For all the controversy about voter fraud, including new conservative organizations created to combat it, is it really such a big deal?
It is difficult in some respects to quantify the extent of the problem, but, as Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton recently pointed out, the infamous ACORN activist group was implicated in “at least 35 well-documented election fraud schemes in 17 states, leading to multiple convictions, fines and even prison.”
Fitton also pointed to Democratic Sen. Al Franken's 312-vote margin of victory out of three million counted in the 2008 Minnesota Senate contest. At least 341 votes reportedly were cast illegally by convicted felons in the race.
“Instances of duplicate registrations, multiple voting by the same person, vacant and non-deliverable addresses and deceased voters still on the rolls also turned up,” Fitton said.
But there is one sense in which hardly anyone denies that voter fraud is a serious problem: Every real vote canceled out or diluted by a fake one represents a voter disenfranchised — the rough equivalent of someone being intimidated out of casting a ballot.
Opponents of such measures as Voter I.D., proof of citizenship for registration and the purging of old voter lists argue that proven cases of voter fraud are rare.
And it is — even if the rare prosecuted cases represent a small fraction of real-life incidents, it would still be relatively uncommon.
Therefore, they argue, measures to combat fraud risk creating bigger problems than the ones they aim to solve. This argument is at least worth considering. But then, why does no one buy it, here or abroad?
Overwhelming majorities of Americans — including majorities of black, Hispanic and Democratic voters — support Voter I.D. laws. Voter I.D. is also the world standard, used in nearly every democracy except ours.
The Commission on Federal Election Reform, chaired by former Secretary of State James Baker and former President Jimmy Carter, provided some hints about this in its 2005 report:
“There is no evidence of extensive fraud in U.S. elections or of multiple voting, but both occur, and it could affect the outcome of a close election. The electoral system cannot inspire public confidence if no safeguards exist to deter or detect fraud or to confirm the identity of voters.”
Former Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens, an arch-liberal, cited the above quotation favorably in his 2008 opinion upholding Indiana's Voter I.D. law.
Most importantly, Stevens affirmed that whether or not voter fraud is common, states have a legitimate interest in upholding not only the integrity of elections, but also the appearance of integrity.
It is this principle that both justifies and explains the need for anti-fraud measures. In some places, these measures have made a profound and positive difference.
Mexico, for example, first adopted Voter I.D. for its 1994 presidential election, specifically to combat a widespread (and not entirely unjustified) perception that elections there were being fixed in favor of the party that had ruled that nation for seven decades.
Voter participation skyrocketed in that election to 66 percent — up from just 41 percent in the previous presidential election, which many thought had been fixed.
As with other forms of disenfranchisement, voter fraud doesn't have to be common or widespread to be a serious matter.
The same could be said of state laws against electioneering in polling places or intimidating voters — whether or not that sort of activity is common or actually influences election outcomes.
In the absence of a good rebuttal to this legal justification, Democrats have floated a politically charged theory that it disproportionately affects voters of color.
No rigorous evidence has ever been presented to support this assertion, and states' experiences with these laws offer evidence to the contrary.
Georgia, after enacting the nation's strictest voter I.D. law, not only enjoyed a large boost in black turnout in 2008 -- as one might have expected when the potential first black president was on the ballot -- but in fact enjoyed a larger boost in black turnout than nearby Mississippi, which lacked such a law.
In Indiana, black turnout increased not only in 2008 but again for the 2010 midterm, thwarting the conventional wisdom about low black turnout in midterms.
And it's doubtful that these laws have negatively affected people of other colors, either. When challenging Georgia's Voter I.D. law, plaintiffs (including the NAACP) claimed that very large numbers of voters in the state lacked photo identification and could not obtain it.
They lost their case in federal district court (and again on appeal) after failing to find and present even a single witness facing that predicament.
It stands to reason, since photo identification is required to do almost anything in America today. The act of boarding a plane or buying alcohol is, after all, serious business. If only voting were treated the same way.
One sure cure for voter fraud is having significantly more citizens participating in the nuts-and-bolts of elections. To encourage such participation, Fitton’s group has posted eight ways citizens can get involved:
1. Be a poll worker: These people help set up voting facilities, including voting equipment, greeting voters and checking registrations. Once the polls are closed, poll workers also take down the facility.
2. Be a poll watcher: This is a step up from a poll worker because poll watchers, depending on the particular state involved, observe the voting process and can challenge procedures they think are incorrect or may be being abused.
3. Perform voter registration research: These are the election process sleuths who are usually the first to detect potential problems. This requires obtaining copies of registered voters and then carefully verifying the information for each voter.
Judicial Watch recommends that individuals interested in doing this begin “by contacting True the Vote, which maintains an extensive database of voter registrations for each state.” True the Vote also trains researchers in what to look for and how to verify information.
4. Speak out at election board hearings and precinct sessions: Such meetings are excellent opportunities to raise questions about voter fraud and it is every citizen’s right to be heard at such gatherings.
5. Write letters to the editor and op-eds: Good advice here from Judicial Watch: “You need to be concise, honest and relevant. Be sure that your facts are correct and include your contact information so the paper can get get in touch with you.”
6. Call into talk radio shows: Talk radio is everywhere, and it thrives on people with fact-based, logically argued opinions that can sway fellow citizens. Pick up the phone!
7. Create your own blog or blog on other sites: Blogs put your voice in front of the digital world. But Judicial Watch reminds that “election fraud is a sensitive issue, and you should have no difficulty getting people to respond.”
8. Be active in social networking: “Millions of people have found social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter are an effective way to communicate and organize,” according to Judicial Watch.
For more information:
425 Third Street, SW
Washington, D.C. 20024
True the Vote
P.O. Box 27368
Houston, Texas 77227
DAVID FREDDOSO, a Washington Examiner columnist, is the former Editorial Page Editor for the Examiner and the New York Times-bestselling author of "Spin Masters: How the Media Ignored the Real News and Helped Re-elect Barack Obama." He has also written two other books, "The Case Against Barack Obama" (2008) and "Gangster Government" (2011).
Editor's note: Judicial Watch is representing the Washington Examiner in the newspaper's federal lawsuit seeking access to Consumer Financial Protection Bureau records under FOIA.