13 cases of verified voter fraud. It would make more sense for the media to focus on preventing that kind of alien from voting.
News21 comes up with a slightly different but compatible total for the same period: 10 instances of “substantiated in-person” voter fraud confirmed out of 2068 alleged cases. Whatever the exact figure, everyone who examines the facts closely enough arrives at the same conclusion: voter fraud is extremely rare, hardly a drop in the ocean. Yet the hype about it is a tsunami.
Mother Jones also observes that:
A 2005 report by the American Center for Voting Rights claimed there were more than 100 cases of voter fraud involving 300,000 votes in 2004. A review of the charges turned up only 185 votes that were even potentially fraudulent.
Note that word potentially. And that:
Last December, Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus declared that Wisconsin is “absolutely riddled with voter fraud.” In fact, the state’s voter fraud rate in 2004 was 0.0002 percent—just 7 votes.
The Brennan Center for Justice conducted an analysis of purported voter fraud and found that:
Many vivid anecdotes of purported voter fraud have been proven false or do not demonstrate fraud. Although there are a few scattered instances of real voter fraud, many of the vivid anecdotes cited in accounts of voter fraud have been proven false or vastly overstated. In Missouri in 2000, for example, the Secretary of State claimed that 79 voters were registered with addresses at vacant lots, but subsequent investigation revealed that the lots in question actually housed valid and legitimate residences. Similarly, a 1995 investigation into votes allegedly cast in Baltimore by deceased voters and those with disenfranchising felony convictions revealed that the voters in question were both alive and felony-free.
The thing is, those “vivid anecdotes” make the headlines, over and over and over again, while the inevitable debunking of them does not. Consequently, the astronomically overinflated stories of voter fraud stay implanted on the impressionable public brain much more vibrantly and permanently than the facts. It’s the old thing about a lie being halfway around the world before the truth even gets its shoes on.
Pardon me while I dig up ACORN.
Take the intensive smear campaign against ACORN. One poll revealed that 26 percent of all Americans and 52 percent of Republicans believed the community activist organization “stole” the 2008 election for Obama. More astoundingly, a poll taken last year indicated that 25 percent of Republicans believed it also would steal the 2012 election — even though the organization already was defunct for more than one year!
Smashing ACORN had long been a goal of right-wing activists for a very good reason: it had a long history of registering the “wrong” kind of voters (i.e., those who vote Democratic), which apparently is the most egregious offense of all. A young would-be muckraker named James O’Keefe helped the cause tremendously with his fraudulently edited videos about ACORN.
Professor Peter Dreier of Occidental College studied the media coverage of ACORN and reported among other things that:
Although ACORN is involved in many community activities around the country, including efforts to improve housing, wages, access to credit, and public education, the dominant story frame about ACORN was “voter fraud.” The “voter fraud” frame appeared in 55% of the 647 news stories about the community organization in 15 mainstream news organizations during 2007 and 2008. The news media stories about ACORN were overwhelmingly negative, reporting allegations by Republicans and conservatives.
The media also failed to distinguish allegations of voter registration problems from allegations of actual voting irregularities. They also failed to distinguish between allegations of wrongdoing and actual wrongdoing. For example:
82.8% of the stories about ACORN’s alleged involvement in voter fraud failed to mention that actual voter fraud is very rare (only 17.2% did mention it)
80.3% of the stories about ACORN’s alleged involvement in voter fraud failed to mention that ACORN was reporting registration irregularities to authorities, as required to do by law.
85.1% of the stories about ACORN’s alleged involvement in voter fraud failed to note that ACORN was acting to stop incidents of registration problems by its (mostly temporary) employees when it became aware of these problems.
95.8% of the stories about ACORN’s alleged involvement in voter fraud failed to provide deeper context, especially efforts by Republican Party officials to use allegations of “voter fraud” to dampen voting by low‐income and minority Americans, including the firing of U.S. Attorneys who refused to cooperate with the politicization of voter fraud accusations – firings that ultimately led to the resignation of U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales.
So, to summarize the case against ACORN: the real fraud was not voter fraud, but registration fraud. It was not committed by ACORN, but against ACORN by (a few of) its workers. They were not trying to stuff the ballot box, but to stuff their own pockets. ACORN did, as claimed by its critics, turn in many phony names — because it was required to do so by law. ACORN itself flagged these for scrutiny; and ironically, if not for its efforts to prevent voter fraud, it might not have been accused of voter fraud. Thorough investigation cleared the organization of any wrongdoing. Yet few media reports noted these facts. Must be that old “liberal bias” in the media at work again, eh? Indeed, by the time the truth about the “scandal” surfaced, the damage already had been done by O’Keefe, Breitbart, and the other usual suspects.
