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Voter fraud: How big an issue?

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The Inky ran an excellent editorial on 12 January about the Supreme Court picking up the case concerning Indiana's solution to the perceived "problem" of voter fraud (If you do a Google search, remember that the keywords are "votER fraud", not "vote fraud" as voter fraud refers to individuals trying to cast illegal ballots whereas vote fraud refers to rigging vote counts).  The editorial made it quite clear that while the impact of widespread voter ID laws would not affect racial voting patterns, at least not directly, they would directly and immediately affect Democratic vs Republican constituencies and their ability to vote. Voters likely to vote Democrat (including, of course, racial minorities) would find their ability to vote adversely affected in the event that voter ID laws are successfully passed.

The whole point of the poll taxes that were made a condition of voting in many Southern states was precisely to disenfranchise Native Americans, African-Americans and recent immigrants.  The purpose of voter ID laws is slightly different as they are aimed more at a political party than an ethnicity, but it is entirely justifiable to call a voter ID law a latter-day poll tax as the effect of such laws will be to reduce votes for Democrats.

The Inky added: "There's no documented outbreak of voter impersonation that might justify the push for photo ID at the polls - beyond anecdote and urban legend, that is."  It's a very serious concern that TPM Muckraker helped to uncover a deliberate policy push to get US Attorneys to prosecute vote fraud cases right before the November 2006 mid-term elections.  What raised concern in their minds was the status of vote fraud as being a complete non-problem.  The strange case of the American Center for Voting Rights details how the issue of voter fraud first gained currency as an actual problem that genuinely required attention.  

Consisting of little more than a post-office box and some staffers who wrote reports and gave helpful quotes about the pervasive problems of voter fraud to the press, the group identified Democratic cities as hot spots for voter fraud, then pushed the line that "election integrity" required making it harder for people to vote. The group issued reports (PDF) on areas in the country of special concern, areas that coincidentally tended to be presidential battleground states. In many of these places, it now appears the White House was pressuring U.S. attorneys to bring more voter-fraud prosecutions.
Sure, one can find a rare case of someone voting in two jurisdictions, but nothing extensive or systematic [in the area of voter fraud] has been unearthed or documented.

The piece also examines the practical difficulties of successfully affecting elections through voter fraud and concludes that such a method would prove extremely (to use the computer geek term) kludgy - "a clumsy or inelegant solution to a problem" and easy to detect and prosecute.  Deborah Leavy of the Inky's sister paper, the Daily News makes the further point that a successfully prosecuted case of voter fraud could mean that "For a non-citizen to vote would involve four counts of federal crimes risking 20 years in prison, $40,000 in fines and deportation, all for one measly vote." Seems like an awfully big risk for the voter just to get in an illegal vote.

Nevertheless, the Inky has run two recent letters complaining that voter fraud is a real problem, indicating that they're getting lots and lots of letters on the issue. The above-cited editorial in the Daily News indicates that the voter fraud issue is riding a wave of anti-immigrant hysteria and that right-wing politicians are cheerfully exploiting the issue to help their own political careers.  

The right-wing site World Net Daily makes the charge that former President Bill Clinton is sending out a package to unregistered voters that contains the following instructions:

"Here is your personal Voter Identification Card. Sign your name, then detach your card. Bring your card with you to your polling place on Election Day. It will help your voting go more smoothly."

I'd need to see more context and detail to determine whether this package would actually be accepted by polling places as legitimate registrations, as WND charges.  Seems to me that fraudulent voters would be taking a big risk (Yes, if Hillary Clinton wins the election, she could make the legal problem for the fraudulent voter go away, but with a $40,000 fine and jail time in the balance, that's a big "if") and that such a polling place would be derelict to accept such a "Voter Identification Card" as legal proof of anything.  But it shows that the right wing takes the issue of voter fraud quite seriously.  
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PN3(Ret), USN, 1991-2001. Done a number of clerical-type jobs. Computer "power user," my desktop is a Windows machine, but my laptop is an Ubuntu Linux. Articles usually cross-posted at Personal details at (more...)
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