Voter Fraud Wheels A’ Spinning

I noted last summer how massive attempts to confront “voter fraud” were actually an example of the inherent corruption populist movements breed.  Finding a way to make voters on both sides recognize this before 2016 is incredibly important, as I shall demonstrate below. But corruption by those in power needs to be fought with reason, patience and intelligence – which is why I’m hoping this idea of a Constitutional amendment to gaurantee the right to vote goes nowhere fast:

A pair of Democratic congressmen is pushing an amendment that would place an affirmative right to vote in the U.S. Constitution. According to Rep. Mark Pocan (D-WI), who is sponsoring the legislation along with Rep. Keith Ellison (D-MN), the amendment would protect voters from what he described as a “systematic” push to “restrict voting access” through voter ID laws, shorter early voting deadlines, and other measures that are being proposed in many states…

The brief amendment would stipulate that “every citizen of the United States, who is of legal voting age, shall have the fundamental right to vote in any public election held in the jurisdiction in which the citizen resides.” It would also give Congress “the power to enforce and implement this article by appropriate legislation.”

This is one of those instances where I’m not really sure where to be critical because I’m not entirely sure where Pocan and Ellison’s true motivations lie.

It’s possible that they truly believe this amendment will eliminate the corruption that allows last year’s attempts at voter disenfranchisement.  If so, they’re guilty of the crime of foolishness and lazy thinking.

The engine that drove attempted voter disenfranchisement was the notion that organized voter fraud had reached epidemic levels.  It had become so widespread in swing states like Ohio, we were told, that it was now negatively impacting regional and national elections.  The methods employed to curb this supposed fraud weren’t pitched as ways to eliminate legal votes; they were pitched as methods to eliminate illegal ones.  A Constitutional voting rights amendment won’t make fraudulent votes any more legal than they already are.  Sleazy opportunists will still have access to the tool of voter-fraud wolf cries.  Those whom they hoodwink are just as pro-right-to-vote as those who see through their cynical ploys.  What, then, is to be gained by such an amendment?  It’s a potentially colossal waste of time that accomplishes nothing save signaling.

Of course, it is also possible that Pocan and Ellison realize all of this, and are simply clogging up the legislative process to get a cool blurb on their reelection literature – similar to what GOPers have been doing with their ever-repeating futile votes on Obamacare.  If so, then the best case scenario is that they waste a lot of time.  The worst case scenario is that other potential solutions to this type of corruption are dropped because “Pocan and Ellison are on it!”

And of course, this corruption does need to stop.

One of the anti-fraud hucksters I wrote about last August was Ohio Secretary of State John Husted.  As a reminder, Husted was the anti-fraud champion who tried to allow early voting and expanded voting hours in those counties that were heavily Republican, and extremely restricted voting hours and dates in those heavily Democratic.  After Obama won Ohio as expected, Husted demanded investigations into voter fraud.  The findings from that investigation were released last week.  And he did in fact find some – in fact, after the investigation local prosecutors and Husted’s office found a total of 135 votes of that may have been cast fraudulently.  None of these involved the kind of organized voter fraud Husted and other Republicans had insisted were a cancer on the electorate.  Most of them, in fact, were either students or transplants who had voted both in Ohio and their previous state of residence, or residents who voted both in person and by absentee ballot.

But it’s also important to zoom out and look at the scale of the problem here.  Those 135 cases were fished out of a sea of 5.6 million votes cast.  For those keeping score, that comes to a whopping 0.0002% of Ohio votes being suspect.  If that level of minuscule voter fraud ratio seems familiar, it’s because it is.  After all, in the eleven years prior to this past election there have only been a total of 2,068 similar documented cases in the entire country.  To throw a little extra salt on the wound: those 135 cases identified by Husted?  They wouldn’t have been eliminated by the voter ID measures Republicans ballyhooed so.  All of that time, effort and money spent in Ohio to attempt to quell votes, justify the attempted quelling, and investigate afterward – all for .00002%.  That’s hundreds of times less than the difference that triggers a recount in every state in the union, because .00002% is much less than the expected counting errors you expect even with computers.

The frustrating thing about last year’s voter fraud hucksterism is that Husted’s findings don’t contradict what we knew before; they just add yet more confirming data.  Pocan and Ellison’s proposed amendment doesn’t add to the substance of this debate, it simply adds yet another layer of distracting glitter.  Democrats would be better advised to take Husted’s results and trumpet them, constantly, from now until election day 2016.  Instead, they seem to care little about these results, relying instead on the empty but sexy rhetoric a proposed Constitutional amendment offers.  Seriously, if it weren’t for Josh Marshall – who in turn needed to be informed by a TPM reader – I would never have even heard of these results.

Note: In light of Husted’s own findings, this Fox apocalyptic “expose” on one elderly, dingy woman from February is kind of funny.


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40 thoughts on “Voter Fraud Wheels A’ Spinning

  1. I think all the talk of “protecting the vote” on both sides is a sign of the polarization of society. Most of these ideas are based on the idea that we don’t trust the other guy to be fair and honest.


