Well, the smell (stench) of Republican campaign propaganda is once again in the air. Can specious claims of "Voter Fraud" be far behind? As if any further proof that "Voter Fraud" is a cynically constructed "Myth" is needed, the re-release by Cornell University Press of THE MYTH OF VOTER FRAUD by Lorraine C. Minnite should do the job. The author is political scientist at Barnard College of Columbia University and a senior fellow at DEMOS. Most of her data comes from the American Center for Voting Rights (ACVR), a Republican sponsored "think tank" founded in 2005, specifically to dig up evidence of voter fraud. It disbanded in frustration in 2007. That should be a real clue, in and of itself.
According to the author, the book "began as a response to a simple question from Miles Rappaport, the director of Demos, a democracy reform research and advocacy organization in NYC. When he was Connecticut Secretary of State, Rappaport found that his efforts to lower barriers to voting were routinely opposed with arguments that such reforms would only open the door to more "voter fraud." He wanted to find out how big the problem actually was, so that Demos could develop an agenda for electoral reform. So motivated, Minnite "spent a number of years engaged in painstaking research, aggregating and sifting all of the evidence that I could find." The results of her quest are spelled out in the book's chapters, but she "can short-circuit the suspense"--voter fraud is rare. It cannot compare in magnitude to the multiple problems in election administration, which present a far greater threat to the integrity of elections.
This exercise led her "to explore why these allegations are made when the facts do not support them, and why they succeed in influencing electoral rules." To answer that question, she contends, we first need to get "the best estimate" of the incidence of voter fraud, and "to know WHY the myth of voter fraud can be so successfully rejuvenated in the political culture to the point that all it takes to recall it is a wink and a nod--and maybe a little bullying." She declares unequivocally that VOTER FRAUD IS A POLITICALLY CONSTRUCTED MYTH! She begins by discussing a couple of high-profile fraud allegations as examples that have influenced the national election debate, and demonstrating "how they fall apart when we interrogate them." Voter fraud politics are so enduring "because they capitalize on general and widely held folk beliefs <urban myths> that are rooted in in facts and real historical experience, notions such as corruption in party politics and government but also stereotypes and class-and racially biased preconceptions of corruptions among groups by their marginal or minority status in U.S. history. (As a student of American political history, I am well aware that the charges being levied about African Americans, Latinos, and recent immigrants are almost verbatim those made against almost every minority ethnic group throughout the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. I also know that many of those holding such biases today are the descendants of those who were once the victims of those very same injustices. I am also aware that
such prejudices against African Americans are more deep-seated and persistent than those levied against any other ethnic group.)
An almost equal source of the author's passion was the "Alice-in-Wonderland" election of 2000, in which "the candidate with the most votes lost and the Supreme Court declared the winner." For those of you too young to have experienced that "sleight-of-hand" in person, this was the "election?" that sentenced us to eight years of George W. Bush. Interest in the "deadening minutiae of election administration, never before a subject of so much spilled ink, captured the attention of the public, the press, and academia." Interest in election law, "a subject about as sexy as patent law, has exploded and the field has suddenly earned some respectability, with academic centers, institutes, and journals all its own." The issue of election fraud, "an obsession of reformers and muckrakers in a bygone era <read Gilded Age and Progressive Era>, returned to the fore." Concerns ranged from felons' illegally voting, to Democratic ballot count observers' eating chads, and Al Gore operatives among Florida canvassing boards double-punching Palm Beach ballots to invalidate votes for George W. Bush or Pat Buchanan." In arguing for counting overseas military absentee ballots that lacked postmarks or failed to comply with the template. the Bush team waxed patriotic: "To not do so would disenfranchise patriotic soldiers and sailors."
"Epidemics" of voter fraud broke out all over. Especially suspect, at least to right-wing Republicans, were nationwide Democratic registration drives, bounty programs, and transportation schemes to get the maximum number of voters to the polls. Republicans had countered with "task forces" of lawyers and volunteer poll watchers "to root out what they were convinced was fraud endemic to the Democrats' efforts and the electoral process itself." What she found in several cases is that "the Republican antifraud campaigns appeared to be directed at suppressing the minority vote and tipping the election to the Republican candidate. In Jefferson County, Arkansas, where African Americans are 40 percent of the eligible voters, a group of predominantly black voters trying cast their ballots during the state's "early voting" period were confronted by Republican poll watchers who photographed them and demanded to see ID. One even stood behind the desk in the county clerk's office and photographed voter information on the clerk's computer screen.
