Voter Fraud: Real Menace or Rove Meme?

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The US attorneys scandal turns on politicization of justice — specifically on the question of whether Bush administration US attorneys were fired for failing to prosecute enough Democrats for voter fraud.

Interestingly enough, it turns out that voter fraud — stacking the deck by voting, say, in the name of a deceased person — isn’t actually a big problem. So says a report commissioned by the federal Election Assistance Commission. Funny thing, though: instead of distributing that report, the EAC released one claiming that the jury’s still out. Yesterday a House committee made the original report public.

The EAC also dragged its heels for months before finally releasing (at Congress’s urging) a separate report on voter identification: a report saying that voter ID requirements — rationalized to combat voter fraud — can inhibit voter turnout, especially for minorities.

What do you think? Is this another snub by the Bush administration of professional expertise in favor of politics? Or is it a series of awkard mistakes with very unfortunate timing?

Maurice Hinchey

U.S. Representative, D-NY

Justin Levitt

Counsel, Democracy Program, Brennan Center for Justice, NYU School of Law

Frances Fox Piven

Professor of sociology, City University of New York

Co-author, Why Americans Still Don’t Vote: And Why Politicians Want It That Way

Extra Credit Reading

Ian Urbina, Panel Said to Alter Finding on Voter Fraud, The New York Times, April 11, 2007: “‘Though the original report said that among experts “there is widespread but not unanimous agreement that there is little polling place fraud,’ the final version of the report released to the public concluded in its executive summary that ‘there is a great deal of debate on the pervasiveness of fraud.'”

Josh Marshall, Voter Fraud, Talking Points Memo, April 12, 2007: “Who’s running all this? Who’s put it all in motion. Look at the documents that have already been released. It’s been run out of Karl Rove’s office at the White House.”

Spencer Overton, Dissenting Statement, Carter Baker Dissent, 2005: “The [Commission on Federal Election Reform’s voter ID] proposal is so excessive that it would prevent eligible voters from proving their identity with even a valid U.S. passport or a U.S. military photo ID card.”

Jim Miller, Does David Postman Actually Believe This?, Sound Politics, April 4, 2005: ” . . . Many Republicans would start this discussion not in 2000, but in 1993, when the “Motor Voter” Act was passed. Let me remind him of the nickname many Republicans gave it then: the “Motor Cheater” Act. Republicans believed that the law would make vote fraud easier and that the fraud would usually benefit Democrats. There has been enough evidence since then so that we can not dismiss or ignore those concerns. I believe, along with many other Republicans, that vote fraud is becoming more common and that it nearly always benefits Democrats (often against other Democrats).”

Stefan Sharkansky, No Evidence of Election Crimes?, Sound Politics, March 13, 2007: “But we were all tipped off that something wasn’t right when King County counted more votes than voters and admitted to fabricating the reconciliation reports.”

David Schraub, I’ll Show You A Fraud, The Debate Link, April 11, 2007: “We simply cannot discuss this issue blind to the history behind these sorts of policies, and the manner in which formally neutral voting laws were a key pillar in America’s racist hierarchy. The willful blindness exhibited on this issue is simply unbecoming of genuine deliberative dialogue, and ought to be called out more often.”

Jeff Kogen, Swords at dawn, Rove, for you have insulted the honor of Multnomah!, BlueOregon, April 11, 2007: “You have attacked our community’s honor, claiming that our vote by mail system (admired from sea to shining sea) encourages fraud – a subject about which you are admittedly an expert. You implied that if your lawyers had been able to “monitor” the 2004 elections in Portland, you might have won in our fair State of Oregon. If by “monitor” you mean get rid of vote by mail and move all but one polling place to Klamath Falls, we suspect you’d be right.”

hilzoy, Voter Fraud, Obsidian Wings, April 11, 2007: “An actual individual has to cast each and every fraudulent vote. Even if you have people going around voting all day long (without election workers catching on?), you’d need a fair number of them to alter the course of most elections. And every person you involve makes your plan more vulnerable to discovery. Again, much simpler just to disappear the odd ballot box.”

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  • Lumière


    Karl Christian Rove?

    I’m foaming at the mouth already…..