    • Yes to the issue of trust. But it was also hard not to notice a lot of talk and heated emotion from those on the Right about Obama, ACORN, millions of illegal votes etc etc stealing the last two prez elections. There was a fair amount of froth whipped up that turned out to be bs.


    • I think it’s a sign of one side telling lies about voter fraud being large and frequent enough to decide elections, and using those lies to justify making it difficult or impossible for people unlikely to support it to vote. Honestly, without that there would be little or no talk.


    • “I think all the talk of “protecting the vote” on both sides is a sign of the polarization of society. Most of these ideas are based on the idea that we don’t trust the other guy to be fair and honest.”

      No, because one side – the right – is trying to keep people from voting, and the other – the Democrats – are trying to protect the right of people to vote.

      ‘Both sides do it’ is a lie. And I don’t trust the wh*resons; those Republican voter suppression campaigns are not secret, and the politicians sometimes don’t bother to hide their motivations.


  2. So Americans don’t have a constitutionally-protected right to vote, or at least not one that’s explicitly stated? Huh. We do, though I don’t know how much of a difference it makes to have it explicitly stated.

    In general, however, it is important to have these things stated explicitly in the constitution/charter*. In the 1960s, Canada passed the Bill of Rights. It was a nice piece of legislation that said… well, exactly what you think it would say. Unfortunately, because it was merely legislation, it didn’t have much teeth. Courts did not defer to it the way Parliament had hoped. This failure of the Bill of Rights is one of the reasons we now have the Charter of Rights.

    So, maybe this proposed constitutional amendment is a meaningless endeavour, or maybe by having it stated explicitly will mean that any future attempts to suppress voters will have a higher bar to clear when there’s a legal challenge.

    Having not seen this issue until now, I’m completely on the fence about the proposed amendment. If it is such a completely useless endeavour – as I think you’re suggesting – I’d like a little more info as to why. (eg court cases the confirm the right to vote, existing legal tests that any “voter suppression” legislation would have to pass, etc.)

    *Yes, I know, one can have an unwritten constitution, but that’s not really the case here.


    • It makes a huge difference when it comes to court cases.

      A defined right to vote means no hair splitting, no “originalism” can be used to deny a voter who was wronged their day in court. It creates a viable response to attempts to suppress voting.


      • This this this. +1. Having the explicit standing to sue is a huge part of actually enforcing people’s right to vote. It’s also of note that this would get rid of restrictions on felons voting, which IMHO is a terrific idea.


        • I never really understood the logic behind denying felons and/or criminals the opportunity to vote. How do we expect them to reintegrate themselves into society if we deny them basic rights inherent to being a member of that society?

          I believe deeply that people rise, or sink, to the level of expectations we hold for them. Is it any wonder that our recidivism rate is so high when we treat people who’ve broken the law once like they are law breakers forever?


          • “”Between 1890 and 1910 many states adopted new laws or reconfigured preexisting laws to handicap newly enfranchised black citizens whose rights had been expanded by both the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments…
            The purpose of these various measures, as the President of Alabama’s all-white 1901 constitutional convention explained, was ‘within the limits imposed by the Federal Constitution to establish white supremacy.'”
            The 1901 Constitution stated the following: “The following persons shall be disqualified both from registering, and from voting, namely:
            All idiots and insane persons; those who shall by reason of conviction of crime be disqualified from voting at the time of the ratification of this Constitution; those who shall be convicted of treason, murder, arson, embezzlement, malfeasance in office, larceny, receiving stolen property, obtaining property or money under false pretenses, perjury, subornation of perjury, robbery, assault with intent to rob, burglary, forgery, bribery, assault and battery on the wife, bigamy, living in adultery, sodomy, incest, rape, miscegenation, crime against nature, or any crime punishable by imprisonment in the penitentiary, or of any infamous crime or crime involving moral turpitude; also, any person who shall be convicted as a vagrant or tramp, or of selling or offering to sell his vote or the vote of another, or of buying or offering to buy the vote of another, or of making or offering to make a false return in any election by the people or in any primary election to procure the nomination or election of any person to any office, or of suborning any witness or registrar to secure the registration of any person as an elector.”

            Elizabeth Hull, PhD The Disenfranchisement of Ex-Felons, 2006
            “Constitution of Alabama 1901; Section 182,” (6 KB) , 1901



          • Don’t even get me started on all the fun stuff that felons get to do after prison. Try helping a felon find a job. It’s like society doesn’t want them to go back to work. It’s crazy.


  3. Tod,

    Isn’t guaranteeing the right to vote a means to strengthen individual voter claims that they’re being disenfranchised? Isn’t the idea to increase the costs upon those who wish to restrict voting?


  4. Frankly, I view “allow early voting and expanded voting hours in those counties that were heavily Republican, and extremely restricted voting hours and dates in those heavily Democratic” the same as gerrymandering. Those in power try to game the system to their advantage / their opponents disadvantage. This seems to be in the same vein.

