THE RIGHT TO VOTE UNDER ATTACK: The Campaign to Keep Millions of Americans from the Ballot Box
Table of Contents
- Is There Widespread Voter Fraud?
- The Voter Fraud Myth’s Partisan Program
- Voter Suppression Strategies
- Who are behind the attacks on voting rights?
- Why is the voter fraud myth so widespread?
Shortly after George W. Bush took office in 2001, his administration launched a concerted effort to crack down on a supposed epidemic of voter fraud in the United States. The campaign to identify and eliminate such fraud became such a priority that escalating political pressure from the White House eventually drove the Justice Department to fire U.S. attorneys who were seen as weak on prosecuting cases of fraud, in a politically-charged purge. State legislatures across the country also embarked on a zealous mission to fight the problem of “voter fraud,” while right-wing pundits and advocacy groups made it their goal to expose and defeat the so-called voter fraud epidemic. Claims that corrupt organizations, illegal immigrants and political machines were stealing elections away from voters became common refrains in the right-wing media and political debates.
But the Bush Justice Department’s war on voter fraud found little evidence of the illegal voting it alleged. Between 2002 and 2006, the DOJ’s efforts resulted in only 86 convictions out of nearly 200 million votes cast, a rate of 0.0000004%.
Unfazed by the complete lack of proof that widespread voter fraud exists, right-wing politicians, media personalities, activists and think tanks have continued their attacks on voting rights in the name of “voter integrity,” “ballot security” and “fighting voter fraud.” The resulting policies present a massive threat to citizens’ right to vote, which is at the very foundation of our democracy.
While open to a variety of interpretations, the term “voter fraud” usually refers to voting without registration, registering nonexistent voters, voting more than once, voting in places where one is ineligible to vote, manipulating or rigging the vote count, or buying votes.
The Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law has found that the most common causes of voting irregularities include clerical mistakes, transcription blunders and computer errors, such as mistakes in poll books or in voter registration documents. Personal information listed on voter rolls may be out of date, incomplete, or include typos. In 2005, the Brennan Center looked at a list of purportedly fraudulent voter registrations in New Jersey and found that most of the suspected cases of ”double-voting” ended up being matching errors, where two people with identical or similar names were thought to be one person voting twice.
A New York Times analysis of federal voting fraud cases found that roughly a third of the 86 convictions from 2002 through 2006 involved small vote-buying schemes in local elections. Nearly all the others were the result of honest mistakes by those who didn’t know they were ineligible to vote or instances of individuals acting alone. Ultimately, as the Times reported, prosecutors and election experts agreed that evidence of large-scale or coordinated fraud just wasn’t there.
In 2010, Tova Andrea Wang, a senior fellow at the think tank Demos, wrote, “Law enforcement statistics, reports from elections officials and widespread research have proved that voter fraud at the polling place is virtually non-existent.” Lorraine Minnite, an elections expert at Barnard College, argues that there is “no threat” of voter fraud, with official statistics showing that from “2002 to 2005 only one person was found guilty of registration fraud. Twenty people were found guilty of voting while ineligible and five people were found guilty of voting more than once.”
In Minnesota, which has been at the center of the Right’s search for voter fraud, a report by Citizens for Election Integrity Minnesota found that a grand total of 26 people were convicted of voter fraud in 2008 — all because they were felons who mistakenly voted. In other words, “nine ten-thousandths of one percent (0.0009%) of 2008 voters were convicted of fraud” in Minnesota. Nonetheless, the Republicans who control both houses of the state legislature are pushing a voter ID bill that would disenfranchise tens of thousands of Minnesotans: the Star Tribunefound that approximately “144,000 eligible voters in Minnesota lack a valid, state-issued identification card.”
There is a reason the Right Wing has been so eager to invent the mythical problem of voter fraud and then offer gratuitous “solutions”: to disenfranchise the voters least likely to back conservative politicians. The abundance of new “anti-voter fraud” laws currently working their way through state legislatures attempt to drive down turnout among young and low-income voters who tend to live in cities, particularly African Americans and Latinos, all groups more likely to vote for Democrats. Frequently these laws require or request that poll workers ask voters to show photo identification.
