Home / Dave Brockington / Voter Fraud, Sincere Edition: Holy Crap, it Exists

Voter Fraud, Sincere Edition: Holy Crap, it Exists


When I wrote about this a couple of weeks ago, I argued that voter fraud “simply doesn’t exist”.  Mea maxima culpa.  Unsurprisingly, the right has, yet again, beat the opposition to the punch, and have done so quite cleverly.  They have framed the issue of Voter ID legislation in easily digestible language that is difficult to refute with equal parsimony, knowing full well that the impact will be distributed asymmetrically across SES categories.  Furthermore, by deploying an army of “volunteers”, organisations such as True the Vote, motivated solely by a concern for the crumbling integrity of American elections, have succeeded in harassing legitimate voters predominantly in precincts that vote Democratic.

Simultaneous to playing defense, the right is also playing offense.  The RNC and various state Republican parties had hired Strategic Allied Consulting to lead a registration drive in Florida, Colorado, North Carolina, Nevada, and Virginia. Over the past week or so, allegations of fraud in these registration efforts have surfaced in 10 Florida counties and in Colorado, leading the RNC to sack the firm from its registration drive.

The numbers are small; adding the instances discussed in the NYT article amount to little more than 100.  As I argued before, the incentives required to induce somebody to vote once, let alone often, is high enough on an individual basis that to swing even a relatively minor election requires considerable investment.  However, this article also lists two occasions where those registering voters on behalf of SAC dispose of Democratic registrations.  This might be a larger problem.  One notably dim witted employee of SAC lacked the presence of mind required to forgo honesty about the process:

In Colorado, a young woman employed by Strategic Allied was shown on a video outside a store in Colorado Springs recently telling a potential voter that she wanted to register only Republicans and that she worked for the county clerk’s office.

The owner of Strategic Allied Consulting, a Nathan Sproul, has been suspected of systematic fraud in the past.  In 2004, he was investigated by the Justice Department and the Attorneys General of Oregon, Arizona, and Nevada for “widespread” voter fraud.  He was previously Executive Director of the Arizona Republican Party.  It is inconceivable that neither the RNC nor the various state parties were unaware of his history when they hired him to do the very job that triggered investigations in the past.  SAC tops the Florida State Republican Party expenditure list for 2012.  They had to know what they were buying.

Balloon Juice sums it up rather nicely, complete with puppies and kittens:

I’ll admit my first thought was that animal shelters and rescues groups keep carefully updated “Do Not Adopt” lists of individuals known to be hoarders, abusers, and/or generally unfit to have pets. You’d think political organizations would have an equivalent “Do Not Hire” list for people previously convicted of voter fraud and other chicanery… unless, of course, that’s exactly the kind of behavior the GOP/RNC/Romney campaign is hiring Sproul to commit?

Righteous defender of Democratic integrity Sproul was also hired by the Romney campaign in June as a consultant.

The story here isn’t that there’s voter fraud in Florida or other places, which requires the perfect storm to have an effect on an electoral outcome beyond insignificant.  Nor is it the ongoing destruction of Democratic registration forms, which if systematic and methodical, could have a larger impact, but still negligible.  The story, of course, is that while the right are deeply suspicious that the left will stop at nothing to “win” an election, including fraud, to the point that they’ve passed voter ID legislation in several states and are out in some force harassing voters in Democratic precincts, no evidence of systematic conspiratorial fraud has surfaced tied to the left, organisations affiliated with the left, Democratic campaigns, or the Democratic Party.  The closest the right has come to identifying anything remotely systematic was ACORN, which, as Brad Friedman notes early and often, is not comparable:

ACORN, the non-partisan, four-decade old community organizing group (which has since been forced into bankruptcy as a result of the years-long GOP effort to mischaracterize them and their work) there is no evidence, to our knowledge, that any of its tens of thousands of registration workers ever screened out potential registrants from one party or another before allowing them to register, as seen in CO.

Neither is there evidence that any of their workers ever changed party affiliations on registration forms, as is being alleged tonight in Palm Beach County, or destroyed Democratic forms, as has been alleged over the years, as noted by Republican Rep. Cannon.

. . .

Of course, there is no real comparison to ACORN. Unlike Sproul’s outfits, the non-partisan community organizing group was never hired by the Democratic Party to do voter registration work. Moreover, it was ACORN themselves who discovered fraud by a handful of its more than ten thousand workers and notified officials of the fraud and the names of those who had defrauded them.

As perhaps best described by former Republican Rep. Chris Cannon of Utah, during a 2009 voter suppression hearing: “The difference between ACORN and Sproul is that ACORN doesn’t throw away or change registration documents after they have been filled out.”

