The Right's Obsession With Voter Fraud

One of the most sacred principles upon which our nation stands is that it is "one person, one vote" (unless that person is a corporation). In the particularly excruciating heat that is the November 2010 election season the importance of votes has been turned up quite a few degrees.

So, however, have claims of rampant voting fraud. And these claims, by-and-large, have come from right wing activists claiming that the Democrats are rigging the system in their favor. One of the anti-voter-fraud groups that have received national attention in recent weeks is True the Vote, a Houston-area organization that has been training private citizens to "man the polls." On their website they write:

According to Fund and other experts, most widespread vote fraud occurs in large cities controlled by the Democratic Party. It comes as no surprise that Democrats frequently attack efforts to reduce fraud as civil rights violations or vote suppression, and consistently oppose efforts to require citizens to show identification in order to vote.

Is voter fraud a real problem or a straw man that has been built by the right with increasingly regularity over the last decade? Today's political climate certainly aids in the right's fear over illegal voting patterns. When overall voting in the country is down, the largest percentage of the decrease is attributed to minorities and the poorer urban class, most of whom vote overwhelming for the Democrats. When the government pushes for greater overall voting participation, it is easy to paint their actions as attempts to energize their own historic base.

Still, experts (though, who actually believes experts these days?) largely rebuke the existence of large-scale fraud. The Justice Department reported that between 2002 and 2005, following the heels of the Bush administration's push to crack down on this massive issue, federal police had prosecuted a whooping 20 people on charges of casting fraudulent ballots.

Additionally, Lorraine C. Minnite, a professor at Barnard College and senior fellow at Demos, wrote in a 2007 report:

Debates over election fraud are not new. They have been a staple of discussions about elections and democracy in the United States for more than a century. But in recent years, issues of fraud and voting integrity have increasingly come to the forefront of public policy discussions over the health of America's democracy.

Yet, all twelve states studied in the report were found to have "very rare" levels of voter fraud.

What about claims that electronic systems are rigged in favor of Democratic candidates? Well, with their purchase of the voting-machine subsidiary of Diebold Inc. back in March 2010, Election Systems and Software (ES&S) controlled over 70% of the machines used around the country. This, of course, should have raised red flags for anyone concerned about wide-scale electronic voting problems. One of the first to do so? Senator Chuck Schumer (D- N.Y.), claiming that the merger represented a challenge to what should be a concern-free system.

Every form of cheating must have an incentive. Beyond accusations of a Democrat-led conspiracy theory, no one, especially an expert, has provided any concrete evidence as to why anyone would actually want to commit voter fraud in the first place. As Christopher Beam from Slate convincingly argues, no criminal would ever spend his time and money to secure a few extra votes to increase their chances to win an election which, we forget, puts into office a candidate who might not even do what you wanted him to do in the first place!

While voting fraud does not occur at the level some conservative websites would have you believe, it is still wrong, however, to automatically assume the problem does not exist. Yet, it becomes impossible to solve such a basic issue when it becomes political. Want evidence? Just ask the climate scientists who hired Al Gore for that documentary.

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