Although these laws are often presented as simple anti-fraud measures, some prominent backers have made it clear that they are in fact intended to prevent those who are less likely to have government IDs from voting. For example, the Republican speaker of New Hampshire’s House told a tea party group this year that the photo ID bill he championed targeted “foolish” young people because “voting as a liberal” is “what kids do.” The chief sponsor of Georgia’s voter ID legislation told the Justice Department that “if there are fewer black voters because of this bill, it will only be because there is less opportunity for fraud.”
Laws meant to address “voter fraud” may be tackling a fictitious problem, but they have real consequences.
A study by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology examined why an estimated 23.2 million registered voters did not cast ballots in 2008. Researchers estimated that nine percent (2.2 million) of these did not cast ballots because they lacked proper ID. Eight percent were unable to find their polling place. Eleven percent were turned away because of long lines. Another nine percent were turned away from the polls because of registration problems.
The study reported that African American and Hispanic voters were more frequently asked to provide photo IDs in states that required them: “African Americans and Hispanics were asked to show ‘picture ID’ more often than Whites — 70% for African Americans, 65% for Hispanics, and 51% for Whites.” The researchers also found that “it is the youngest voters who are more likely to lack the necessary identification. For instance, of those 30 years of age and younger, 64% said they had an unexpired driver’s license with their legal name and current address.”
Like younger voters, black and Hispanic citizens are less likely than whites to have the identification required by voter ID laws. The Brennan Center reports that while eight percent of voting age white citizens don’t have a current, government-issued photo ID, the number jumps to 16 percent for Hispanics and 25 percent for African Americans. In addition, those earning less than $35,000 per year are more than twice as likely to lack proper ID as those with higher incomes. According to a University of Washington study, “[I]ndividuals who are racial and ethnic minorities, foreign-born, of a lower socioeconomic status, and are younger all are less likely to have a driver’s license,” which is “the primary valid form of identification accepted for voting purposes.”
“Strict voter ID regulations would eliminate more Democratic than Republican votes from the final tally,” the researchers found, noting that in “jurisdictions with competitive elections and close outcomes, this could easily change the final vote results in favor of Republican candidates.”
As Professor Minnite explains in her book The Myth of Voter Fraud, arguments that America is facing a voter fraud epidemic allow politicians not only to enact new laws suppressing the vote, but to “justify voter-challenge campaigns that can lead to voter intimidation.” Minnite writes that minorities who throughout American history have experienced the most disenfranchisement and discrimination are particularly targeted by such campaigns:
Classes of voters such as African Americans, Latinos, and new immigrants once on the margins of the U.S. electorate, voters who have struggled for inclusion and a political voice, are cast to suspicion by voter fraud allegations that suggest their votes are “illegal” or that they are prone to subvert the rules—in other words, cheat—to overcome their minority status in a majoritarian system. Thus, voter fraud allegations that taint the votes of these groups are useful to politicians engaged in politics by other means.
As voter suppression laws have clear partisan implications, is it any wonder that Republican politicians and conservative activists have been the chief champions of such burdensome laws?
Accusations of voter fraud have real consequences, encouraging voter suppression by means of burdensome new laws and increased voter intimidation. Minnite writes, “Over time, unfounded fraud allegations influence voting policy by shaping voting rules and procedures in a way that inhibit the democracy-expanding potential of voting rights movements.”
According to the Brennan Center for Justice, more than five million eligible voters will face prohibitive barriers to voting in the next election as a result of new laws passed to purportedly crackdown on “voter fraud.”
Photo ID Laws
Thirty states currently have laws requiring voters to provide identification in order to cast a ballot. Fourteen of those states have photo ID laws asking or requiring voters to show specific forms of photo ID in order to vote. Just this year, Alabama, Kansas, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas and Wisconsin enacted laws which will require voters to present photo IDs. Similar requirements passed by Republican legislatures in Minnesota, Missouri, New Hampshire and North Carolina were vetoed by the states’ Democratic governors.
