Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Voter Registration Fraud Is Not a Big Problem and Doesn't Affect the Vote

We've shown voter fraud is rare in the United States. There simply aren't hordes of ineligible voters registering and voting. It's just not happening-- although right-wing news sources would have you believe it is.

Before we leave voter fraud, we'll talk about organizations that register voters and laws that allow same-day registration of voters.

Voter registration drives, and especially same-day registration results in a higher turnout of voters. Now you might think this a good thing-- unless you're Republican. Then you might not, for minorities and urban voters are the ones most impacted by registration drives and same-day registration. Since these voters tender to vote Democratic, Republicans do everything they can to not only do away with same-day voter registration, but to erect barriers that make it more difficult for voters to pre-register. We'll talk about that in the next post. For now, let's look at the flip side of this effort to disenfranchise voters.

One way to stop voters from registering is to attack those who try to make it easier for them to sign up. This is exactly what happened with the ACORN scandal.

And what was the ACORN scandal?

The nonprofit ACORN was a nonprofit that worked on behalf of low- and moderate-income families (the acronym stands for Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now). Between 1970 and 2010 ACORN engaged in community building at grassroots levels across the nation; this included helping citizens register to vote, but also campaigns for better housing, schools, neighborhood safety, health care, and job conditions.

In 2009 conservative activists Hannah Giles and James O'Keefe released a series of videos which were edited to "prove" ACORN workers advised their clients to avoid paying taxes and hid criminal activities.

That wasn't true:
Independent investigations were made by state attorneys general of Massachusetts and California, and the U.S. Attorney of Brooklyn, New York; their reports were released beginning in December 2009 and extending through April 2010. The attorney general's office in Massachusetts and the U.S. Attorney for Brooklyn concluded that the ACORN workers had committed no criminal activity and that the videos were "heavily edited" to present material out of context and create a misleading impression of activities.
The California Attorney General granted immunity to O'Keefe and Giles in exchange for their raw videos shot at three California ACORN offices. Its comparison of the raw videos with the released versions found that the published videos had been heavily edited to misrepresent the workers and the situations so as to suggest criminal intent and activity. The California report was followed by one by the U.S. Government Accountability Office, which reported t
here was no evidence that ACORN workers had misused government funds or participated in the criminal activities represented in the videos.But, ACORN was effectively destroyed by then. (Wikipedia: ACORN 2009 Videos Controversy).
The ruse worked, however, ACORN was destroyed and can no longer register voters who might vote Republican.

Organizations on both the left and the right which register voters can find themselves with overenthusiastic workers who manipulate the process. This is rare, however, and it's in the interests of the organizations to show such abuses down quickly-- and they do. In some cases-- on both sides-- workers are motivated to forget forms in order to get paid. This isn't supposed to happen, but it does. The numbers of people doing this are small, and the numbers of cards they forge tend to be small. But in some cases politically motivated people forge considerable numbers of cards. More often than not, they're caught.

Outside of often unbelievable allegations about ACORN I found more instances of Republicans being taken to justice for fraudulent voter registration than Democrats. So yes, it's a problem-- but it's not coming from voters.

And here's the rub. It's not as if people are voting those registrations. In some cases they might, but it's exceedingly rare. It doesn't affect the vote.
What about widely publicized stories of registration fraud? 
Those cases are always very easily caught, very frequently by the very organization that's overseeing the work. And there's absolutely zero evidence that anyone who has put any false information on a voter registration form has actually voted using that information. Problems with voter registration [are] different than fraud at the polls that ends up impacting the election. (Zalan, 2012, quoting Tova Wang)
The problem, Wang says, isn't about voter registration fraud, but about voter suppression. And she's right.

If you see statistics that seem to prove there is widespread voter fraud or widespread voter registration fraud, know they're false. Check out this entry at Snopes.


Wang, Tova. (2012). The politics of voter suppression: Defending and expanding Americans' right to vote. Cornell University Press.

Zalan, Kira. (2012, 24 April). The myth of voter fraud. U.S. News & World Report.

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