In South Dakota, the minorities in question were Native Americans on federal reservations who were mobilized by the SDDP, United Sioux, and other tribal councils. About a month before the election, local election auditors in counties on or near reservations reported irregularities in voter registration and absentee balloting. The charges were directed at a single contractor hired by the SDDP, who was immediately fired. The federal and state's attorneys, with the cooperation of the SDDP, uncovered several hundred registration and absentee voter irregularities. The Republican state's attorney found only two cases where criminal law may have been violated. He concluded that "I just don't want the suggestion out there that there is widespread fraud when we don't have any evidence of that." No matter! Right-wing pundits, including Michelle Malkin, Rush Limbaugh, and John Fund of the Wall Street Journal jumped all over the case to arouse their readers and listeners. What happened next, Minnite declares, "reveals the power of the perception of voter fraud to justify electoral and law enforcement policies that strategically advantage one party over the other." They succeeded in "embedding a campaign strategy in the voting rights enforcement routines of the U.S. DOJ." It consisted of aggressively investigating Democrats and their allies, on the barest of evidence, to use the media to create the impression of widespread violation, and to keep those investigations open long enough to influence the 2002 elections. To give the charges even greater currency, U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft proclaimed a Voting Access and Integrity Initiative that involved the creation of several "task forces," consisting of 94 assistant U.S attorneys and numerous FBI officials "to deter and detect discrimination, prevent electoral corruption, and bring violators to justice." The statewide South Dakota phone number for reporting such alleged election fraud received only one call!! The DOJ opened only sixteen investigations in the month before the election, none of which were carried to conclusion. The entire fiasco, in the author's judgment, was reflective of "an evolving pattern of conservative thinking and political strategy: conservatives are victimized by the liberal agenda, whites suffer discrimination than blacks, and the rich unfairly get less from government than the poor." They obviously live in an alternate universe!
Ignoring obvious reality, escalating allegations of voter fraud after 2002 had a profoundly negative effect on the mechanics of voting, one that threatens to undo the progress toward real democracy that it has taken more than 200 years of dedication, courage, and struggle to achieve. It has been "the justification for the erection of much of the convoluted electoral apparatus that plagues the electoral process today." More than a century ago, during the Progressive Era, "the threat of voter fraud was the rhetorical rationale for the very invention of voter registration rules, and each of the major national efforts at election reform since then....has been seriously compromised by an organized party-based opposition warning of the dangers of voter fraud." <Always remember that it is the individual states that set voting requirements and procedures. For details see my post of November 26, 2012: "Why We Need A National Election Law.">
Easily her two most informative and fascinating examples of fabricated voter fraud are: 1) the myth that several of the 9/11 bombers were able to become eligible voters, and 2) the saga of the abortive and surreal American Center for Voting Rights (ACVR) . The former dates from the publication, in 2004, of Stealing Elections by John Fund, a regular columnist for the Wall Street Journal, in which he charged that several of the 9/11 hijackers were registered to vote. <Considering that they planned to crash their planes well before the next election would seem to make registering to vote unnecessary in the extreme, as well as a waste of valuable prep time, since they also had to learn to fly a jumbo jet airplane, but what the heck?> Fund's book asserts that "at least eight of the nineteen hijackers who attacked the World Trade Center and the Pentagon were actually able to register to vote in either Virginia or Florida <both states noted for their "squeaky clean" elections> while they made their deadly preparations for 9/11." Fund bases his claim solely on a December 22, 2002 interview that he conducted with Michael Chertoff, then attorney general in charge of the Justice Department Criminal Division, and we all know how well he did on that job prior to 9/11. Note that Fund writes that they "were actually able to vote," not that they did register or that they were registered. Of course, we all know that every state--even Virginia and Florida--requires that every voter be a "citizen of the U.S." Several other right-wing pundits uttered lots of variations> on the same theme, but Republican Senator "Kit" Bond of Missouri took it to the point of absurdity by claiming---on the Senate floor, no less--that a Pakistani citizen in Greensboro, North Carolina, "with links to two of the September 11 hijackers was indicted by a federal grand jury for having illegally registered to vote." When asked during a CNN interview with Lou Dobbs on October 24, 2004, if he meant that eight of the hijackers could have registered, Fund corrected Dobbs by insisting that they did register. Fund and others extrapolated from the well-known fact that several of the hijackers had obtained driver's licenses and were therefore able to apply for voter registration under the National Voter Registration Act (NVRA) of 1993. Obviously, being able to apply to register to vote because you obtained a driver's license is not the same thing as being able to register, let alone able to vote. As Minnite carefully points out, Fund, Bond, and their cronies were really trying to discredit the NVRA by "talking in code." The 9/11 Commission did find that several of the hijackers ""manipulated in a fraudulent manner," made detectable false statements on their visa applications, and gave false statements to border officials in order to gain entry," and obtained driver's licenses or state ID cards in California, Florida, Maryland, and Virginia, making them, hypothetically, eligible to register at the same time. But there is no evidence that any of them actually did. To do so would, of course, subject them to closer scrutiny--the last thing in the world they wanted.Therefore, Minnite asserts that "in the absence of any affirmative evidence from state or federal law enforcement officials, it is highly unlikely that any of the hijackers was registered to vote.