While showing a photo ID may be common when traveling and in the exchange of goods and services, voting is both a civic duty and a fundamental right. Many states have less burdensome but still effective methods of identifying voters, for instance requiring voters to identify themselves by bringing in paperwork verifying their name and home address or comparing signatures on voter files from previous elections.
Photo ID laws are a solution in search of a problem. These misguided efforts prevent eligible citizens from exercising a fundamental right, intentionally impacting certain populations more than others.
In these states, a citizen who does not have a valid, government-issued photo ID like a driver’s license now must go through the burdensome process of applying for one before she can vote. Many voters do not have driver’s licenses issued by their state of residence, or any license at all, and others may not even know that they need to bring a photo ID to the polls. After she signed a photo ID bill into law, South Carolina Republican Gov. Nicki Haley promised to personally drive any disenfranchised voter to the DMV — a generous offer, seeing that the bill left 178,000 without the means to vote. But when the family of a 76 year old veteran without photo identification contacted the governor’s office, her staff said that they wouldn’t be able to provide them any assistance.
This year Republicans in Tennessee pushed through a photo ID law even though, according to the Chattanooga Times Free Press, the State Election Coordinator “acknowledged he can point only to one, possibly two, instances of someone being convicted of impersonating someone else when trying to vote.” More than 126,000 voters are affected by the new law, including Dorothy Cooper, a 96 year old woman who was refused an ID card from the state’s Driver Service Center because her birth certificate is written with her maiden name, Dorothy Alexander. Cooper, who is African American, said she had voted in nearly every election for which she was eligible, including before the passage of the Voting Rights Act.
A month after Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker signed into law a bill that requires voters to show a driver’s license or state-issued ID card that can be obtained at a DMV, he called for the closure of ten DMVs around the state, targeting offices in Democratic areas. Walker aggressively pushed for the law, although there was little evidence that it was needed — in the 2008 election there were just 14 improper votes cast in Wisconsin, out of a total of 3 million. According to a 2005 University of Wisconsin report, “Less than half (47 percent) of Milwaukee County African American adults and 43 percent of Hispanic adults have a valid drivers license compared to 85 percent of white adults” who reside outside of Milwaukee County.
In 2009, the Indiana League of Women Voters noted that an Indiana voter without photo ID or with ID deemed inadequate by local election officials must cast a provisional ballot, and then has ten days to appear before her county election board and prove she “is who she claims to be.” Indiana’s law may burden if not disqualify voters (particularly those in rural communities) who do not have the time or resources to obtain a birth certificate and then go to the DMV to acquire an ID, along with those who refuse to have photo identification on religious grounds.
Confirming these fears, a study by the Indiana University School of Law – Indianapolis found that in Indiana during the 2008 election “more than a thousand persons went to the polls and cast a provisional ballot due to a lack of valid identification and that the vast majority of those provisional ballots went uncounted.”
According to the Brennan Center for Justice, there are 21 million Americans – 11 percent of eligible voters – who do not have government-issued photo IDs. That includes a full 25 percent of eligible African American voters and 18 percent of citizens over the age of 65. Photo ID laws also target college students – most states do not accept university – or college-issued IDs as valid proof of residency for voting. 18 percent of citizens ages 18-24 do not have government-issued photo IDs.
The United States is the only democracy in the world in which citizens who have completed criminal sentences can be permanently denied the right to vote. Kentucky and Virginia have denied all citizens with a felony record the right to vote for the rest of their lives even if they have fully served their sentences, and seven other states have laws allowing lifelong disenfranchisement for people with criminal convictions in some circumstances. Today, over five million Americans are denied the right to vote due to criminal convictions.
Ex-offenders who are actually eligible to vote in other states are nevertheless sometimes turned down by incorrect or politically motivated decisions by election officials. In Alabama, the Rev. Kenneth Glasgow, an ex-offender himself, created a program to identify and register eligible voters currently incarcerated in correctional facilities. Most of these inmates were convicted of minor drug possession charges and were unaware that they were still eligible to vote and that they had never, in fact, lost their voting rights under Alabama state law. Yet, one day before voter registration closed for the 2008 election, the commissioner of the Alabama Department of Corrections terminated Glasgow’s program. Up until that point, the commissioner had supported the program, so why the sudden change? According to the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund’s Kristen Clarke, “political pressure” may have been to blame for the commissioner’s unseemly turnaround.
