In the minds of conservatives, the re-election of Barack Obama in 2012 had to involve voter fraud. And so that idea began to circulate and reverberate through the right-wing echo chamber to the point that the claim of fraud was expanded such that this illegality was said to be “widespread” and “systematic”. Never mind that this meme was never supported by any significant credible evidence. It had taken on a life of its own and the patina of validity.
Once the assertion had taken hold, GOP-controlled legislatures in 30 states used it to enact all sorts of voter ID requirements, many of which were so draconian as to go far beyond what had customarily been accepted at polling stations as proof of eligibility. This was all “sold” to the public as a way to uphold and even improve the integrity of our electoral system. It sounded so ethical, so necessary, so righteous. Unfortunately, it was based on a lie that was actively promulgated by the conservative media (1) and right-wing bloggers.
The truth of the matter is that there now exists an array of evidence that voter fraud occurs so infrequently and in such small amounts as to have no practical impact on national and even state-wide elections. We turn to that evidence next.
In 2007, during the administration of GW Bush, the Justice Department undertook an investigation of voter fraud. What was uncovered were small scale activities and involved a handful of isolated cases. These findings were replicated five years later by a bipartisan commission empaneled by President Obama. Where fraud was noted, it occurred in insignificant numbers and most often involved the illegal casting of absentee ballots, a problem that cannot be alleviated by the new more stringent voter ID laws. Most recently, Justin Levitt, professor of law at Loyola University in Los Angeles, published the results of his examination of the one billion votes cast in every national election, starting in 2000. Looking for fraud based on identity theft (e.g. “Joe falsely presents himself at the polling station as “Harry”), he identified just 31 cases (2)!!!
Taking the contents of the last paragraph into account, the following conclusions are inescapable: (a) voter fraud is, for all practical purposes, inconsequential insofar as affecting our election outcomes; (b) conservative claims of widespread and systematic voter fraud are without the foundation to be found in carefully gathered evidence; and (c) Republican-generated voter ID laws are a solution that in reality, address a nonexistent problem.
To extend these conclusions, it is plausible to posit that the true fraud involved conservatives’ use of their lie about broad and organized voting illegalities to pass legislation that is, in reality, a naked attempt to suppress voting among groups whose members are more inclined to cast ballots for Democratic candidates (3). Reduced to its basics, this is a shameless way to steal elections by making it harder for your opponent’s supporters to vote.
1. Look to Fox News and World Net Daily as significant sources of this misinformation.
2. Levitt, Justin; “A comprehensive investigation of voter impersonation finds 31 incidents out of one billion votes cast.” Washington Post; 8-6-14.
3. The groups most severely affected are the elderly, minorities and young voters.