Home / Dave Brockington / The Pernicious Myth of Voter Fraud

The Pernicious Myth of Voter Fraud


The Democratic Strategist has a piece entitled “GOP Voter Suppression Scams Spreading Fast“.  It’s mostly a discussion (and reposting) of a Washington Post op-ed by Katrina vanden Heuval.  My favorite bit:

The i.d. campaigns are based on a particularly flimsy excuse, the myth of “voter fraud” as a significant problem in the U.S. As vanden Heuval explains,

…Voter fraud, in truth, is essentially nonexistent. A report from the Brennan Center for Justice found the incidence of voter fraud at rates such as 0.0003 percent in Missouri and 0.000009 percent in New York. “Voter impersonation is an illusion,” said Michael Waldman, executive director of the Brennan Center. “It almost never happens, and when it does, it is in numbers far too small to effect the outcome of even a close election.”Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach (R) disagrees. He argues that voter fraud is a serious problem that requires serious action. But as proof, Kobach cites just “221 incidents of voter fraud” in Kansas since 1997, for an average of just 17 a year. As a Bloomberg editorial points out, “During that same period, Kansans cast more than 10 million votes in 16 statewide elections. Even if the fraud allegation were legitimate . . . the rate of fraud would be miniscule.”

Which, if Kobach knows how to use a calculator, works out to a fraud rate of .0000221.

My read is that these laws are vulnerable under the VRA, and a organized movement is required to target each and every state law effectively designed to limit access to the vote by some socio-economic groups at the next election.  What would be ideal is what commenter Joe from Lowell points out here: “What this country needs is a Voting Rights Amendment, making universal access to the polls an individual, constitutional right for all adult citizens.”  A safer bet this morning is on the Seattle Mariners making the playoffs in 2011.

The TDS post is worth a look if you’re feeling too chipper today and require a suitable downer.

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  • Matt

    Kobach knows what he *really* means – in the dimly-lit void that passes for the average GOPer’s mind, “voter fraud” is a synonym for “people not voting for Republicans” and/or “voting while brown”.

    With that substitution, the incessant calls for “STOP VOTER FRAUD” make a lot more sense.

    • Incontinentia Buttocks

      I was on the Speech and Parliamentary Debate Team with Kobach at Harvard in the 1980s. At the time, he was just a run-of-the-mill business Republican (his dad owned a car dealership somewhere in Kansas, I’m sure you know the type). He was far from the brightest guy I knew in college, but also far from the dimmest.

      Sometime after college, he got politically ambitious and went full wingnut, eventually challenging Democratic Congressman Dennis Moore (on his horse Concord) and losing.

      He’s now positioned himself as the face of the voter fraud myth.

      All I can say is I hope he sleeps well at night. Cause the man is actually smart enough to know exactly what’s going on here. I just don’t think he gives a shit.

      • Stag Party Palin

        I’m always amazed at the “1 degree of connection” that happens here. I wish I could say the current governor of Wisconsin was my fraternity brother, but he isn’t. It was the last one, and he swore me to eternal silence regarding his nickname in the frat. And then he lost to Scott Walker anyway. Damn.

  • Anonymous

    Of course, the corollary is that the evidence of votes being “suppressed” by these laws is equally mythological. Opponents of voter ID laws had a chance in Crawford v. Marion County to demonstrate the perniciousness of these laws, and couldn’t find a single person to put forth as a victim.

    • David M. Nieporent

      This was me. Temporarily switched computers and settings got zapped. Don’t want anybody to think I’m hiding behind anonymity.

      • And this was me.

        • David M. Nieporent

          Which doesn’t show anyone being prevented from voting, does it?

          • Malaclypse

            Yep. It just shows someone who can’t get an ID. An ID that you need to vote.

            But how do we know the kid would have voted? Kids nowadays are lazy, and should get the hell off of Nieporent’s lawn.

            • David M. Nieporent

              Well, it doesn’t actually show a kid unable to get an ID at all, does it? It shows a kid getting a minor* bureaucratic runaround from, well, bureaucrats.