One of the more telling comments about ex-offender disenfranchisement came in 2003 from Marty Connors, who was then the chairman of the Alabama Republican Party. Speaking out in opposition to a new law that would make it easier for former felons to vote, Connors admitted, “We’re opposed to it because felons don’t tend to vote Republican.”
Inhibiting Voter Registration
There were approximately 213 million citizens eligible to vote in the 2008 elections; yet just 186 million were registered to vote. While civic activists of all political stripes work to increase the number of registered voters, there is a growing, organized right-wing effort to discourage certain eligible voters from registering.
In May 2011, Florida passed a law that curtails early voting and forces third-party voter registration organizations to turn in registration cards in 48 hours under penalty of heavy fines, leading to protests from civic organizations that register tens of thousands of voters. The League of Women Voters promptly announced that it would terminate its voter registration program in Florida as a result of the law. The president of the League’s St. Petersburg branch contended, “Anti-fraud is a guise in trying to pass these voter suppression laws that are really meant to make it more difficult for people to vote.” The ACLU and Project Vote are currently challenging the law, contending that it violates the federal Voting Rights Act.
Another tactic employed by the Right Wing is attempting to inhibit voter registration by limiting open registration periods. A 2009 University of Wisconsin study found that allowing voters to register on Election Day increases voter turnout. But now, Republicans in Maine and Wisconsin are pushing to repeal decades-old laws allowing same-day voter registration.
Wisconsin Republicans, with the support of Gov. Scott Walker, are still working on rescinding their state’s same-day registration law, which was one of the first in the country to be enacted. In August, Maine’s Republican governor Paul LePage signed a repeal of the state’s 38-year-old same-day registration law after it was passed by the GOP-controlled legislature. Voter fraud, which the repeal of the law supposedly combats, was never actually a problem in Maine: the Portland Press Heraldreported that “in the almost four decades since same-day registration was passed by another Republican-controlled Legislature, only one person has been caught casting two ballots.” The chairman of the Maine Republican Party, however, contended, “If you want to get really honest, this is about how the Democrats have managed to steal elections from Maine people.” Ironically, nine Republican state legislators who voted to repeal the law and Gov. LePage “have at one time registered to vote on Election Day or during the two business days preceding it. That practice is banned under the new law they all supported.”
Another way states are attempting to disenfranchise voters is by prohibiting first-time voters from using absentee ballots. A new Michigan law requires first-time voters to vote in person, which poses a problem for the many college students who attend schools outside their voting district or even their home state, and who have often just reached voting age. Seventeen other states also have strict requirements regarding absentee voting.
Flawed Purge Programs
Purge programs are tools election officials use to remove deceased voters, duplicate names and voters who have moved out of the district from voter rolls. While well-run and transparent purge programs can be a reliable way to keep voter rolls accurate and up-to-date, shoddily conducted voter purges can effectively disenfranchise large numbers of eligible voters.
Most notoriously, before the 2000 election the state of Florida conducted a purge of felons from its voting rolls. The private contractor hired by the state to conduct the purge used an unreliable matching procedure that ended up removing not only the names of felons but also those of citizens who had similar names and birthdates, people who committed misdemeanors in Texas, and ex-offenders who had had their voting rights restored. The Washington Post noted, “The impact of the botched felon purge fell disproportionately on black Floridians and, by extension, on the Democratic Party, which won the votes of 9 out of every 10 African American voters, according to exit polls.” Up to 12,000 voters altogether were purged from the state’s list of eligible voters, more than 22 times the size of George W. Bush’s official margin of victory in that state.