Sproul’s proclivities were noted by a Republican during a Congressional hearing, yet he was still hired by the Romney campaign, the RNC, and several state parties to continue his questionable practices all the while decrying voter fraud as an evil that could very well undermine the republic itself.

Man, you just gotta love these guys.

UPDATE: in response to a couple commenters, a distinction should be made between voter fraud, and voter registration fraud.  TPM have an article here.  That said, I wonder if this distinction isn’t borderline semantic, and invite discussion.  It could be argued that the end effect is what matters; a fraudulent registration leads to the possibility of a fraudulent vote, and more critically, the suppression of Democratic registration forms eliminates those votes from the electorate, the impact, while unmeasurable, is certainly more significant than fraudlent voting in the first place.  However, ultimately, the result is the same in the aggregate: a fraudlent vote adds one illegitimate vote to the tally of a candidate, a fraudulent (non) registration subtracts one legitimate vote from the tally of a candidate.


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  • Antonio Conselheiro

    Dave Johnson of Seeing the Forest says this is a first principle: if the Republicans accuse the Democrats of something, it’s either because they’re either already doing it or because they’re planning on doing it. This is the inoculation method. “Both sides are just as bad” is their intended goal. They don’t need “Democrats bad, Republicans good” because cynicism works in their favor.

    • Antonio Conselheiro

      Many of the Republican laws make voter registration more difficult, so the kind of voter registration fraud they themselves did is one of their targets. One voter registration drive shut down because of restrictive new laws, in Florida I think.

      One simple question is never asked: how many legitimate voters are you willing to disenfranchise in order to keep one person from voting illegally? What should the balance be? Once you answer that question in terms of the numbers, the Republicans’ public position collapses. But they don’t care, because disenfranchisement is the Republican goal.

    • kfreed

      Hitting the nail on the head.

    • DrDick

      Projection is their great strength. Should have read the thread before posting, as you beat me to it.

  • John

    This is voter registration fraud, not voter fraud, right?

    • Incontinentia Buttocks


      JMM over on TPM wrote a nice little post distinguishing the two yesterday.

      As ironically satisfying as the there-IS-vote-fraud-but-it’s-done-by-the-GOP meme is, in fact, there’s still virtually no evidence of what the GOP calls “vote fraud,” i.e. people actually voting who shouldn’t legally be voting, let alone their doing so in large enough numbers to make a difference.

      • Snarki, child of Loki

        I’m looking forward to seeing GOP voters show up and claim that their name is “Mickey Mouse”.

        Presumably in a high, squeeky voice.

        Thank goodness Voter ID will put a stop to all that.

    • Anonymous

      True, though they’ve also been screaming about registration fraud as well.

      • RedSquareBear

        Well, let’s be honest. After Daffy Duck was found to have voted ten thousand times in 2010 something really had to be done…

        • rea

          Anyone who has followed Daffy’s career knows that he’s a Republican.

        • g

          Well, actually no, that’s not true. Daffy Duck may have been registered to vote ten thousand times, but he didn’t actually VOTE.

          Fraudulent registrations – signing up people who don’t exist – happen because the people hired to register phones are paid by the number of people they sign up – incentivizing them to make up voters. No votes are ever cast in Daffy Duck’s name.

          • Snarki, child of Loki

            Yer disshpickable!

          • DocAmazing

            Voter season!

          • Unsympathetic

            And if Daffy Duck did vote, we can be sure he’d vote Republican. Because shut up, that’s why.

    • Joe

      Yes & it doesn’t help when the voice of the sane helps the other side’s meme.

    • Dave Brockington

      Yes, good distinction. I’ll make a couple corrections before leaving the office for the night.

    • R Johnston

      Destroying registration forms so that people show up to vote and can’t is actual vote fraud, changing actual vote counts.

      • djangermous

        Whichever terminology we’re using it seems clear that the main distinction is between false voting, which doesn’t exist except in gop mythology used to justify all the other fraudulent/unethical shit they do, and all the other forms of fraudulent/unethical election shit, which the GOP does.

        • R Johnston

          Fraudulently depriving people of their vote because you think they’ll vote the wrong way is not meaningfully different than fraudulently casting your own vote. Either way you fraudulently goose the vote count by 1 in favor of your favored candidate.

          Tearing up valid registration forms is a hell of a lot more like in person voter impersonation than it is like submitting a registration in the name of Mickey Mouse. It is absolutely real vote fraud that absolutely really directly affects electoral results. If anything it’s worse than voter impersonation for the aggravation and direct deprivation of rights caused to another.

