One of the most important and emotionally charged issues in contemporary politics is voter fraud. The public debate over this issue centers around two diametrically opposed perspectives. One perspective maintains that any policy that increases the potential for fraud in the electoral process undermines both the validity of that process and the confidence Americans have in it. Those who embrace this view assert that strong measures—most notably Voter ID requirements at polling places—should be implemented to reduce or eliminate the possibility of voter fraud occurring. They agree with the Supreme Court's 2006 declaration that: “[C]onfidence in the integrity of our electoral processes is essential to the functioning of our participatory democracy. Voter fraud drives honest citizens out of the democratic process and breeds distrust of our government. Voters who fear their legitimate votes will be outweighed by fraudulent ones will feel disenfranchised.”
The opposing perspective contends that the incidence of voter fraud is extremely rare, and that initiatives like Voter ID requirements are unnecessary and constitute a form of vote suppression. A related argument holds that some demographic subgroups of the U.S. population—particularly nonwhite, low-income, and elderly people—are considerably less likely to hold government-issued forms of ID than are their white, affluent, and younger counterparts. Thus, say the critics, Voter ID laws discriminate against these subgroups and function as a modern-day equivalent of “poll taxes” that have the effect of disenfranchising certain groups.
Existing Voter ID Laws
Twenty U.S. states currently have no laws in place requiring Voter ID. Of the 30 states that do have such laws, 17 require an ID bearing a photograph of the voter. In some of these 17 states, a voter who fails to show a photo ID is given a provisional ballot which will be counted only if he or she returns to election officials with an acceptable form of identification. In other states, the Voter ID standards are less exacting. For example, voters without ID in some states may still cast their ballots if they sign an affidavit of identity, or if poll workers can personally vouch for their identity.
In addition to the 30 states with some form of existing voter-identification requirements, five other states have passed Voter ID laws that have not yet been enacted for one reason or another. Mississippi, for one, passed (by means of a citizen initiative) a strict photo ID requirement that has been put on hold until after the 2012 elections, when the Department of Justice (DOJ) will review the law. Wisconsin passed a similar measure in 2011, but it was declared unconstitutional by a state judge on March 12, 2012. On August 30, 2012, a federal district court in Washington, DC blocked a Texas law that would have required voters to show photo ID—claiming that the legislation imposed “strict, unforgiving burdens” on poor minority voters. On October 2, 2012, a state judge temporarily enjoined enforcement of Pennsylvania's new voter ID law, thereby ensuring that it would not be in effect for the November 2012 elections. And on October 10, 2012, a three-judge panel barred South Carolina's newly passed Voter ID law from going into effect before election day 2012, but gave approval for its implementation beginning in 2013.
Is Voter Fraud Rare? Are Voter ID Laws Discriminatory?
Citizens Without Proof is most often cited for its widely circulated claim that about 25% of all African-Americans of voting age do not own a photo ID. But an August 2011 Heritage Foundation study exposed that report as being “dubious in its methodology and results, and suspect in its sweeping conclusions.” For example, Heritage noted that the Brennan Center had: (a) used biased questioning to obtain the results it wanted vis à vis minority voters; (b) based its report entirely on one survey of 987 “voting age American citizens,” but made no effort to determine whether the respondents were in fact citizens; (c) neglected to ask whether the respondents were actual voters, likely voters, registered voters, or even eligible to vote at all; and (d) failed to ask the respondents whether they had student or tribal ID cards, even though such cards are acceptable forms of Voter ID in some states.
Further, Heritage pointed out that the Brennan Center statistics are sharply at odds with the findings of previous studies on voter-identification documents. For example, a 2008 American University survey in Maryland, Indiana, and Mississippi found that fewer than one-half of 1 percent of registered voters lacked a government-issued ID. Similarly, a 2006 survey of more than 36,000 voters found that only “23 people in the entire sample—less than one-tenth of one percent of reported voters—were unable to vote because of an ID requirement.” Heritage noted, moreover, that “every state that has passed a voter ID law has also ensured that the very small percentage of individuals who do not have a photo ID can easily obtain one for free if they cannot afford one.”