In 2007, Louisiana’s secretary of state purged approximately 21,000 voters from the state’s voter rolls, claiming that those voters had registered in other states because of “matches” with the same names and birth dates in nearby states. According to USA Today, prior to the purge 53,554 voters “were given one month to prove they had canceled their out-of-state registrations. After that, they had to appear in person at their voter registrar's office with documentation that their non-Louisiana registration had been canceled.” The majority of the voters who were ultimately purged from the rolls were from the areas hardest hit by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita — many were displaced by the storms and had difficulties returning to their parishes. In fact, around one-third of the purged voters were from New Orleans.
Civil rights attorney Kristen Clarke of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund writes that “many voters who simply happened to have similar identifying information” were erroneously purged from Louisiana’s voter rolls, and that purge programs like Louisiana’s “unfairly place the burden of re-registration squarely on impacted citizens and can thus, discourage individuals from future participation in the electoral process.”
Flaws in the matching system aren’t the only problem encountered in voter purges — sometimes voter lists themselves are flawed as a result of clerical errors or bad information. In a 2008 study, the Brennan Center for Justice found people who were purged from voter lists because they were wrongly listed as deceased or because their home address was listed incorrectly or for no reason at all. Before the 2008 presidential primary in Mississippi, a local election commissioner illegally purged over 10,000 voters from her home computer, in violation of the National Voting Rights Act.
Voter caging is a way to target certain registered voters in order to have them removed from voter rolls. By sending selected registered voters mail and then compiling lists of mail that was returned, campaigns, parties or third party groups can claim that those voters no longer live at the addresses marked on their voter registration forms and demand that they be removed from the rolls or have their votes challenged at the polls. Military service members, minorities and students are the most frequent targets of voter caging operations.
The BBC uncovered one example of voter caging in 2004, when it discovered a caging list of Florida voters prepared by George W. Bush’s reelection campaign. The lists, ostensibly made for the purpose of verifying voters’ addresses to send them campaign literature, were primarily targeted at black voters. A Republican researcher accidentally sent the list, which had the subject line “caging,” to a humor website critical of Bush,, which then passed it on to the BBC. The list particularly targeted African American service members who would not have been home to pick up the mail.
The group One Wisconsin Now exposed plans by the Wisconsin Republican Party and Tea Party groups, including the pro-corporate organization Americans for Prosperity, to conduct voter caging before the 2010 elections. According to One Wisconsin Now, the GOP intended to allow Americans for Prosperity to use its list of registered voters to send mailings, and then provide lists of undelivered mail to Tea Party activists to use to challenge voters.
The “voter fraud” myth provides an all-purpose excuse for conservative activists to promote voter suppression laws and to conduct schemes like voter caging, intimidation and harassment.
During early voting before the 2010 elections, Houston’s district attorney fielded complaints from “predominantly minority neighborhoods” that activists from the Tea Party group True the Vote were intimidating voters. The Houston Chronicle reported, “Complaints included poll watchers ‘hovering over’ voters, ‘getting into election workers’ faces’ and blocking or disrupting lines of voters waiting to cast their ballots.”
In South Carolina, tea party activists reportedly harassed and challenged voters at a polling place near a historically black college in Columbia. The Charlotte News & Observer described dozens of complaints in and around Raleigh that poll workers from a Republican congressional campaign “aggressively approached voters and elections officials inside early voting sites” and “questioned established voting law,” using illegal tactics like taking photos of voters’ license plates and standing behind voter registration tables.
Some forms of voter suppression are less conspicuous efforts aimed at keeping voters away from the polls or otherwise interfering with their votes. Earlier this year, a chief aide and a campaign consultant to former Republican Maryland Gov. Bob Ehrlich, who in 2010 unsuccessfully ran to reclaim his seat from current Democratic Gov. Martin O’Malley, were indicted for allegedly sending robocalls to African American voters on Election Day telling them to stay home. The message on the call said, “I’m calling to let everyone know that Governor O'Malley and President Obama have been successful. Our goals have been met. The polls were correct… We’re okay. Relax. Everything is fine. The only thing left is to watch on TV tonight.”
In Texas that same year, flyers bearing the names of a phony Democratic group, ”The Black Democratic Trust of Texas,” dishonestly said that voters who wanted to vote for a straight Democratic ticket only had to vote for the Democratic candidate for governor. Hispanic voters in Los Angeles received mysterious robocalls and mailers telling them to vote the day after Election Day in 2010.