              *The DailyKos entry is really bizarre. It acts as if making someone fill out a form correctly is a major imposition. All the person has to do is check off the box that says he wants a Voter ID and he gets a Voter ID.

              • DocAmazing

                Aaaand we’re back to the DMV jeremiad! Thank you for playing “Circular Logic” with our host, David Nieporent!

  • c u n d gulag

    In WI, the Governor is closing DMV’s in Democratic districts, under the BS that he’ll expand the hours at the remaining ones.

    So, some people in urban areas will have to find a ride over a half-hour away, or a bus (HA-HA!) to get ID, even if they don’t need a drivers license.

    I think I’m going into business making high-quality Snidely Whiplash mustaches.

    These guys may as well them, they’re not fooling anyone anymore.

    What do you think, $1,500 a piece?

  • Joshua

    A few GOP ideologues I’ve talked to over the years don’t really believe that everyone should vote. They believe that people with “skin in the game” should be making decisions. College students or whatever don’t really deserve to be electing a President or Senator or what have you.

    Anecdote != data, but remember, Dubya tried to install a vote suppresser as FEC President. We’re not talking about people who respect the democratic process.

    • Malaclypse

      Dubya tried to install a vote suppresser as FEC President.

      Nixon sucessfully installed one as a Supreme Court Justice. Then Reagan promoted him.

    • Incontinentia Buttocks

      In this case, it’s actually true that many of the Founding Fathers believed in property requirements for the vote (of course many of them also believed in slavery and none of them believed in women’s suffrage, so their views on property requirements probably shouldn’t be worth much today)

    • dangermouse

      They believe that people with “skin in the game” should be making decisions.

      Conservatives *love* the idea of going back to property ownership as a requirement for the vote.

  • dave3544

    We vote by mail in Oregon. It is an article of faith among the Tea Party crowd that our elections are rife with fraud, the most pernicious being that illegal immigrants are signed up and vote in droves.

    Oh, and the votes are tabulated by public employees and public employee unions run the state of Oregon, so you know there is massive fraud.

    • DrDick

      We also have mail in ballots in Montana. I strongly suspect that there is widespread voter fraud in eastern Montana with prairie dogs using this to vote. I can think of no other explanation for the moronic lunatics they keep electing to the legislature.

      • witless chum

        The prairie dogs infesting my mom’s horse pasture actually seem to have a fairly well-developed sense of their interests.

  • DK

    Joe is spot on with his suggestion of a universal voting rights amendment. And while it’s true that it would be a long slog, it would be better to get on it now. The race may be long but waiting to start it won’t help.

    • At a minimum, starting the debate would make the disenfranchisers play defense instead of offense.

      • For reasons that I cannot understand, Democrats do not believe in forcing their opponents to play defense. I can’t remember the last time they had an offensive game plan.

  • McKingford

    Kobach cites just “221 incidents of voter fraud”

    In addition, I would give good odds that these incidents of “voter fraud” are not the kinds of fraud that people think about. IOW, these are most likely the Ann Coulter-type incidents, where the elector votes in the wrong district/polling station. They are not Tammany Hall incidents where people who aren’t eligible to vote do, or where people vote multiple times.

  • Anonymous

    …designed to limit access to the vote


    Do you really believe that conservatives sit around the kitchen tables every Thursday evening thinking up ways to “keep ol’ darkie down”?

    The poor cannot get food stamps without an ID
    The poor cannot get Section 8 housing without an ID
    The poor cannot get AFDC without an ID
    The poor cannot get anything without an ID

    I don’t think this will have the evil effect of voter suppression that you believe it will.
    In all of these discussions, no one has offered up any documentation that any of these minimum requirements suppress anybody.