          • mpowell

            You are correct on the ethical level, but I think these are legal terms with particular precise meanings.

          • djangermous

            They’re different because one thing happens and the other thing doesn’t happen.

          • djangermous

            Like gun murders aren’t meaningfully different from unicorn murders, you’re still just as dead.

            But when one side of the debate is urging that everyone stock up on guns in order to oppose the deadly unicorn menace, it’s probably worth it to distinguish the two.

            • firefall

              Weak on Unicorns, weak on the causes of unicorns

  • ploeg

    TPM makes the useful distinction between voter registration fraud (which is actually fairly common, and as easy as writing “Mickey Mouse” on a registration form) and voter fraud (which requires you to show up with the right name at the right precinct and sign in, and is therefore substantially less common).

    At least the last few times that I’ve gone in to vote, they had a copy of the signature that I used on my voter registration form so that they could do a straight-up comparison with the signature that I provided on the spot. This would seem to be a sufficient deterrent against assuming a bogus identity.

  • Joshua

    Nathan Sproule seems like the sort of two-bit crook the GOP is stuffed to the gills with, but in all likelihood these fake forms were filled out by low-level employees struggling to meet a ridiculous quota. Yea Sproule probably worked to create that sort of atmosphere, but it’s not necessarily on him.

    Throwing out Democratic voter forms is far more troubling and it wouldn’t surprise me if the atmosphere at SAC is all about that sort of tricksterism. It sounds very Young Republican.

    • spencer

      Yea Sproule probably worked to create that sort of atmosphere, but it’s not necessarily on him.

      If he didn’t already have a long history of this sort of thing, I might consider this argument.

      But he does, so I cannot.

    • Hanspeter

      but it’s not necessarily on him

      Nathan Sproul: “Will no one rid me of these troublesome Democratic registration cards…”

      Ibid, later: “I most certainly did not create an atmosphere at my firm that could possibly lead to the destruction of registration cards.”

    • Unsympathetic


      Blame for this is entirely on Sproule until he proves otherwise conclusively.

      Because of this scandal, the GOP is far, far more guilty of committing voter fraud than the Democratic party. This is more than an order of magnitude [based on the count] worse than anything ACORN ever did.

  • djangermous

    I wonder if this distinction isn’t borderline semantic

    It’s a critical distinction because voter registration fraud is the thing that exists, and voter fraud is the thing that doesn’t exist and never has.

    • Bill Murray

      voter registration fraud isn’t even fraud, unless that registration is accepted by the registration authorities, which is why ACORN would 1. give all forms to authorities as required by aw, and 2. bundle them into questionable and less questionable groups.

      • L2P

        Is that right?

        I thought it was fraudulent if the registrant intended to deceive the county registrar, regardless of whether it was accepted. The reason ACORN bundled the supporting documents was to show that they didn’t intend to deceive the registrar. I’m pretty sure that if I fraudulent register to vote in the wrong state but the registrar catches it, I’ve still violated the registration laws.

        • Richard

          Correct. Its illegall to falsely register and also illegal to vote under another name. However, even both are illegal, its useful to characterize the first as voter registration fraud and the second as voter fraud since (1) the first is fairly common (2) the second is not and (3) the first rarely leads to a vote that should not have been counted or the deprivation of a vote that should have counted.. What is alleged, however, in the RNC case is not only that phony names were registered (as explained above, illegal but rarely, if ever, resulting in an illegal vote) but throwing away the registration forms of Democrats. That activity, if it happened, would lead to Democrats not being able to vote on Election Day and would result in vote deprivation.

    • rea

      Another example of the rampant anti-semanticism on the left . . .

      • Vance Maverick

        I was going to complain of the misuse of the word “semantic”. It means “to do with meaning” (at least in academe, from whose halls Dave hails). But since the distinction is in fact meaningful (registration fraud has little impact on voting, voting fraud would if it existed), maybe “semantic” is the right choice.

  • Julian

    It is inconceivable that neither the RNC nor the various state parties were unaware of his history when they hired him to do the very job that triggered investigations in the past.

    The simplest explanation being that he was hired to do the very job that had triggered investigations in the past in the very same way that had triggered investigations in the past.

    • Davis X. Machina

      I do not think that word means what you think it means.

  • AuRevoirGopher

    I think TPM missed the most important distinction. There are three, not two, types of fraud: Voter fraud, voter registration fraud, and fraud at the ballot box. The latter can’t be mixed in with voter fraud because the only ones who can commit it have control of the election machinery. And if you had that control, why go to all the trouble of putting together the vast conspiracy that you’d need to do voter fraud? If voter fraud existed, and it doesn’t and couldn’t, it would be the tool of outsiders.

