Voter Fraud? Wanna Bet?

The Minnesota chapter of the ACLU is ready to do just that.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Minnesota today offered a $1,000 reward to anyone who prove a case where someone in the state has been charged or convicted of impersonating a voter.

State ACLU Executive Director Charles Samuelson said his organization put up the bounty to show that a Republican-proposed constitutional amendment to require voters to show a photo identification at the polls is not needed.

Samuelson said ACLU attorneys have not been able to find in single case of voter impersonation during the past 10 years.

The sponsor of the bill says this proves nothing.

In response, the sponsor of the voter ID bill, Rep. Mary Kiffmeyer, R-Big Lake, noted the U.S. Supreme Court has found that “voter impersonation is incredibly hard to detect and it nearly impossible to prosecute, yet it has said we know for a fact that it occurs.”

In Minnesota? “Of course,” Kiffmeyer said.

Actually, no, and that’s the point the ACLU is making. We don’t know for a fact that it occurs. We know that a small number of felons have voted while on parole, making them ineligible. We don’t know that anyone has impersonated a registered voter in order to vote while ineligible or to vote multiple times. Those are the only crimes this bill would address, and we have no documentation that they’ve happened here.

Even the Supreme Court decision that Kiffmeyer is talking about cites Tamany Hall (almost 150 years ago) as it’s major proof that this type of voter fraud can happen, while documenting incidents in a few states that are mostly absentee ballot fraud, not in-person fraud–and not in Minnesota. Kiffmeyer says we know “for a fact” that it happens here, but where she gets those facts is another question.

Another local Republican is a little more straightforward on the point of the bill.

This recruitment to vote – or encouragement, to be more charitable – is most common, of course, when you are nearest the country’s tallest buildings and less likely in the hinterlands where everybody knows everybody down at the fire barn. There has got be a reason why I keep losing, and I wonder why the ACLU never acts on my behalf. I want to win, too! I can count on one hand the people whom I have voted for who have actually won something, especially locally.

Well, all I can do is keep plugging away and hope for the best, but with each passing election cycle, I feel increasingly disenfranchised.

I think that word does not mean what he thinks it means. But he goes on.

The Republicans who propose the amendment to require the photo ID are not nearly as blunt as I am. I think what they are after is probably the same thing I am after, which is another way of saying that the voters who show up by virtue of having been captured in a net dragged around by activists don’t seem to vote for Republican candidates. It is not at all fraud. It is just disappointing.

I’ll offer $1,000 to charity to anybody in the ACLU who can provide me evidence that an encouraged voter ever voted for a conservative candidate.

In other words, my vote is intellectually arrived at; planned, if you will. You might not like my decision, but at least I know who I am voting for. I haven’t been talked into voting, and I don’t need free cigarettes, and I’ll figure out a way to get to the polls on my own, even in a snowstorm.

He’s perfectly fine with making it harder to vote–as long as he wins. So is Kiffmeyer.

In the meantime, The Pew Center on the States has found that our voter rolls have a very different problem. The process of maintaining them is hugely costly. The mostly manual process results in a very high rate of errors. It doesn’t remove people who are dead or who have registered in another precinct, or even another state.

This, however, is not what our lawmakers who say they’re concerned about fair elections are paying attention to. Why? From the full report (pdf):

In the 2008 general election, 2.2 million votes were lost because of registration problems, according to a survey by researchers at the California Institute of Technology/Massachusetts Institute of Technology Voting Technology Project.12 Additionally, 5.7 million people faced a registration- related problem that needed to be resolved before voting, according to the Cooperative Congressional Election Study.13

Still, even among those who try to register at a motor vehicles agency, the results are mixed, at best. For example, nearly 25 percent of those who attempted to register at a Maryland Motor Vehicle Administration office in 2007-2011 did not make it onto the state’s voter rolls.23

According to data from CCES, people who moved within the two years preceding an election are most likely to have registration- related difficulties at the polls.26 Mobility issues particularly affect military personnel— especially those deployed overseas and their families—who were almost twice as likely to report registration problems as was the general public in 2008.27

Clark County, NV, which includes Las Vegas and has been particularly hard hit by home foreclosures, is a good example of the burden mobility puts on election officials. In a six-month period, spanning the end of 2009 and the beginning of 2010, more than 150,000 of its nearly 700,000 active registered voters—more than 20 percent— moved from the address on file with the county election office.28

In other words, the problems with the current voter registration processes disenfranchise people. Not in some whiny, “Oh, my party didn’t win everything” sense. Not in some hypothetical, “There may be bad people out there doing something bad” sense. In the sense that about 1.5% of the voters in the 2008 general election were never counted.

That’s disenfranchisement. That’s disenfranchisement that this proposed law would not cover. That’s disenfranchisement that, to the best of my knowledge, isn’t being addressed by any proposed legislation. But our Republican-controlled state legislature is apparently just fine with that.

No, it’s the hypothetical fraud we need to worry about, and before we’ve even demonstrated it’s a problem, we need to do more to make it harder for people to get their votes counted. That’s okay, though, because they don’t really know why they’re voting anyway.

