Voter Fraud Redefined
Voter fraud ain't what it used to be.
Left-wingers have been deliberately dumbing down the definition for years.
In all my years as a journalist covering American politics, I have understood that voter fraud, a phrase coined by lawyers, was a blanket term that refers to a host of election-related offenses. Lawyers frequently make up terms for specialty areas -- for example, elder law, environmental law, probate law, and wrongful dismissal law.
Voter fraud, also known as vote fraud, election fraud, and electoral fraud, refers to the specific offenses of fraudulent voting, impersonation, perjury, voter registration fraud, forgery, counterfeiting, bribery, destroying already cast ballots, and a multitude of crimes related to the electoral process.
A quick internet search reveals a comparable definition. One online reference site counsels:
Electoral fraud is illegal interference with the process of an election. Acts of fraud affect vote counts to bring about an election result, whether by increasing the vote share of the favored candidate, depressing the vote share of the rival candidates or both. Also called voter fraud, the mechanisms involved include illegal voter registration, intimidation at polls and improper vote counting.
Lawyers say that fraud is the most difficult crime to prove because showing that the act complained of actually happened is not enough. It must be proven that the perpetrator had intent to defraud. Like any fraud, voter fraud is by its nature generally very difficult to detect and prosecute.
Voter fraud in the form of actual fraudulent balloting is especially hard to demonstrate in court. A prosecutor must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the person voted without having the right to vote, used fraud (deception) in the process, and intended to defraud the victim (in this case, the public). These facts can be hard to establish after the voter leaves the polling place.
For years now the left has been trying to muddy the waters by applying a far stricter definition of voter fraud, moving the semantic goalposts in order to define the problem out of existence.
Fraudulent registrations, of course, open the door to fraudulent voting, something the left vehemently denies. They deny it because the left depends on voter fraud in order to get left-wing candidates elected. This helps to explain why they bent over backwards in recent years to defend ACORN, the voter fraud empire that filed for bankruptcy on Election Day 2010.
Left-wing activists and think-tanks constantly churn out studies and reports financed by George Soros, purporting to prove that voter fraud is as unreal as Cookie Monster. They claim that those on the right want to crack down on voter fraud solely as a means of preventing the poor and minorities from voting.
"Nobody claimed that voter fraud was a myth until the last couple of years," my work colleague at Capital Research Center, Dr. Steven J. Allen, J.D., Ph.D., told me.
As Allen, who grew up amidst Alabama's dubious politics many decades ago, observes:
Everyone in politics openly discussed voter fraud for hundreds of years of American history. Politicians, political reporters, and everyone involved in politics openly discussed how widespread voter fraud was. Only when Republicans took over legislatures in states that had long been ruled by Democrats and where fraud was prevalent and began to do something about this problem did this myth emerge that voter fraud was nonexistent. Remember that the Voting Rights Act of 1965 was passed specifically to prevent voter fraud which was endemic back then.
As election law expert and New York Times bestselling author J. Christian Adams has explained, "[l]iberal foundations, public interest law firms and advocacy groups have created a permanent network of experts and organizations devoted to an arcane but critical task: monopolizing the narrative on election laws and procedures. Cloaking their actions in the rhetoric of civil rights and the right to vote, they seek to affect the outcome of the election. They challenge any effort to protect the integrity of the ballot box by denying the possibility of vote fraud and crying 'Jim Crow.'"
Let's look at some of the more prominent voter fraud deniers on the left.
Ari Berman of the Nation describes "election fraud" as an "extremely rare occurrence" and argues that only illegal voting constitutes voter fraud. When South Bend, Indiana prosecutors charged local Democratic officials with faking 22 petitions to get President Obama, Hillary Clinton, and John Edwards on the 2008 Indiana ballot, Berman dismissed the incident as insignificant. "[T]here's no evidence that the alleged forgeries played a decisive role in getting the Democratic candidates on the Indiana ballot in 2008 or determining the outcome of the primary or general election," Berman wrote.
This is the same line of reasoning adopted by Congressman Jesse Jackson, Jr. (D-Ill.) after the names of several Dallas Cowboys showed up on voter rolls in Nevada in 2008. "Obviously it's not right for a fake 'Tony Romo' to be registered in Las Vegas ... but remember the basic point[:] it's not voter fraud unless someone shows up at the voting booth on Election Day and tries to pass himself off as 'Tony Romo.'" How reassuring.
Adam Serwer of Mother Jones, writing in the Washington Post, agrees with Berman that "[v]oter fraud is a virtually nonexistent problem" and blames conservatives for "blurring the distinction between voter registration fraud -- which is as easy as filling out a registration form incorrectly -- and the actual act of casting a fraudulent ballot." Oh, the irony.
Brentin Mock of Colorlines goes farther, denying the very existence of the problem. "Voter fraud as a thing has been exposed by civil rights watchdogs and a wide range of journalists as pure conspiracy theory," Mock writes.
Of course, all of this leftist rhetoric is pure sophistry. Even if a person "only" commits voter registration fraud, that is a necessary step along the way to fraudulent voting, and it should be prosecuted in order to protect the integrity of the electoral system. Registration fraud is a gateway to fraudulent balloting, and it must be prosecuted. Police don't let a bank robber go free because he forgot to load his gun.