Nevertheless, Fund's allegations have received wide and persistent currency among those opposed to any effort to make voting more accessible, especially to poor and minority voters. Charges based upon false or non-existent documentation have been entered into the Congressional Record, swayed lawmakers, and even persuaded Supreme Court Justices. On the evening of the 2006 Congressional elections, Fund told Fox News propagandist Glenn Beck that he still stood by his original accusation, and added that "Our registration rules have a lot of people on there who are dead, don't exist or registered many times over." This ridiculous "folk myth," the author asserts, is an example of voter fraud politics: "the use of spurious or exaggerated voter fraud allegations to persuade the public about the need for more administrative burdens on the vote." In conducting case studies, she asks 1) who are the actors?; 2) who are the targets?; 3) what are the tactics deployed?; and 4) what are the tactics employed, and what are the factors that account for their success in maintaining barriers that "disproportionately affect certain Americans"? Voter fraud politics "is all about the behavior of partisans and their allies." While committing voter fraud is a crime, "falsely accusing someone of it is not." And therein, to quote Hamlet, lies the rub.
Even more categorical is the case of the report of the ACVR (see above) created on March 15, 2005 at the behest of Robert Ney (R-Ohio), then chairman of the U.S. House Administration Committee. During the course of its hearings, Mark F. "Thor" Hearne, founder and general counsel of ACVR testified that the Ohio NAACP had supplied cocaine to African Americans in return for their registering to vote.According to Murray Waas of the right-wing National Journal, Hearne was a quintessential Republican, who had served in the Department of Education during the Reagan administration, an attorney for the GOP during the 2000 Florida election fiasco, and a national counsel for the Bush-Cheney campaign. He reportedly founded ACVR "with encouragement from Rove and the White House." He has a long history of involvement in schemes to prevent potentially Democratic voters from exercising the franchise. Just days after the Administrative Committee hearings, an enterprising journalist reported that ACVR's address was a U.S. Post Office Box in Dallas, which it shared with a fund raising operation chaired by former Secretary of State James Baker, the leader of the Bush-Cheney recount team. The same journalist also discovered that ACVR's internet domain was <av4vr.com>, and that its street address was supposedly 8409 Pickwick Lane 229, Dallas, 75225. That turned out to be the location of a UPS store!! Moreover, its Legislative Fund was a specious 501 (c) (4 ) organization, one of those eerie tax-exempt "social welfare" institutions. Obscured by several layers of phony shell organizations, the Fund had numerous ties to the GOP, the Bush-Cheney campaign, the National Rifle Association, and the infamous Swift Boat Veterans for Truth.
The ACVR Legislative Fund released a self-commissioned report titled "Voter Fraud, Intimidation, and Suppression in the 2004 Presidential Election," which it claimed to be "the most comprehensive and authoritative review" of voter fraud during the 2004 election. Closer examination of its myriad claims, according to Minnite, "shows it to be little more than a pile of poorly scrutinized newspaper articles sensationalizing election shenanigans instigated in all but two instances by Democrats, who were accused of far more voter intimidation and suppression than Republicans. In other words, it is a piece of political propaganda produced by Republican Part operatives who veiled their work as civil rights advocacy." She includes a table summarizing the findings of the report and shows that "among the more than one hundred cited of alleged voter fraud implicating nearly 300,000 potentially fraudulent votes in the 2004 election cycle, only about 185 votes could be confirmed as possibly tainted by fraud. <For those of you without a handy, dandy calculator, that comes to .0006166 of one prevent.>
Significantly, nearly all of these allegations involved cities with substantial black populations or in projected "swing states" for the upcoming 2006 elections. Incredibly, the report "achieved remarkable influence, promoting the idea that U.S. elections are riddled with voter fraud." in 2005 and 2006, ACVR advocated for photo IDs, earliest possible voter registration book closings, a one-week turnaround for the return of voter registration forms by volunteer groups, and more stringent list-maintaining procedures during the last months before an election. Significantly, ACVR "appeared and disappeared swiftly enough to evade the federal reporting requirements that might have revealed the true sources of its revenue." But the "Report" itself is still out there, circulating, just like The Protocols of the Elders of Zion or The Donation of Constantine.
Of course, Minnite's impeccable credentials and exhaustive documentation still might not be enough to convince those get their political news and opinion from "Talk Radio" and Fox TV. They are so beyond the reach of rational thought that even contradictory evidence generated by the Republicans themselves intended to provide evidence of widespread voter fraud probably will not even penetrate their defenses. Nor would most of them even dare to tackle a scholarly work with more than 100 pages of charts and graphs and 43 pages of documenting "Notes." Besides, it is a logical impossibility to prove the "non-existence" of anything.
That's all for now. Much of the book consists of the author's very insightful discussion of how and why. That is a subject for a later Post, but why not read Minnite's book yourself.