Give him an inch…
O’Keefe, by the way, is still releasing fraudulently edited videos that purport to show Democratic voter fraud. In his most recent, he solemnly proclaims in the intro that he is about to reveal proof of voter fraud that many deny even exists. Ah, Jimmy boy, a brazen double lie is hardly an auspicious beginning for what is intended to be an earth-shaking expose. Your latest little heavily doctored cinematic jewel only proves that you still know how to be dishonest, manipulative and self-serving. And it appears that plague of “liberal” malfeasance you’ve devoted your life to exposing is in fact so rare that you have to manufacture it with entrapment and deceptive editing. Secretly film a Democrat dumb enough to humor (while also gently discouraging) what appears to be a persistent wacko intent on cheating, then slice and dice the footage to perfection and, presto, you have a new masterpiece, certain to bring you more limelight, that “proves” one Democrat is dishonest and therefore they all must be. And it isn’t that people are claiming fraud never happens. They’re just claiming that it’s a tiny gnat of a problem that does not in any way justify the parade of steamrollers being dispatched to squash it, in the form of intrusive legislation concocted by the champions of “limited government”.
Sure, voter fraud sometimes happens. As a former poll worker myself, I can assure you that it’s extremely difficult to pull off, but it still does occur occasionally. Sometimes the culprits are even high-profile individuals like this gang:
The evidence is overwhelming that each of these characters committed in-person voter fraud. Yet the media and the right-wing hacks don’t seem to be too interested in investigating. Wonder why? (Hint: check their party affiliation.) Clearly yet another case of “liberal bias” in the media. These are just a few of the apparent and confirmed cases of voter fraud committed by Republicans that somehow consistently slide under the radar of the librulmedia. By the way, none of these apparently fraudulent acts would have been prevented by the voter ID laws that Republicans are touting as the panacea.
Paltry affliction, potent medicine
Yet more than 30 states have passed tougher new voter ID laws. Why? Well, to answer that question, perhaps you only have to look at who is behind them: namely, Republicans and other assorted right-wingers. Always. In every case. Al Franken, now a senator from Minnesota, once commented to the effect that Democrats try to win elections by getting people to vote, while Republicans try to win by preventing people from voting. Ah, come off it Al; surely all these voter ID laws aren’t just an effort to win at any cost, are they?
Hmmm…. Go back to 2000. Months before the election, a purge of voters who were allegedly ex-felons falsely eliminated thousands of likely Gore voters who were perfectly qualified to cast ballots. (Some of these alleged felons were listed as having committed their alleged crimes on some date in the future!) Bush’s official margin of “victory” in the state was 537. The purge was orchestrated by the state’s governor, who just happened to be Bush’s brother, and its secretary of state, who just happened to be the local chair of his campaign. All just coincidence, I’m sure. But that fraudulent purge coincidentally paid enormous dividends to the GOP, who professed to have executed it in order to prevent fraud.
Ten states have passed voter ID laws that place a disproportionate burden — in terms of money, time, and access — upon minorities and low income citizens who — whaddaya know — vote overwhelmingly Democratic. In all ten of these states, both the legislatures and the governorships are in the hands of — whaddaya know — Republicans. All just coincidence, no doubt.
Pennsylvania passed a new voter ID law that, before it was halted by a judge, would have disenfranchised more than 750,000 voters. The vast majority of them would have been Democratic voters. Just coincidence, to be sure. In speaking of the law, the state’s House Majority Leader, Mike Turzai, commented that it “is gonna allow Governor Romney to win the state of Pennsylvania”. He was just joking, wasn’t he?
In Nevada, a registration worker was told that he wouldn’t be paid for signing up Democrats. This appears to be part of a growing national strategy by Republicans, often involving fake “surveys” to screen out Democrats. In Virginia, a man who was caught tossing bags of completed voter registration forms into a dumpster turned out to be (surprise) working for the GOP. All just coincidence, absolutely.
In Arizona, voter registration cards in Spanish were mailed out with the wrong election date listed. In Ohio, mailers in one county listed both the wrong date and the wrong place. Republicans were behind both mailings. Just coincidence, naturally. In Arizona, it happened in Maricopa county, which has produced legislation aimed at discriminating against Hispanics under the pretext of fighting illegal immigration. Hispanics are much more likely to vote for Obama. Just one coincidence after another.
Additionally, there are widespread problems with electronic voting machines, which — except for the occasional very minor glitches that temporarily benefit Democrats before they are caught and corrected — have a consistent habit of counting more Republican votes than Democratic, sometimes very suspiciously so. The companies that supply these machines are all owned by individuals who are very active in supporting GOP candidates. Gotta be mere coincidence. Before the 2004 election, in which Diebold’s voting machines were quite instrumental, its Ohio-based chief executive, Wally O’Dell, declared, ”I am committed to helping Ohio deliver its electoral votes to the president next year.” Coincidentally, he did deliver, and Ohio was the pivotal state. Coincidentally, it very well could be again this year. (A rumor that Mitt Romney’s son owns voting machines in Ohio is false, though there are coincidentally some interesting connections.)
In short, if the media wanted to cover highly suspicious election irregularities that could make the difference — and indeed already have made a difference in at least one presidential election — they would have plenty of stories to cover. Trouble is, these stories all suggest vote suppression, tampering and other underhanded shenanigans on the part of Republicans, which doesn’t quite fit the narrative of Democrats stealing elections by getting too many people to vote. So instead we have a media obsession with scattered instances of possible fraud that have never had an impact on an election’s outcome. As usual, the right-wing propagandists have done their job extremely well.