Under the banners of “ballot security” and “voter integrity,” right-wing groups have pushed for new ways for the government to restrict the right to vote. The campaign to bolster the ”voter fraud” myth in Congress, state legislatures, the media and in the grassroots could not have been possible without an all-out effort from pro-corporate organizations with an interest in strategically shrinking the voting pool.
The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) is a conservative organization that influences sympathetic legislators with “model legislation” and corporate-sponsored policy summits to advance the agenda of the organization’s benefactors, mainly large corporations.
Paul Weyrich, the founder of ALEC and other prominent right-wing organizations, was clear about his beliefs on voting: “I don’t want everybody to vote. Elections are not won by a majority of people, they never have been from the beginning of our country and they are not now. As a matter of fact, our leverage in the elections quite candidly goes up as the voting populace goes down.” The group has promoted its model “Voter ID Act” to allied legislators in an enormously successful effort to pass such laws across the country.
Right-wing politicians and media personalities have used the invented “voter fraud” myth as a long-term strategy to attack progressives and minority groups, ultimately creating a myth that seems impenetrable to facts and evidence.
The “voter fraud” myth took off under the Bush Administration, which pressured the Department of Justice to prosecute “voter fraud” cases even when evidence didn’t exist, and forced out U.S. attorneys who were insufficiently zealous in prosecuting trumped-up cases. A report by The Washington Post discovered that Bush’s chief political adviser Karl Rove was behind attempts to influence the Department of Justice to concentrate on prosecuting voter fraud in the swing states of Missouri, Nevada, New Mexico, Washington and Wisconsin.
A new arrival to the “voter fraud” bandwagon is the Tea Party.
The Tea Party has thoroughly embraced the voter fraud myth, seeing it as part of a left-wing conspiracy to rig elections. The tea party organization True the Vote claims that America is facing an “election crisis” as a result of “leftists in Washington”:
Leftists in Washington have used the financial crisis to nationalize General Motors, the mortgage industry, and much of the banking system, and are working diligently to socialize and redistribute health care services. Now they are preparing “solutions” to the election crisis they themselves created.
One of the chief champions of the voter fraud myth, right-wing muckraker Andrew Breitbart, disclosed his partisan objectives in a speech to a True the Vote summit in March: “We’ve allowed the cultural Marxists to take over our culture and I just want to expose some of what they do…. It’s about taking down the entire institutional left.”
After the 2008 elections, Breitbart and other conservative activists aggressively attacked the group ACORN (Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now), whose success in registering low-income and minority citizens to vote made it a prime target of the far right. They engaged in a coordinated agitprop campaign that painted ACORN as committing “severe voter fraud,” among other imagined offenses. Although a Government Accountability Office report later found no evidence that ACORN had committed fraud or misused federal funds and videos made by Breitbart protégé James O’Keefe were found to be manipulatively edited and doctored, ACORN was stripped of its federal funding in 2009 and the group dissolved months later.
Tea party and other right-wing groups also whipped up controversy over an incident in Philadelphia where two members of the New Black Panther Party stood outside a polling place during the 2008 election in a primarily black neighborhood. According to Politico, “no voters attested to being turned away” and the Justice Department decided not to pursue charges of voter intimidation. Many conservative commentators suggested that this was proof the Obama administration was not taking cases of voter intimidation against whites seriously, even though a probe by the Office of Professional Responsibility requested by a Republican congressman found that the Justice Department lawyers “did not commit professional misconduct or exercise poor judgment, but rather acted appropriately.”
Other tea party groups involved in propagating the “voter fraud” myth include American Majority Action, which created a smartphone app to report voter fraud, and FreedomWorks, whose head Dick Armey said that urban residents legally voting early was a sign of voter fraud. A Minnesota tea party group even offered $500 to people who reported cases of voter fraud that led to a conviction.