  • enhabit

    a little fun at the expense of our leadership

  • enhabit

    “winning an ill defined war against a vaguely defined enemy takes an indefinite amount of time..”


    where did all this voter registration paranoia come from? did somebody figure out how close elections were going to be for awhile and decide that if a portion of the voting public could be cut out favoring a certain outcome so be it? seems that way…i don’t think that these “buffoons” should be underestimated.

    in my neighborhood..a republican party rep was permitted to sit within earshot of the voting officials calling out names and registration and write everything down…huh?

  • Out here where our US Attorney was canned for not investigating the 2004 gubernatorial race, probably the most notable voice of the vote fraud theme is Stephan Sharkansky at Sound Politics. I’m not actually suggesting him for the show though, I’m just saying he’s the band leader for vote fraud investigators.

    In terms of a source, I’d say David Postman, political reporter and blogger.

  • Brendan

    This story took forever to filter up from the blogs to the traditional media, I’m guessing because it feels so like a conspiracy that reporters thought it couldn’t possibly be true. Why is it so hard for stories like that to get traction in the national media? Is there a human bias against succumbing to the idea of a conspiracy? Is there a media bias against it?

    Or does the specter of Rove — real or imagined — make the story more plausible? He’s such an evil-seeming dude; do we ascribe too much power to him? Too much craftiness?

  • joshua hendrickson

    Karl Rove’s craftiness should never be underestimated, and his access to power these last 6+ years is undeniable.

    Voting in this country will remain meaningless until we give the vote to everyone who lives here–including felons, children, illegal immigrants–and simultaneously make those votes directly applicable to state power by holding a referendum every time Congress tries to make a new law. Now that would be real democracy.

    Pure chaos? Sure.

    But I’ll take a little natural chaos over imposed order any day.

  • W.M. Palmer

    I was a Trial Attorney with the Public Integrity Section of the Criminal Division of DOJ in the mid-nineties for four years – in essence, a Main Justice public corruption prosecutor. The Election Crimes Branch resides within Public Integrity, and I had many discussions with Craig Donsanto, the then – and now – head of the branch, about election crimes. My general sense of what has occured is as follows:

    For many years, DOJ sensibly restricted prosecutions of voter fraud to (the v. rare) cases in which there was a conspiracy to commit same, rather than a solitary offender, because the former fundamentally threatened the integrity of the electoral process, while the second did not.

    The Republican political machine, enconsed in and operating out of the WH, has evidently sought to politicize the various federal departments and agencies to serve its agenda, in a depth and breadth that has not been seen for many decades – if not longer. This appears to be an instantiation of that broad strategy, here one in which an agenda of developing “evidence” of voter fraud (through the statistics of prosecutions instituted, etc.) was calculatedly sought as it would (a) support rhetoric regarding illegal political machinations of the Demoncrats – thus, counterbalancing any accusations against Republicans, and (b) povide a basis to push voter identification programs that would disporportioately disenfranchise certain segments of the population likely to vote Democratic.

    What is particularly dangerous about the politicization of the DOJ is that many of the most significant and essential decision made have a significant discretionary element, making it harder to perceive a corrupt element in the decision-making process. What is fascinating as this and various other actions of Bush’s DOJ are revealed by Democratic Congressional oversight is how nakedly bold the operators were in their actions.

    Finally, there is an non-negligible argument to be made that by apparently purposively bending federal law enforcement to suit their political agenda, the WHI and DOJ operatives engaged in a Klein conspiracy, which is a criminal conspiracy to defraud the United States (under the defraud prong of 18 U.S.C. sec. 371). This, ironically, is a matter in which the appointment of an independent counsel, would serve the country well.

  • Lumière

    Rove is a fantastic creature- where does he find the time?

    When he is not re-arranging baggage at the airport, he is scurrying state to state discouraging minority voting.

    The inconsistency is too much:

    he has minorities in prominent positions in his administration, yet he doesn’t want minorities voting !


  • Katherine

    W.M. Palmer: what an interesting comment. If we hadn’t just finalized our guest roster for tonight I would have contacted you to find out more!