(Update: Kiffmeyer in particular has no excuse for saying we know this happens here. As Rieux points out in the comments, and I should have noted earlier, Kiffmeyer was our Secretary of State for part of the last 10 years covered by the ACLU bet. She was defeated in her reelection attempt in part because she campaigned on the voter fraud issue, while her opponent campaigned on what we actually need–an update of our procedures that would bring them into the current century.)

Voter Fraud? Wanna Bet?
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23 thoughts on “Voter Fraud? Wanna Bet?

  1. 1

    Yeah, the Republicans just won’t give up on this one. Time after time, they investigate this mythical beast of massive voter fraud…and, time after time, they find absolutely nothing.

    Just one example of many (this one is short) –

    Of course it is all about getting poor voters out of the polls who vote democrat the majority of the time. Once these laws get put in place, you’ll see lots of cuts driving at making it more difficult to get the ids that the poor people need…simply tack on fees if nothing else.

  2. 2

    Well, I suppose I appreciate Soucheray’s honesty, even if, as you point out, he seems to be deeply confused about what the word “disenfranchised” means.

    If I were the Minnesota ACLU, however, I would not be so blase about the bet. I am sure they will win the bet as long as it only applies to people who were honestly trying to steal votes. But what about James O’Keefe’s recent stunt in New Hampshire? You know, the one where he got a handful of ballots he wasn’t supposed to, got caught in the act, and then trumpeted it as proof of voter fraud? If I were the ACLU, I’d be afraid of having to pay out the thousand clams because of some conservative agitator’s idiocy.

  3. 3

    “Voter fraud? Wanna Bet?” The Minnesota chapter of the ACLU is ready to do just that”

    lol I was thinking WHAT the ACLU wants to commit voter fraud??!!

    anyway, great article, even though I really don’t understand how voting works in the state, it does seem quite complicated from what people say.

  4. 5

    If there’s any electoral fraud going on in the USA, the most obvious place to do it would be in the use of proprietary machines for counting votes.

    Even using machines built to published designs available for anyone to scrutinise, running Open Source software if applicable, would not solve the problem, because (1) there is no certainty that the machines actually being used are constructed identically to the published plans and running the published software, and (2) No vote-counting machine is even close to Universally Comprehensible in the way that a pencil and paper are.

    The problem with vote-counting machines — and it is a limitation of the universe rather than a limitation of present technology, so there is nothing that anyone could ever invent to resolve the problem — is that what is being counted is a copy of the ballot. And that copy could be wrong, either by accident or by design. There’s nothing to stop a machine from printing you out a receipt for candidate A (which can then be misused in various scams) while recording a vote for candidate C.

    Hand-counting of the actual tokens marked by voters (so there is no opportunity for anything to be copied incorrectly), by people who do not trust each other (so the only result they can agree on is the right one), is the only way to be sure votes are counted fairly.

  5. 6

    I have never understood why we don’t check ID’s. I can’t write a check or buy liquor with out an ID yet I can vote for the most powerfull man in the world without one. Heck I can’t even check a book out with out something. This really seems like a no brainer to me. I would even accept a credit card if the person lost their drivers license or state ID but really who doesn’t have sone form of ID these days. Are the homeless really the ones we are worried about?

  6. 7

    really who doesn’t have sone form of ID these days.

    Millions of Americans. About whose lives you are evidently utterly clueless.

    Are the homeless really the ones we are worried about?

    Homeless people and a huge number of others, yes, of course “we” are. “We” actually give a shit about human beings and their constitutional (indeed human) rights. What kind of brutal fascist wouldn’t?

  7. 8

    Stephanie, it may be worth pointing out to Outsiders (i.e., non-Minnesotans, those poor wretches) that Mary Kiffmeyer is not just some random Republican legislator; she was Minnesota Secretary of State—i.e., the statewide official in charge of elections—from 1998 until a failed re-election bid in 2006.

  8. 9

    Yeah! Fuck the homeless! I mean, come on, I’m so sick of their begging to eat and their free government shelters and their claim to the great outdoors as their “home”. And think about it: Can any one homeless creep own the whole Great Outdoors? Of course not. So you KNOW what that means…they own it COLLECTIVELY!!! The commie revolution’s started already, secretly, on the streets of every city, and they already own 99% of the land!!!

    Yeah, I know that might not be what you meant, Dan-o, but I’m really pissed off by this whole thing. Note that apparently there ARE enough people who don’t have ID or don’t care to present one…that’s precisely who these Republicans want to discourage. And that’s what gets me so riled up; it’s about making sure some people don’t vote, simply because they aren’t likely to vote Republican. More than one Republican has openly admitted as much, even though it’s obvious as hell. Hell, I was debating the Electoral College with a very close friend, and his main point was that we should keep the EC because (he believes) it weights conservative votes more than liberal. It was all I could do to diplomatically, nicely state that he should think about his position in light of American values of fairness and representational democracy.