    • Mojo

      Why do you think this helps your cause?
      – A state-issued photo ID is NOT required to get food stamps. A birth certificate is sufficient.
      – You’re right that the poor can’t get AFDC but not because they don’t have the right ID. It’s because that program hasn’t existed for many years. But the program that replaced it (TANF) doesn’t require a photo ID.
      – Some states do require a photo ID for section 8 housing, but not necessarily a state-issued ID (e.g. Georgia)
      – And the most important point is that none of that is relevant anyway. Voting is a Constitutional right, not a government program.

      (Helpful tip, chain e-mails are not your friend.)

      • Malaclypse

        (Helpful tip, chain e-mails are not your friend.)

        Chain e-mails are Normy’s only friend.

        Now can we please not feed him?

        • Mojo

          My bad.

    • jefft452

      “Do you really believe that conservatives sit around the kitchen tables every Thursday evening thinking up ways to “keep ol’ darkie down”?”


      but then again I also believe the GM executives spend their time thinking up ways to sell cars, so I’m obviously a conspiracy theorist

      • DrDick

        That was easy, since they do it every day of the week.

  • The Brennan Center for Justice, which puts its name on what it writes, demonstrates the scope of these voter suppression efforts.

    * Restrictive voter identification policies – especially those that require state-issued photo ID cards – threaten to exclude millions of eligible voters.
    * As many as 10% of eligible voters do not have, and will not get, the documents required by strict voter ID laws. For some groups, the percentage is much higher.
    * ID requirements fall hardest on people who have traditionally faced barriers at the polls.

    • DrDick

      Normy don’t care about no stinking facts.

      • Malaclypse

        Normy don’t care about no stinking facts.

        Normy does, however, have a poignant confessional up at S,N where he misses the kids that got taken away after he beat them.

        • DrDick

          That would explain a lot and it does rather sound like Normy, though rather more coherent than usual.

    • David M. Nieporent

      And yet, once again, not a single example of a vote being “suppressed.”

      • Malaclypse

        Exactly. All the various ways of making voting more difficult could be both unrelated and completely ineffectual.

        • David M. Nieporent

          Oh, right, forgot: useless clerks at the DMV are a Republican plot.

          • DocAmazing

            I guess I missed the part where the Florida DMV purged the lists of licensed drivers based on zip codes.

            You might want to work on your analogies there, sport.

          • Malaclypse

            Useless clerks at the DMV usurp the governor’s powers, and permanently close their own offices? Who knew?

          • Hogan

            Yes, closing DMV offices and underpaying and overworking DMV clerks in no way follows from Republican beliefs about the proper size and cost of government.

          • Useless? They’re following the law to the letter.

            Let’s pretend that an oil company executive had to get a subsidy check from that DMV.

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  • Alan in SF

    It’s extremely important to conservatives that any sort of government regulation, especially one that impacts our basic rights, be shown to be cost effective. If they can disenfranchise poor people, people of color, and young people for just the few million dollars it will take to administer the ID law,it’s tax money well spent!

    • dave

      Nothing that’s not cost-effective is worth doing. That’s what ‘cost-effective’ means.

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  • Is there any way to get out of the projection trap? This thread is a perfect example: First, the line justifying onerous, Jim Crowesqe voter id/fraud laws is “there’s massive voter fraud”. When this is shown to be simply not true, i.e., that voter fraud is essentially non-existent, the line turns to “Voter suppression is nonexistent!” This, of course, is contrary to the massive evidence historical and contemporary and is coupled with no standard of required proof. (I rather suspect that it will never be enough to show that people were “merely” disenfranchised, you have to show that they were physically prevented from voting.)

    Given that the obvious and overwhelming burden of proof lies on those proposing expensive, instrusive measures with no clear motivation other than violating a fundamental right, this projection is even more obviously bogus.

    And yet, effective. I don’t see any way to counter the effect. (Cf austerity, “job-killing”, etc. etc.)

    I don’t think this is merely a matter of framing.

    • dangermouse

      When this is shown to be simply not true, i.e., that voter fraud is essentially non-existent, the line turns to “Voter suppression is nonexistent!”

      God damn, well spotted

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