  • enhabit

    not just rove..consider the unapologetic craftiness with which (de facto) president cheney dodged the draft numerous times….

    “I had other priorities in the ’60s than military service.” said the future secretary of defense/wh chief of staff/vice-president/bush puppeteer

    worthy of haigt ashbury’s most skilled dodgers…and unworthy…this is a man who can rationalize just about anything…like scaring the otherwise apathetic amongst us with such phantoms

    i lost patience with this mess..let’s see..when baker was throwing his weight around florida during the gore victory/loss., and all those liberal new york/florida jewish retirees voted republican..WHAT?..i hope that this manipulative cold war mentality fossilises soon so we can start fussing with lesser things like living..if you listen carefully you can just about hear kruschev’s corpse laughing…

  • Lumière

    The Republican Party’s interest in rooting out voter fraud has been encouraged by the White House. In a speech last April, Karl Rove, Mr. Bush’s senior political adviser, told a group of Republican lawyers that election integrity issues were an “enormous and growing” problem.

    “We’re, 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 colonels in mirrored sunglasses,” Mr. Rove said. “I mean, it’s a real problem.”

  • Sir Otto

    Wasn’t it voter fraud that got W elected?

  • enhabit

    it’s a poll tax!

  • Lumière

    Under Rhode Island’s charter, originally received in 1663, only landowners could vote. At the time, when most of the citizens of the colonies were farmers, this was considered fairly democratic. By the 1840s landed property worth at least $134 was required in order to vote. However as the industrial revolution reached North America and people moved into the cities, it created large numbers of people who could not vote. By 1829, 60% of the state’s free white males were ineligible to vote. Many were recent Irish Catholic immigrants.

    Dorr’s Rebellion, named for its leader, Thomas W. Dorr, was directed against the government of Rhode Island, which was still operating under the charter of 1663. The legislature had failed to liberalize the constitution by extending voting rights, enacting a bill of right, or reapportioning the legislature. The Dorrites held an extralegal convention, drafted a new constitution and submitted it to the electorate, whose numbers had been enlarged by the new Dorrite provisions. Simultaneously, on April 18, with Gov. samuel W. King legally still in power, Dorr was named governor in a so-called election. King imposed martial law. On May 18 Dorr and a contingent of followers unsuccessfully attempted to seize a state armory. In 1843 Dorr was sentenced to life imprisonment, but was fully pardoned after serving one year. Reforms in the state constitution were quickly adopted.

  • slightner

    I don’t think voter fraud is the issue. The issue is the ability of the Republican Party to affect local politics by positioning a partisan U.S. Attorney to play politics with indictments. Voter fraud is just the Trojan House that the Republicans think will pass the smell test as an excuse to replace noncompliant U.S. Attorneys. We should be very afraid of any party that wants its Justice Department to play politics with our justice system. As has become apparent in the Duke rape allegations, a District Attorney, this time a Democrat, may have been playing politics to gain support of the black community in a local election and in the process he almost destroyed three lives. Clearly if a U.S. Attorney is not performing his job, then there is plenty of evidence for removal. But not prosecuting partisan policies to give one party an edge in an election is a gross violation of public trust.

  • enhabit

    francis makes the good point..this is as much about democtrat impotence as republican aggressiveness

  • enhabit

    the dems may have the popular vote but the repubs have managed to secure the effective vote

  • katemcshane

    What a thrill! Frances Fox Piven in the discussion!! I’ve been reading her for decades, but I never heard her voice before. I’m such an idiot — I didn’t know who would be in the discussion and I was sitting here thinking — they should have Frances Fox Piven on the show. She is wonderful!!! I love her!!

    Thank you Chris for saying to Maurice Hinchey, “They’ve got a way to go.” And for saying that “they never talk about working people — they talk about the middle class.” As a person who grew up working class and has never figured out how to graduate to the middle class, despite paying for a college education from Boston College, I always appreciate a mention of working people.

  • moritat

    Wasn’t there a recent case of an election conspiracy in New Hampshire? Several individuals allied with one party faced indictment, trial, and conviction for conspiring to jam the phone lines at the other party’s “get out the vote/get a ride to the polls” operation?

    Which party played which role, I wonder?