Lastly, the Heritage Foundation study identified footnotes within Citizens Without Proof that not only cast serious doubt on the results of the report, but actually contradict its major claims. For example, Footnote 1 states that “the results of this survey were weighted to account for underrepresentation of race,” but nowhere is there an explanation of how this factor was weighted, making it impossible to determine the accuracy of the footnote’s claim. Footnote 3 states that “135 respondents indicated that they had both a U.S. birth certificate and U.S. naturalization papers,” suggesting confusion on the part of the respondents. And perhaps most significantly, Footnote 4 states plainly that “[t]he survey did not yield statistically significant results for differential rates of possession of citizenship documents by race, age, or other identified demographic factors.”
Notwithstanding the methodological flaws of the Brennan Center study, a host of left-wing groups and individuals have echoed its assertions that voter fraud is exceedingly rare, and that among voting-age adults, 25% of blacks, 16% of Hispanics, 18% of senior citizens, 18% of those aged eighteen to twenty-four, and 15% of those who earn less than $35,000 annually, lack a photo ID. Noting that the corresponding figures for voting-age adults in other racial, ethnic, age, and income categories are significantly lower, these same critics cite the foregoing figures as evidence of selective disenfranchisement. In a December 2011 speech condemning Voter ID laws, for instance, Attorney General Eric Holder said: “It is time to ask: What kind of nation and what kind of people do we want to be? Are we willing to allow this era—our era—to be remembered as the age when our nation’s proud tradition of expanding the franchise ended?” In a May 2012 meeting of the Congressional Black Caucus and black church leaders, Holder revisited this theme:
“Despite our nation’s long history of extending voting rights to non-property owners and to women, to people of color, to Native Americans, and to younger Americans, today a growing number of our fellow citizens are worried about the same disparities, divisions and problems that nearly five decades ago so many fought to address. In my travels across this country I’ve heard a consistent drumbeat of concern from citizens who for the first time in their lives now have reason to believe that we are failing to live up to one of our nation’s most noble ideals and some of the achievements that defined the civil rights movement now hang, again, in the balance.”
By June 2012, Holder's DOJ had already filed suit against both Texas and South Carolina for having passed Voter ID statutes.
Holder's contention that Voter ID laws are unnecessary was dealt an embarrassing blow in early 2012, when James O'Keefe, a 28-year-old white investigative journalist, posted online a video of himself walking into the polling place in Holder’s District of Columbia precinct, falsely identifying himself as Eric Holder (a highly prominent 61-year-old African American), and asking for a ballot so he could vote in the Democratic primary which was being held that day. The video shows a poll worker responding to O'Keefe's request by willingly offering him Holder's ballot and making no effort to verify the young man's identity.
A Famous Case of Voter Fraud
Voter fraud clearly influenced a vitally important U.S. Senate election in Minnesota in 2008. Two years earlier, former community organizer Mark Ritchie—who had previously been tied to such pro-Barack Obama organizations as the New Party, the Campaign for America's Future, and the Apollo Alliance— was elected as Minnesota's secretary of state. According to Mary Kiffmeyer, the Republican incumbent whom Ritchie defeated: “The first thing he [Ritchie] did when he got into office was to dismantle the ballot reconciliation program we started. Under that program districts are required to check [the] number of ballots issued, by matching them with the number of ballots cast, that way we know immediately that the vote count is accurate.”
In 2008, Democrat Al Franken seemingly lost a hotly contested U.S. Senate race (in Minnesota) to Republican incumbent Norm Coleman by 725 votes. But Franken refused to concede, and the thin margin triggered an automatic recount. With Mark Ritchie presiding over the recount process, Coleman's lead gradually vanished due to a host of mysterious, newly discovered votes that almost invariably benefited Franken. A detailed account of these developments can found here. By the time the recount (and a court challenge by Coleman) had ended in April 2009, Franken held a 312-vote margin of victory.
Mary Kiffmeyer said she was “absolutely sure” that Ritchie's elimination of voting regulations was responsible for Franken's win. She noted, for instance: “We now have 17,000 more ballots cast than there are voters who voted, and no way to determine what went wrong.” Dan McGrath and Jeff Davis, founders of the watchdog group Minnesota Majority, concurred that Franken's slim margin of victory was directly attributable to Ritchie's dismantling of election rules. Another consequence of Ritchie's actions, for example, was that some 1,400 convicted felons, mostly residing in heavily Democratic areas, illegally voted in that election.