A startling number of Republican voters believe that voter fraud is the reason President Obama won the 2008 presidential election. Public Policy Polling found one year after the presidential election that 52% of Republicans, and 26% of all Americans, “think that ACORN stole the Presidential election for Barack Obama last year.” Only 27 percent of Republican voters believed that the president had been elected legitimately.
Accusations that ACORN propagated systematic voter fraud throughout the country by helping minority voters in cities vote illegally en masse helped conservative activists fan the flames of racial resentment while perpetuating the myth of widespread voter fraud.
Undocumented immigrants are another frequent target of voter fraud accusations, with Tea Party and anti-immigrant groups often alleging that the Democratic Party is working to help undocumented immigrants vote illegally. In Arizona last year, Republican congressional candidate Jesse Kelly said that Democrats were “busing” in Mexicans to illegally vote for his opponent Rep. Gabrielle Giffords. Kelly claimed to have video to corroborate his charges but never released it. Election officials said they had no records of undocumented immigrants voting. William Gheen of Americans for Legal Immigration PAC told Fox News that “the Obama administration is doing everything it can to make sure as many illegal aliens vote in 2010 although that is a violation of federal law.” One Arizona anti-immigrant group sent out an email before the election warning that undocumented immigrants were on the verge of “stealing the election”: “Our grassroots army of VOTER FRAUD PREVENTION VOLUNTEERS will stand vigilant across the nation. We will be the first and strongest line of defense to ensure that only legal citizens vote on November 2nd.”
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid was also the target of voter-fraud allegations in 2010. The campaign of Reid’s Republican opponent Sharron Angle warned, “Harry Reid intends to steal this election if he can’t win it outright.” Following Reid’s narrow victory, one right-wing group alleged that the SEIU stole the election for the Democrat because union technicians worked as the repairmen for the voting machines.
Other Democrats famously, and falsely, accused of winning elections as a result of voter fraud include Washington Gov. Christine Gregoire and Minnesota Sen. Al Franken, who won close races in 2004 and 2008, respectively. In 2005, a Washington court rebuffed Gregoire’s Republican opponent’s claims of voter fraud. The Seattle Times reported that the judge “saw no evidence of fraud.” In Minnesota, the Supreme Court wrote in its decision affirming Franken’s victory that neither Franken nor his opponent claimed voter fraud took place and “found no allegations or evidence of fraud or foul play and no evidence to suggest that the Election Day totals from the precinct are unreliable.” However, the GOP and right-wing commentators continue to state as a matter of course that these Democrats were elected as a result of fraud.
The conservative media also continues to push the myth that Republicans lost those races, among others, as a result of voter fraud. Before the 2010 election, Fox News host Megyn Kelly cited unnamed reports of “voter fraud on a massive scale with the intention of keeping Democrats in office.” Fox News even set up a voter fraud tip line, VoterFraud@FoxNews.com. Among the complaints of wrongdoing Fox reported:
The buttons for each party are so close together, that if a person tries to press the Republican button with the pad of their finger, it is possible that their fingernail might accidently press the Democratic button.
Not surprisingly, the claim of massive voter fraud diminished after Republicans made significant gains in congressional, gubernatorial and legislative elections in 2010. But that did not prevent newly elected Republican legislators and governors from moving the flood of voter suppression measures we’ve seen post-2010, masquerading as efforts to combat the mythical scourge of “voter fraud.”
Nothing is more fundamental in a democracy than the right to vote, a right that is increasingly endangered as a result of the manufactured “voter fraud” panic and the suppressive laws that are being passed because of it.
Decades after the Civil Rights Movement, there are now extraordinary attempts to reverse the trend towards equality and throw roadblocks in the way of voters. Voter suppression through new laws that make it more difficult to register to vote and cast a ballot and aggressive tactics to intimidate voters at the polls are undermining the country’s democratic foundations, all in the name of an imaginary, invented crisis.
If the current trend continues, potential voters in 2012 will face greater challenges than ever, with the enactment of burdensome and unnecessary new laws and right-wing groups mobilizing to target polling places in specific communities.
The full-scale attack on voting rights could go unchecked without election protection advocates who work to stop the crackdown on voting and make sure that voters and poll workers alike know their rights.