  • herbert browne

    Lumiere, thanks for the brief note on Rhode Island history… very fascinating!

    Part of the fallout from the Fed attorney firings in My corner (Great Northwet), is that the dismissed atty, John McKay, a Republican, was apparently being considered for a Federal Judge appointment (& had a fairly broad consensus from both major parties), until his decision that the Wa gubernatorial race didn’t meet the criteria for pursung voter fraud allegations…

    Re (Brendan): ..” Is there a human bias against succumbing to the idea of a conspiracy? Is there a media bias against it?”-

    Yew betcha… it’s called “embarrassment”- something to be reserved for the naive & gullible- and what working media correspondent wants to live with a tag like THAT? It’s also a reflection of the difference between “speaking one’s mind” in the blogosphere, and “drawing a corporate paycheck” (while remaining in the good graces of said corporation)… ^..^

  • Potter

    Republican rhetoric of “democracy” and “freedom” is rendered worse than simply meaningless. Underneath, the goals seem to be one-party-rule. And if there is no pushback-thankfully we see some- we will get just that.

  • rc21

    Lots of posters bitching about the gop and rove.( no suprise on this forum) Fact is most voter fraud is commited by the dems. Big cities are notorius for this. Philly, Milwaukee, St. Louis just to name a few,during the last presidential election.

    The gov of Washington was elected under very shady circumstances. It is pretty well known that Dem congresswomen Loretta Sanchez was elected because the dem machine stuffed the ballot boxes with votes from illegals. I could go on but most of the people on here are not really to concerned with graft and corruption in the democratic party. They are to busy salivating over false scandals that the media has invented.

  • Potter

    To Jim Miller’s ( link above) “And his [Gore] strategy of seeking recounts only in selected Florida counties inevitably created the belief, at least among Republicans, that he was trying to steal the election. “

    As they steal elections, they bitch about having elections stolen from them. The best defense is and offense.

    So why didn’t the Supreme Court or the Repulicans ( under the guidance of Jim Baker and a hoard of lawyers beating a path to FLA ) insist on a complete recount if they had nothing to fear?

    Obviously Al Gore should have insisted on it. I assume the thinking was that if there was enough fraud or disruption at the polls such that legitimate voters were not able to register their votes- counting the few areas in question would be enough.

  • tbrucia

    —-Is this another snub by the Bush administration of professional expertise in favor of politics? — Yes.

    —-Or is it a series of awkard mistakes with very unfortunate timing?—-Also, Yes.

    A classic case of an organization unable to cope with rapid change and also unable to plan for worst case scenarios. Ah, the blindness of the arrogant! Also, if organizations mimic the characteristics of their leaders, an indictment of their lackluster leadership and lack of character. Most corporate boards (and the shareholders) would not stand for such a low level of executive ability, were the US run like a corporation. What about a show, ‘Is Enron the governance model for Washington?’

  • tbrucia

    Sorry if Enron seems like an ‘out of left field’ comment, but living ‘inside the spaceship’ (i.e. Texas, and more specifically Houston), it seems as though our main export after oil (i.e. politicians) seem cut from the same cloth. And it isn’t pretty. Too bad Molly Ivins has passed from the scene… And among thoughts that come to mind: ‘the Bush twins did not enlist in the military to serve in Iraq’, ‘I wonder who remembers the S & L scandles and Mr. Neil Bush’s involvement’, ‘Ross Perot’, ‘Lyndon Johnson and his vote fraud shenanigans’, ‘KBR (yep, right here in Houston!) and big bucks from Iraq’… Amazing the nation keeps coming back to the poisoned well for more water!