Voter Fraud's Enabler: Registration Fraud
Voter fraud is much easier to carry out, of course, if the groundwork is first laid in the form of voter-registration fraud, typified by such tactics as falsifying registration forms with forged or duplicate signatures, names of dead or non-existent people, names of convicted felons who are ineligible to vote, fake Social Security numbers, incorrect birth dates, and non-existent addresses. The most infamous perpetrator of this type of voter-registration fraud was the community organization ACORN—now defunct as an national entity, but reconstituted under a variety of different names in several states. In both the 2004 and 2008 election cycles, ACORN registered at least several hundred thousand voters. As of October 2008, the group was under investigation for tens of thousands of acts of voter-registration fraud in 13 states. To view a list of some of ACORN’s more egregious acts of voter-registration fraud, click here.
In 2012, the Pew Center for the States estimated that approximately 24 million of the roughly 150 million voter registrations in the U.S. were ineligible, including “more than 1.8 million dead people listed as voters; about 2.75 million with voter registrations in more than one state; and about 12 million voter records with incorrect addresses, meaning either the voters moved or errors in the information make it unlikely any mailings can reach them.”
In 2012 there were numerous voter-registration anomalies in the swing state of Ohio, which was widely regarded as the most important state in determining which candidate would win a majority of electoral votes in that year's presidential election. In two Ohio counties, for example, the number of registered voters actually exceeded the entire voting-age population: Northwestern Ohio’s Wood County had 109 registered voters for every 100 eligible, and Lawrence County (along the Ohio River) had 104 registered per 100 eligible. Moreover, 31 additional counties reported over 90% voter registration, which was about 20% higher than the national average.
Also in 2012, there were reports of likely voter fraud in key states such as Pennsylvania, Virginia, Colorado, and Florida. In St. Lucie County, Florida, for instance, some 247,713 ballots were cast, though only 175,554 people were registered to vote. And ten counties in Colorado had 104% to 140% voter turnout.
Opposition to Purging Voter Rolls of Ineligible Names
Invariably, opponents of Voter ID laws also oppose initiatives to purge voter rolls of ineligible names—e.g. people who are deceased, who have relocated to a different state or voting district, or who have been convicted of felonies. Under the leadership of Attorney General Eric Holder, for instance, DOJ has made no effort to enforce laws requiring states to remove ineligible names from their voter rolls. In late May 2012, the Justice Department actually ordered the state of Florida to halt its efforts—which were already underway—to verify the identity and eligibility of the people listed on its voter rolls. DOJ explained its actions by saying that it had not yet been able to verify that Florida's efforts “neither have the purpose nor will have the effect of discriminating on account of race, color, or membership in a language minority group.”
Florida was not compliant with DOJ, however. “We have an obligation to make sure the voter rolls are accurate and we are going to continue forward and do everything that we can legally do to make sure than ineligible voters cannot vote,” said Chris Cate, a spokesman for Florida secretary of state Ken Detzner. “We are firmly committed to doing the right thing and preventing ineligible voters from being able to cast a ballot. We are not going to give up our efforts to make sure the voter rolls are accurate.” In response, DOJ filed suit against Florida on June 12, 2012.
Earlier in 2012, Florida election officials had identified some 53,000 still-registered voters who were deceased, and another 2,600 who were non-citizens. In fact, state officials estimated that the total number of non-citizens on Florida's registered-voter rolls was as high as 182,000. Moreover, Secretary Detzner revealed that he and his staff had been refused access (by the Department of Homeland Security) to the federal database containing more up-to-date immigration and citizenship information.
In a July 2010 column for PJ Media, former DOJ Voting Section attorney J. Christian Adams exposed the Obama-Holder Justice Department's resolve to turn a blind eye to problems involving corrupted voter rolls. Adams wrote that in November 2009, Deputy Assistant Attorney General Julie Fernandes had bluntly told dozens of Voting Section employees: “We have no interest in enforcing this provision [voter list integrity] of the law. It has nothing to do with increasing turnout, and we are just not going to do it.”