Voter Fraud Virtually Non-Existent, Study Finds
Despite a five-year crackdown on voter fraud, there is little evidence that it is a real problem, the NYT reports in a front-page story by Eric Lipton and Ian Urbina.
Although Republican activists have repeatedly said fraud is so widespread that it has corrupted the political process and, possibly, cost the party election victories, about 120 people have been charged and 86 convicted as of last year. Most of those charged have been Democrats, voting records show. Many of those charged by the Justice Department appear to have mistakenly filled out registration forms or misunderstood eligibility rules, a review of court records and interviews with prosecutors and defense lawyers show.
In Miami, an assistant United States attorney said many cases there involved what were apparently mistakes by immigrants, not fraud.
In Wisconsin, where prosecutors have lost almost twice as many cases as they won, charges were brought against voters who filled out more than one registration form and felons seemingly unaware that they were barred from voting. One ex-convict was so unfamiliar with the rules that he provided his prison-issued identification card, stamped “Offender,” when he registered just before voting.
A handful of convictions involved people who voted twice. More than 30 were linked to small vote-buying schemes in which candidates generally in sheriff’s or judge’s races paid voters for their support.
Mistakes and lapses in enforcing voting and registration rules routinely occur in elections, allowing thousands of ineligible voters to go to the polls. But the federal cases provide little evidence of widespread, organized fraud, prosecutors and election law experts said.
They provide a nice graphic to illustrate their findings:
The result, frankly, isn’t that surprising. Had there been major conspiracies to swing federal elections, we’d almost surely know about at least one of them by now.
My concern has always been about the “thousands of ineligible voters” who are able to sway close elections, incentives on the part of election officials to cheat, and the like. It seems to me that requiring voters to produce a driver’s license or other state-issued identification to prove that they are who they say they are is warranted just to help prevent that, regardless of any criminal intent. On that score, I differ from most of the bloggers on the other side of the proverbial aisle, like Kevin Drum.
That said, I agree with the blogswarm, almost exclusively on the leftist and anti-Bush blogs, that the heavyhanded use of the Justice Department to use or threaten criminal action against a minor category of crimes is troubling. Hilzoy probably sums it up best when she observes, “There are murderers and embezzlers and people defrauding widows and orphans out there. We should try catching them, rather than wasting our time on this sort of travesty.”
I’d stop short of Andrew Sullivan‘s charge that this is “better understood as a form of voter purging and intimidation of Democratic voters by partisan Republican U.S. Attorneys, selected principally not to uphold justice in any neutral form, but to deepen and strengthen one party’s grip on power.” After all, in the aftermath of the 2000 election debacle, there was widespread and bipartisan angst about stolen elections, the vagaries of local election practices, and the like. It wasn’t unreasonable to think that there was a problem that needed to be solved. The question is how much evidence you need before you realize you’re off on a wild goose chase and should redirect resources elsewhere.
It seems rather clear that that time is past. Rick Hasen quite reasonably observes that the burden of proof should now shift to “those who still believe a great deal of voter fraud is taking place at the polls” to justify continuing this effort.
UPDATE: Commenter YetAnotherJohn notes that the lack of criminal indictments—which legitimately requires a high bar—is not proof that no fraudulent activity is taking place. That’s certainly true. Still, the lack of actionable evidence of crime should at least be enough to redirect the efforts of government prosecutors, who are, after all, in the business of responding to crime.