  • enhabit

    rc21 makes a good point…

    republican does not = bad

    democrat does not = good

    but the fact of the matter is, some bad people have infiltrated the republican party and are currently running the white house..they are seriously compromising us all..conservative and progressive alike.

    recall that there were questions around the kennedy election result in texas, a state among others, with a long history of election shenanigans..wait a minute..his veep was from texas..wait a minute..he was shot in texas..whoa let’s not go there…interesting coincidences though. my home state of pennsylvania (democrat back then) was another current home state of rhode island (also democrat) is legendary..the state’s voting office is accross the street from a huge least they have a sense of irony.

    the further fact of the matter is that as we look to capitol hill for our political leadership it is to “k” street where our attention should be directed..outside of our control and largely beneath our radar. there is big money to be made from that nearly half-trillion dollar defense budget and elsewhere..they will do whatever it takes to keep the cash flowing…they will preserve their foothold wherever it is… even if they have to, at times cleverly, stomp on the constitution to do it..even if they have to bankrupt my children to do it..even if they have to kill people.

    hang on and tighten up those safety belts.

  • hurley

    tbrucia: Sounds like the premise of a great pitch:

    Houston: The Poisoned Well

  • Potter

    Enhabit: I agree Republicans are not all bad and Democrats are far from all good. For the last 7 years or so however we have seen a level of partisanship coming from the administration and the former ruling party that is unequalled- but I am open to listening to stories about past history. The Democrats have abused power as well.

    It’s just outrageous that Republicans are interested in “voter fraud” to the extent of disenfranchising those who would be most likely to vote Democratic. In other words the issue is not how to appeal to the lower and middle classes to get their legitimate votes, but how to take voting rights away, how to make it harder for some to vote.

  • rc21

    Potter give me some examples of how the gop is disenfranchising citizens.

  • Potter

    RC21- Listen to the show for examples. There is a link above in the extra-credit reading section which I will repeat here where you will find this information.

    David Schraub I’ll Show You Fraud also see links on that page. Follow the links….

    This from Josh Marshall, Talking Points memo:

    This is an important part of the US Attorney puzzle.

    You have to put all these pieces together to see the whole picture. The Republican party is heavily invested in hyping and inventing claims of voter fraud which they then use to stymie legitimate voter registration drives and institute ‘ballot integrity’ efforts which have the actual goal of limiting voting by racial minorities and under-income voters. The truth can hurt but that’s the unvarnished truth. And the backdrop to the US Attorney Purge was a concerted effort to enlist US Attorneys to put the power of the state criminal prosecution apparatus behind this partisan gambit.

  • Lumière

    This is one of the most bizarre issue going on

    Jury duty is compulsory – why isn’t voting?

    If one is involved in any government program, one should be forced to register as a voter and that would be one point to establish voter id.

    So few people vote, those that do are motivated – voter id wont stop them. I just don’t understand what the resistance to voter id is.

  • rc21

    OK I read the article and a few of the links. I don’t see where the gop is trying to supress citizens from voting. If you are talking about voter IDs I’m all for them.

    If you are legal and have the right to vote than there should be no problem. Someone suggesting this is an attempt to lower voting turnout by people who would vote Dem is just giving an opinion. If you are legal than you have the right to vote for whom ever you choose.

  • Potter

    It’s not an opinion it’s a fact.

    See also The Politics of Voter Fraud

    Read pages 3 &4 and the intro ( very short).

  • Potter

    It all rest on the “if you are legal” part. The law can make it very hard on some folks- the traditionally disenfranchised, minorities, the poor, and the old and this has partisan implication. I don’t want to argue this. You are not naive RC21.

  • Potter

    OTOH- if there was a concerted effort to seek out and give every potential voter a way to easily identify themselves it would not be the same storyt. That is NOT the case. The result/goal of the present effort is to eliminate and intimidate mostly those who would vote Democratic.

  • rc21

    Potter I read your links..They mean little. One article says minorities in states who are required to show id vote in lesser numbers than those in states that require id. That is their fault. They know the law and chose either not to obey it or chose not to vote. The second article by the Columbia proffesor also gives little factual evidence as to why requireing id’s is a bad thing.

    One question if we don’t require any form of id than how do we really know how many people are voting that are eligible vs illegal

    How is requireing people to have a voter ID intimidating.It sounds as if some would prefer we disenfranchise American citizens. I think it is very impoprtant that we only allow citizens to vote. I don’t want my vote nullified by some guy who has no legal right to vote.

  • David Weinstein

    The real innovtion of the Bush/Cheney/Rove mafia was not vote suppression but e-vote fraud wiht no paper trails in 2004 to leave fingerprints at the crime scene.