No single group in American history ever outdid ACORN in terms of voter registration fraud. At least 52 individuals who worked for ACORN or its affiliates, or who were connected to ACORN, have been convicted of voter registration fraud. ACORN itself was convicted in Nevada last year of the crime of "compensation." Under the leadership of ACORN official Amy Adele Busefink, who was also convicted of the same crime, ACORN paid voter registration canvassers cash bonuses for exceeding their quotas. This is illegal because it gives people an incentive to commit fraud by adding Mickey Mouse and Mary Poppins to the voter rolls.
Under Busefink's leadership, ACORN and its affiliate Project Vote generated an impressive 1.1 million voter registration packages across America in 2008. The problem was that election officials invalidated 400,000 -- that's 36 percent -- of the registrations filed. It is highly unlikely that typographic and other innocent errors alone generated so much bogus paperwork. And this is only one activist group's fraudulent activities in one election.
It is irresponsible for law enforcement officials to view those 400,000 registrations as mere mistakes. All 400,000 bogus registrations should be presumed to constitute individual attempts at fraudulent voting that got caught early. The hundreds of thousands of incidents of voter fraud that occur during every national election should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.
Left-wingers and Democrats are more likely than conservatives and Republicans to commit voter fraud. Sometimes they justify the behavior on so-called social justice grounds.
Republican voters tend to be middle-class and not easily induced to commit fraud, while "the pool of people who appear to be available and more vulnerable to an invitation to participate in vote fraud tend to lean Democratic," according to Larry Sabato and Glenn Simpson.
"Some liberal activists that Sabato and Simpson interviewed even partly justified fraudulent electoral behavior on the grounds that because the poor and dispossessed have so little political clout, 'extraordinary measures [for example, stretching the absentee ballot or registration rules] are required to compensate'" (Who's Counting, by John Fund and Hans von Spakovsky, pp. 8-9).
Should we not punish bad behavior just because it is more likely to be done by someone who is poor? The left seems to suggest precisely that.
Even using the excruciatingly narrow definition the left prefers, in which only fraudulent voting is considered voter fraud, there are plenty of instances of voter fraud. Here are examples of fraudulent voting from John Fund's book, Stealing Elections:
Four Democratic officials and political operatives in New York State pleaded guilty a year ago to voter fraud-related felony charges. The prosecution said that signatures were forged on absentee ballots which were then cast. "The phrase they use is: 'making sure they vote the right way,'" a source close to the case told reporters.
A Tunica, Mississippi jury sent Mississippi NAACP official Lessadolla Sowers to prison for five years in 2011. She was convicted of voting 10 times using the names of other people, some of whom were dead.
Colorado Secretary of State Scott Gessler (R) unveiled a study last year showing that almost 5,000 illegal aliens cast votes in the U.S. Senate election in that state in 2010.
A conservative watchdog group, Minnesota Majority, claims that felons' illegally cast votes may have put Al Franken (D) over the top in the bitterly contested Minnesota Senate race. The group reported that at least 1,099 felons voted in that 2008 election, which is far larger than Franken's final, official, post-recount margin of victory over then-incumbent Sen. Norm Coleman (R).
In Milwaukee, Wisconsin, a police department report found that in the 2004 election, as many as 5,300 more ballots were cast than voters who showed up at polling stations to vote.
This is not an exhaustive list.
But why do we have all this voter fraud? The answer is the National Voting Rights Act of 1993, also known as the Motor Voter law.
As John Fund writes at pages 27-8 of Stealing Elections:
Perhaps no piece of legislation in the last generation better captures the 'incentivizing' of fraud... than the 1993 National Voter Registration Act[.] ... Examiners were under orders not to ask anyone for identification or proof of citizenship. States also had to permit mail-in voter registrations, which allowed anyone to register without any personal contact with a registrar or election official. Finally, states were limited in pruning 'dead wood' - people who had died, moved or been convicted of crimes - from their rolls. ... Since its implementation, Motor Voter has worked in one sense: it has fueled an explosion of phantom voters.
And who pushed Motor Voter?
Marxists Richard Cloward and Frances Fox Piven were instrumental in the passage of the law by Congress. They believed that poor people and radical agitators had every moral right to game the electoral system in order to bring about change. Cloward didn't worry about fraud, either. "It's better to have a little bit of fraud than to leave people off the rolls who belong there," he said. Bill Clinton gave a shout-out to Cloward and Piven at the bill-signing ceremony in 1993 that both attended.
Republicans knew that the measure was a bad idea. On final passage, the Senate vote was 62 to 36, with only seven Republicans voting "yea." (None of the Republicans voting in the affirmative remains in the Senate.) The House vote was 259 to 164, with only 20 Republicans voting "yea."
"Between 1994 and 1998, nearly 26 million names were added to the voter rolls nationwide, almost a 20 percent increase," according to Fund. Motor Voter has "been registering illegal aliens, since anyone who receives a government benefit [including welfare] may also register to vote with no questions asked."
In the end, whether vote fraud has the power to affect electoral outcomes is a separate question.
Although some claim voter fraud is a myth "as common as unicorns and Sasquatch" and others insist fraud routinely affects election outcomes, "[t]he truth lies somewhere in between," according to J. Christian Adams.
"The truth is that voter fraud occurs frequently, and it determines who wins elections infrequently." He argues that the "integrity of the electoral process is perhaps more important than who wins and loses an election. Lawlessness in elections corrodes the entire democratic process."
A recognition that voter fraud actually exists --and that it can consist of something less serious than fraudulent voting -- needs to be the starting point in any informed discussion about electoral integrity.
Matthew Vadum is senior editor at Capital Research Center in Washington, D.C. His book on ACORN and President Obama, Subversion Inc., was published last year.