  • L2P

    I think fraudulent registrations aren’t the same sort of harm as fraudulent votes. I’d also say denying a right to vote is a different harm than making a fraudulent vote.

    The wrongful denial of the right to vote is a different harm than fraudulent claim of the right to vote. The fraudulent claim of the right to vote doesn’t cause any harm until the fraudulent vote is both made and counted in an election. A million fraudulent registered voters don’t change the outcome of the vote for dogcatcher of Podunkville; one fraudulent vote could change the outcome in Rhode Island.

    However, the denial of (rightful) vote and the denial of a (rightful) registration to vote are substantially the same thing. They have the same result – a person’s right to vote is denied. The only difference is that the right is taken away at a different stage. A person denied the right to register also is denied the right to vote.

  • I don’t know if this actually counts of fraud. They aren’t trying to register ineligible voters or taking Obama supporters’ forms and destroying them. I assume it is illegal, however, since as far as I know every state requires third party registration drives to take and collect every form they get (what caused ACORN’s “problems”), and I assume that misrepresenting oneself as a government employee is also illegal.

  • Joe

    the end effect is what matters; a fraudulent registration leads to the possibility of a fraudulent vote

    “Voter registration” fraud involves registering various fraudulent names, names that repeatedly are idiotic & there is really no chance “Daffy Duck” is going to vote. “Voter fraud” involve actual voters. Even when registration fraud is the most egregious, like examples where a person is tricked to register the wrong party or something, it is not guaranteed the person is going to vote (especially in the low turnout primaries) at the end of the day anyhow.

    At the very best, there might be some examples where both matter somewhat equally. The terms as a whole still have more than some “borderline semantic” difference between them. I think the term “voter fraud” is pretty confusing, like “affirmative action,” a term that involves various practices most opponents of “AA” actually wouldn’t care about — they have a vision of a narrow type of thing. Same here, maybe.

    • Joe

      For instance, an article linked to that news story says “Mr. Lux said some forms listed dead people and some were incomplete or illegible.” This isn’t going to change the results of an election or anything, even if it’s tied.

      OTOH, if an election is settled by two votes (well it happened), a couple instances of “voter fraud” (even of the honest mistake variety, which is the case most of the time at least, such as someone who is officially denied the right because of a felony conviction, but who votes anyhow) might.

  • Sly

    That said, I wonder if this distinction isn’t borderline semantic, and invite discussion.

    The distinction lies in who is being defrauded.

    In the case of an organization using “paid volunteers” to perform voter registration; when one of those registration forms is for “Kal-El from Krypton,” the group being defrauded is the paying organization, and groups like ACORN have processes for weeding out fraudulent forms not only as part of their legal due diligence, but also to weed out unreliable registration agents for future registration drives.

    When an organization is tossing voter registrations of people who they do not want to vote, they are defrauding the registrants, who will go to their polling place under the assumption that they are registered. They will then either be outright denied the opportunity to vote or given a provisional ballot, though there’s hardly a distinction in terms of outcome there.

    The first case only becomes voter fraud if a guy who already voted tries to vote again, the second time wearing blue spandex and a red cape. The second case has no chance of resulting in voter fraud because the action under scrutiny – voting – does not actually get to take place. If the second case were part of a larger conspiracy to categorically disenfranchise voters, then it would be much closer to election fraud than voter fraud.

  • DrDick

    As with most Republican boogie men, they are certain it exists because they know they are committing it. This kind of thing has been widespread on the right, along with other illegal voter suppression techniques, for decades.

  • WiseFather

    It could be worse than you think. The pretextual “hunt for voter fraud” goes beyond registration purging and poll watchers. In states where poll watchers are more heavily regulated, True the Vote and their affiliates/allies are recruiting and training people to be actual election judges. One organizer went so far as to say “Being an election judge is even better than being a poll watcher as you are actually running the election.”

    So do you think that driver’s license makes your vote safe?

    Any liquor store clerk knows how easy it is to get a fake. Do we expect TTV not to be aware of this fact in their training? Does the state provide adequate guidance for election judges in determining whether an ID’s picture sufficiently matches the person staning before them? What about the signature matching requirements?

    These subjective judgment calls concerning a person’s right to vote a regular ballot may end up in the hands of someone trained to be paranoid rather than reasonably vigilant. See http://www.ragingwisdom.com/?p=1146 for some of the flaws in Ohio’s laws protecting voters on election day, and here
    http://www.ragingwisdom.com/?p=1157 for Florida which has a horrific defect in its voter challenge law that is not getting enough attention.

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