    Sure, I’d like for it to stop, but it’s not going to, and neither is gerrymandering. That’s not to say that REAL voter fraud should not be taken seriously. People should have the confidence that their vote counts, they how they voted was recorded correctly, counted correctly, and that no one voted in their name, etc.


    • so trying to rig the actual vote is on the same level as drawing favorable districts?

      seems there is a lot of space between trying to change the rules for everyone(redistricting) and deciding that your opponents deserve less time and opportunity to vote.


      • Ya know, that was my first thought. However, on further reflection, Damon’s kind of on to something, I think.

        I would say the two things fall in the same category, but there’s a huge difference in degree.

        So, I guess I agree with both of you.


      • so trying to rig the actual vote is on the same level as drawing favorable districts?

        Yes. At least the difference is in degree, not in kind. If I may, you slide a bit from “drawing favorable districts” to “redistricting.” Redistricting does not presuppose favorable districts–given a population divided into equal size partisan camps, it potentially could be done with perfect equity without proving favorable to any party or candidate.

        Drawing favorable districts smacks of gerrymandering, which is an attempt to rig the rules of the game every bit as much as giving your opponents less time and opportunity to vote. It’s arguably even worse, because with enough effort and coordination your opponents could overcome the obstacles of less time/opportunity and still get their votes cast so they have effect. With effective gerrymandering you can ensure that your opponents have no effective vote, even if they can cast it without any obstacles (and what need is there to create obstacles to their voting if their votes have no effect?).

        Or shorter [email protected], I agree with Damon.


  5. I disagree. I think it is important to have the franchise be a Constitutional Right and to have it incorporated to the States via the 14th Amendment.

    A right to vote should be explicit in any healthy representative democracy. It should belong to all citizens as soon as they hit majority and the only time it should be taken away is if said person voluntarily renounces their citizenship.

    I agree with you that an Amendment would not fully remove the corruption and disenfranchisement attempts completely. What it will do though is give citizens a cause of action against government officials who attempt such actions. The First Amendment does not prevent people from trying to censor speech or restrict religious freedom but it does allow people to go to court and claim their rights were violated. Often they win.

    This kind of protection is very important. I think an explicit right to vote would at least cause people to pause on the worst and most blatant attempts at disenfranchisement. Also a Constitutional right to vote can prevent abuses like allowing early filing in Republican areas but not allowing it in Democratic areas.


  6. Though generally a fan of localism, voting is not an area where I think it ideal.

    If we are talking about federal elections, there should be a national standard with the federal government helps states and other localities make possible. Everyone should have the same opportunity and mechanism for voting for the president and their congress men and women. For state elections, such as governor or state senator, each state should come up with a standard that is applied universally within that state. So NJ and NY might have different standards, but people in Albany should vote the same way people in Manhattan do. And on down the line.

    I realize their are practical issues that might make this difficult in certain areas, but those will just have to be overcome. Insuring the integrity of our voting system is too important.


    • We almsot got Federal control over elections during the 1890s in Benjamin Harrison’s administration. It was defeated because of GOP infighting. Basically, Rep. Henry Cabot Lodge of Mass., latter famous foe of the League of Nations, introduced a Federal Election Bill in order to prevent the disenfranchisement of African-Americans, who were basically all Republican at the time.


  7. This post seems to take the primary benefit of constitutional amendment as its effect on public opinion. I don’t think this is correct, and to be honest, I’m kind of surprised you’ve completely glossed over the main impact of constitutional amendments, which are federal court decisions. Few proponents of the amendment believe that it will sway public opinion against the voter fraud panickers. What it will do is increase the likelihood of various voter ID schemes of being declared unconstitutional.

    In other words, you write: “The methods employed to curb this supposed fraud weren’t pitched as ways to eliminate legal votes; they were pitched as methods to eliminate illegal ones.” Sure. But the courts aren’t simply at the mercy of how people have pitched those laws, but can also determine for themselves what their primary effects are going to be. It’d depend on how the jurisprudence shakes out, but I would be shocked if laws like Pennsylvania’s weren’t struck down within an election cycle of passing the amendment.


  8. There are so many insidious ways of disenfranchising voters.

    Our justice system is one. Voter role purges of people with names similar to names of felons (not just in FL, but in several other nearby states) meant an estimated 12,000 people who tried to vote could not in the 2000 election; mostly African-Americans in the poorer rural counties.

    Here’s a nice look at the pros/cons of presuming those voter-role purges actually gave the election to Bush:

    An estimated 5.8 million Americans have lost their right to vote due to felony convictions; in some states it’s a staggering percentage of the black-male population.

    So voter-roll purges and the racisim of industrial-prison complex are also a part of this game.


  9. Anyone else think proportion of stories about voter fraud vs proportion of stories about how easy it is to hack the machines that count the votes is ridiculously out of whack?


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