Curtailing Voting Rights vs. Curtailing Vote Fraud

Perhaps to distract attention from her own scandals, Hillary Rodham Clinton charges that Republicans want to curtail young people’s and minorities’ voting rights.  The charge that Republicans engage in vote suppression has been in Democrats’ playbook for years.  (By regurgitating this hoary claim, Mrs. Clinton lends credence to Marco Rubio’s observation that some pols may be antiquated.)

We need to investigate her assertion that GOP concerns about election fraud are overblown.

Given America’s dependence on elections, it is essential to the nation’s well-being that citizens have confidence in elections’ honesty and integrity.  People must be able to assume that candidates and parties declared the winner of an election won honestly.  Vote fraud saps people’s trust and confidence in government itself.

Sadly, the U.S. has a long history of vote fraud. 

Unless efforts to thwart fraudulent voting are successful, Americans should expect even more in future elections.  It is conceivable that, unless preventative action occurs, Americans may endure more contested elections that will make the 2000 fiasco in Florida look like an episode of good government.

Election fraud takes many forms: “voting the graveyard,” stuffing ballot boxes, “repeater” voting – sometimes in separate states – noncitizens casting ballots, preventing citizens from exercising the franchise, and miscounting election results, just to list a few.

In the late 19th century, most states introduced requirements that citizens register in person at designated locations before Election Day in order to prevent, or at least minimize, the kinds of fraudulent practices then in vogue.  Requiring people to register in person and in advance of Election Day had salubrious effects, at least for a time.

Some states – e.g., Minnesota and Wisconsin – now permit people to register by postcard, a practice prone to abuse.  Incidents in Minneapolis and possibly Milwaukee last year demonstrate the point.

Unfortunately, many other changes in federal and state laws – always done with good intentions – have had the unintended consequence of facilitating voter fraud. 

The 1993 National Voter Registration Act (“Motor Voter”) – inspired by left-wing academics Frances Fox Piven and Richard Cloward – requires states to register individuals at bureaus of motor vehicles and other public offices, such as welfare agencies, as well as discourages states from purging registration records of people who have not voted over several elections, or have died, or moved out of state.  According to John Fund, author of Stealing Elections: How Voter Fraud Threatens Our Democracy (2008), “[p]erhaps no piece of legislation in the last generation better captures the ‘incentivizing’ of fraud … than the … ‘Motor Voter Law.’” 

The 2002 Help America Vote Act (HAVA) – enacted in the aftermath of the 2000 fiasco – has several provisions intended to make it easier to vote, some of which can lead to fraud.  HAVA’s “provisional vote” provision, for example – which allows an individual whose registration status cannot be established at the time he/she comes to the voting precinct to cast a “provisional” ballot – is especially ripe for abuse.

Another provision of HAVA that seems prone to fraud is the requirement that states acquire electronic voting machines to replace paper ballots (remember “hanging chads”?).  These machines can be programmed so that votes for one party are actually recorded for the opposite party. 

This happened in 2014.  A Republican candidate for a state representative race cast ballots for GOP candidates in Schaumburg, IL, only to find that the voting machine recorded his votes for the Democrats in those races.  (Was this merely a “programming error” in Cook County?)

Over the years, most states have enacted “well-intentioned” statutes designed to facilitate the process of voting.  Several states allow citizens to register to vote on Election Day.  Although proponents of same-day voter registration claim that all they desire is increased turnout, researchers have found startling rates of fraud connected to the practice, going way back to the mid-1970s.

Absentee voting is an old – and some would say “honorable” – tradition in the U.S.  In The Right to Vote (2000), Alexander Keyssar wrote that during the Civil War, “states were obliged to contend … with the issue of absentee voting:  reluctant to deny the franchise to men who were bearing arms to defend the Union, nineteen states enacted laws to enabling soldiers in the field to vote.”  Recent years have seen a substantial expansion in the number of states permitting absentee voting.  Unfortunately, as Fund and von Spakovsky observed, absentee voting “is ‘the tool of choice’ for those who are engaging in election fraud.”  As Fund noted, “absentee voting makes it easier to commit election fraud, because ballots are cast outside the supervision of election officials.”

Oregon abolished polling places in 2000, and now Oregonians vote by mail.  It is difficult to conceive of a system more prone to fraud than Oregon’s so-called “postcard” voting statute.  (Arizona also now allows vote-by-mail, which produced at least one instance of ballot-box stuffing in 2014.)

Several states have created “windows” – i.e., time periods of varying duration – during which people can vote in advance of Election Day.  “Early voting” statutes are almost invariably opportunities for vote fraud.  In 2014, early voting was linked to voter fraud in Arizona, Maryland, and Illinois

Republican governors in several states are trying to shorten the length of the “window,” efforts that especially arouse Clinton’s ire.  (Her own state of New York, by the way, has no “window” at all.)

There are other forms of vote fraud, of course, but those delineated above suffice to illustrate the point that vote fraud in America is now frequent.

Given the variety of voter fraud tactics, it is unlikely that a single measure designed to end fraud would be successful.  Ending “early” voting as well as “postcard” registration and voting, etc. would be worthwhile reforms.

Better-trained election officials, especially sensitizing them to the likelihood of voter fraud and instructing them how better to spot fraudulent practices, would also help.

There is one reform, however, that has the greatest potential to crimp – probably not end – fraudulent voting: require a prospective voter to show a government-provided photo ID before receiving a ballot.  This is not the place to re-argue the reasons for or the benefits of requiring a photo ID in order to vote.  Nor is it necessary to rehash the successful and unsuccessful – so far – state efforts to enact and enforce photo ID requirements.

What’s the best proof that requiring photo IDs would work?  Look at Democrats’ – from Obama and now Clinton on down – opposition!  Why scream “vote suppression” unless one believes that the enactment of photo ID requirements would seriously hinder opportunities for vote fraud?

Do GOP victories in 2014 signify that voter fraud is not a serious problem, and that we can ease off making efforts to reduce it?  Not at all.  The U.S. needs to wage war on every kind of fraudulent voting.  Above all, enact and enforce photo ID statutes in all 50 states.

The U.S. will never end all vote fraud.  If someone is determined to cheat, he/she will find some way to do it. 

But if America is to continue relying heavily on elections, the country owes it to the citizenry to make them cleaner.  There are ways of doing this.  Do we have the will?