Building A Better Bogeyman

Dahlia Lithwick at Slate has a lengthy, comprehensive piece there now about right-wing hysteria over fraudulent ACORN voter registrations. Bottom line: Registration fraud and voter fraud are two different things — and the latter just doesn’t happen:

As far as “gotcha” stunts go, the right-wing feeding frenzy over the vile vote-fraud treachery of ACORN has yet to yield much fruit. Investigations are indeed under way. But then, they are always under way this time of the year—and as the indefatigable Brad Friedman points out, so what? Evidence of voter-registration wrongdoing is no more a sign of widespread, Obama-sanctioned vote fraud than evidence of minorities being misled and intimidated on Election Day is a sign of official, McCain-sanctioned vote suppression. What’s the real point of turning voter-registration shenanigans into “one of the greatest frauds in voter history”? The object here is not criminal indictments. It’s to undermine voter confidence in the elections system as a whole. John McCain wants to build a better bogeyman, and he needs your help to do it.

ACORN stands for Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now. It’s a 30-year-old nonprofit that organizes on behalf of poor urban minorities, and it has registered 1.3 million new voters this year. There’s no denying that the organization’s system of paying workers $8 an hour to gather voter registrations creates screwy incentives. Encyclopedia Brown could have cracked that mystery. That’s why ACORN is either obligated by law or opts voluntarily to turn over all its voter-registration cards suggesting that Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck, and the entire starting lineup of the Dallas Cowboys just registered to vote in Nevada. That GOP elections officials started screaming “gotcha” when those registrations were turned in is the real fraud here. Jump back, Encyclopedia Brown! There is wrongdoing afoot in low-paying voter-registrationland.

Last week, media attention focused on a “raid” on ACORN offices in Las Vegas in which voter registration documents that had mostly been voluntarily turned over were dramatically seized by force. Right-wing screeching over nefarious doings in Ohio (where Freddie Johnson of Cleveland testified that ACORN encouraged him to sign 73 voter-registration forms—all in his own name) overlooks the fact that all 73 registrations would still have allowed Freddie to vote just once. The connection between wrongful voter registration and actual polling-place vote fraud is the stuff of GOP mythology. As Rick Hasen has demonstrated, here at Slate and elsewhere, even if Mr. Mouse is registered to vote, he still needs to show up at his polling place, provide a fake ID, and risk a felony conviction to do so.

Large-scale, coordinated vote stealing doesn’t happen. The incentives—unlike the incentives for registration fraud—just aren’t there. In an interview this week with Salon, Lorraine Minnite of Barnard College, who has studied vote fraud systematically, noted that “between 2002 to 2005 only one person was found guilty of registration fraud. Twenty others were found guilty of voting while ineligible and five were guilty of voting more than once. That’s 26 criminal voters.” Twenty-six criminal voters despite the fact that U.S. attorneys, like David Iglesias in New Mexico, were fired for searching high and low for vote-fraud cases to prosecute and coming up empty. Twenty-six criminal voters despite the fact that five days before the 2006 election, then-interim U.S. Attorney Bradley Schlozman exuberantly (and futilely) indicted four ACORN workers, even when Justice Department policy barred such prosecutions in the days before elections. RNC General Counsel Sean Cairncross has said he is unaware of a single improper vote cast because of bad cards submitted in the course of a voter-registration effort. Republican campaign consultant Royal Masset says, “[I]n-person voter fraud is nonexistent. It doesn’t happen, and … makes no sense because who’s going to take the risk of going to jail on something so blatant that maybe changes one vote?”

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One Comment on “Building A Better Bogeyman”

  1. […] more on Republican efforts to discourage and intimidate voters, see my post at Liberty Street. Share and […]

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