In Milwaukee last week, several community groups protested the posting of large billboards throughout the city that show pictures of people behind jail bars under the words “We Voted Illegally.” The protesters said the posters — it was not clear who paid for them — were intended to intimidate people from voting.That NYT article features this statement of fact in the reporter's voice: "Voter fraud and voter-registration fraud are, of course, different." Well, of course it's obvious when you put them side-by-side in a sentence. But that's not how they are used in the media. The two are deliberately conflated in conservative sources and the distinction is buried deep within the report in the lamestream media. The tease, hed and lede always use the words "voter" and "fraud," but how often does "registration" make it into the sound and word bites? Here are four articles by lamestream or outright left-wing sources:
Right-wing voter fraud obsession leads to tens of criminal charges, Salon.com
Fake the Vote: Why would anyone commit voter fraud? Slate.com
Fraudulent Voting Re-emerges as a Partisan Issue, New York Times
34 more face voter fraud charges in Hennepin County, Star Tribune
Salon and Slate at least make clear that voter fraud is a non-issue, but the NYT explicitly says that it is. My once-beloved Strib portrays a pure negative take, no context:
The rate of alleged fraud amounted to about 0.00006 percent of ballots case (sic), [Hennepin County Attorney] Freeman said. "There was no evidence of any organized effort to enable or promote this activity," he said.Now I know enough to realize you could criticize heds all day long - mostly they suck - but this isn't a one-off mistake. That's the way it's done all over. Please don't make me drudge up conservative examples (pun intended).
Here are the facts from the other three sources above, in order:
The Bush administration dedicated itself to fighting this imaginary menace of voter fraud, either because conservatives have deluded themselves into believing it a legitimate problem or just to, again, throw minorities off voter rolls. But in five years they managed 86 convictions, some of which were accidents and all of which were incredibly small-scale.
A 2007 study by the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University reached a similar conclusion. The vast majority of "fraud" cases, it found, were due to typographical errors in poll books and registration records, bad matches between voter databases (for example, you could be listed as John Smith in one database and John T. Smith in another), and voters registering at new addresses without deleting old registrations. Much of the alleged "voter fraud," it turns out, is just poorly filled out registration cards. And even if someone purposely files a fraudulent form by writing the name "Mickey Mouse," it doesn't affect the election. "Mickey Mouse doesn't vote," says Wendy Weiser of the Brennan Institute. Actual voter fraud—a voter pretending to be someone he's not—is, according to the study, less common than getting struck by lightning.
While many states have voter registration records riddled with names of dead people, out-of-date addresses and other erroneous information, there is little evidence that such errors lead to fraudulent votes, many experts note. A report by the public-integrity section of the Justice Department found that from October 2002 to September 2005, the department charged 95 people with “election fraud”; 55 were convicted. Among those, fewer than 20 people were convicted of casting fraudulent ballots, and only 5 were convicted of registration fraud. Most of the rest were charged with other voting violations, including a scheme meant to help Republicans by blocking the phone lines used by two voting groups that were arranging rides to get voters to the polls.Now comes the sad part:
In St. Paul, organizers from the Tea Party and related groups announced this week that they were offering a $500 reward for anyone who turned in someone who was successfully prosecuted for voter fraud.Et tu, Sanctus Paulus? Actually, the Election Integrity Watch website says:
We are offering rewards up to $500 for information leading to the conviction of organizers of voter fraud.They really didn't need to put in the weasel words "up to." There is no statute mentioning an "organizer" of voter fraud in Minnesota. And even if there was, it makes absolutely no sense to organize voter fraud: Cui bono?
Perhaps the strongest evidence against claims of widespread voter fraud is that it would make no sense. Imagine what you'd have to do to perpetrate such a scheme. You'd first have to recruit a large number of voters willing to cooperate, each of whom would risk five years in prison and a $10,000 fine. Then you'd have to get them all registered, which would require fake IDs and mailing addresses. (The mailing address would have to be real so they could receive their registration cards.) The names and addresses would then get checked against a central state database. If the database fails to find a match, the voter's registration gets flagged for a follow-up check of their Social Security Number or driver's license number. Then on Election Day, they'd have to show their fake ID again and lie to a poll worker's face. At each point—registration, the database check, voting—they'd run the risk of getting caught. And the more people involved in the scheme, the more likely someone slips up. All it would take is one unlucky person for the whole plan to unravel.Oh, and these are the only two pictures of black people on the site:
And for what? The prospect of winning a few extra votes for a candidate you support simply isn't worth the risk of jail time. (This is especially true for illegal immigrants, who want to vote even if it means risking deportation, according to some anti-fraud crusaders.) And for large organizations, there are much better, safer, more efficient ways to steal an election, such as bribing an election official or tampering with voting machines. The punishment is just as harsh, but those methods require the participation of fewer people.