    I don’t care what anybody thinks about the EC or the rest of our electoral system, we’ve got a lot of otherwise good people honestly thinking we should try to discourage and downplay some people’s votes because they don’t like who they’ll vote for. That, alongside thinking of those people as something less than fu citizens and human beings, makes me want to scream, cry, and vomit all at once.

  9. 13

    Stephanie, it may be worth pointing out to Outsiders (i.e., non-Minnesotans, those poor wretches) that Mary Kiffmeyer is not just some random Republican legislator; she was Minnesota Secretary of State—i.e., the statewide official in charge of elections—from 1998 until a failed re-election bid in 2006.

    In Indiana, Charlie White, the Republican secretary of state and therefore the statewide official in charge of elections, was just convicted on three counts of voter fraud, plus two counts of perjury and one count of theft. But at least he had ID….

  10. 14

    I know this will not make me popular here after seeing the reactions to dan-o’s comment, but well… this does not appear to be a problem in most other countries. You never hear of any of this in my home country, for example. Then again, every German is required by law to own an identity card from age 16, and also to register with their new town administration within a few weeks of moving (six weeks, if memory serves? I am not living there any more).

    Most other nations have similar requirements, and that probably makes it very easy to keep your voter lists up to date. If hundreds of thousands of people were kept from voting merely through shoddy administrative practices, heads would roll. Perhaps the USA should think about becoming as organized as that themselves? But perhaps one’s desire for well-organized file-keeping, efficient administration and avoidance of disenfranchisement is another’s rabid fear of gubmint control.

  11. 15

    Zinc Avenger:

    I would go so far as to say I suspect that way back in the days of Boss Tweed et al, even then the accusation of dead people voting and such may have been somewhat slanderous. I mean, it’s possible it happened, but the fact that the accusation is essentially unchanged in a century and a half makes me wonder where the data is.

  12. 16

    Not gonna jump down your throat just because you’re suggesting this isn’t a problem everywhere, Alex. 🙂 And as I mentioned, I don’t know for sure what he meant. I was as much venting at the people who, I think, DO think that way, however self-aware they may or may not be.

    I think you raise an excellent question: What happens in other countries? Here, both parties are convinced a significant number of liberal voters would sit out because of this…but how do they know that? Is there evidence? Maybe something from the good ‘ol days of the South?

    For that matter, is there actually evidence that this isn’t a problem in Germany or Europe in general? Why or why not? Is this structural, with a strong government infrastructure making it hard NOT to be identified? Could there be cultural things at work? I agree that Americans have our own peculiarities (and hypocrisies…the people wanting voter IDs are often the same ones hating official national IDs). But is that actually why the targeted voters are supposedly going to stay home?

    My point is, I don’t actually know IF this problem of voters staying home even exists, let alone why. I have no knowledge of the evidence, except that some shows this type of fraud is effectively nonexistent. But I do know why a great many conservatives are pushing for it, and it’s wrong as hell, and they should be called on it.

  13. 17

    Oh, Alex, I’m not going to jump on you, either. Things are very different under the legal structures you mention:

    [E]very German is required by law to own an identity card from age 16, and also to register with their new town administration within a few weeks of moving (six weeks, if memory serves? I am not living there any more).

    Most other nations have similar requirements, and that probably makes it very easy to keep your voter lists up to date.

    Absolutely. As long as public officials are willing and able (i.e., provided sufficient resources) to ensure that poor, disabled, etc., citizens get their IDs rather than getting burned, that can clearly work well.

    By contrast, American voter-and-other ID systems are unavoidably an utter mess, a hodgepodge of multiple entities (motor-vehicle-regulating agencies, election agencies, and lots of others) within each of the fifty states. Database management within any one of those entities is difficult and expensive; within hundreds of them, most inadequately funded, it’s an impossible nightmare.

    I’m sure there are a small number of people who fall through the cracks of a centralized national/federal ID system like Germany’s, but in the U.S. there are millions of people who have failed on one of a thousand grounds to navigate all of the complex bureaucracies necessary to both register to vote and get an ID. (Naturally, these people are overwhelmingly poor, disabled, and/or elderly.) This makes a voter ID requirement that is fairly tolerable in Germany a horrific travesty in, say, Indiana.

    “Dan-o” earned our ire not for supporting an ID requirement in the context of a government that ensures that the maximum possible proportion of its citizens meet that requirement and are able to vote, but rather for being ignorant, stupid, or privileged enough to blather, in our disorganized American context:

    [R]eally[,] who doesn’t have so[m]e form of ID these days[?]”

    And in case that wasn’t callous and nasty enough:

    Are the homeless really the ones we are worried about?

    Supporting voter ID requirements isn’t logically incompatible with caring about voting rights, but in the present context of American social inequality and underfunded government services, it sure is practically incompatible.

  14. 18

    Yes, looking across borders and seeing how other people do things is nearly always a good idea. Could do wonders to the German school system, IMO. Like raise it to what every other civilized country would consider the standard for the middle of the 20th century.

    I do not have any large-scale scientific evidence for the lack of fraud in elections, of course. There are merely three observations: nobody ever even suggests the possibility of this happening in most of Europe; I have no idea how it could happen, as the local councils have a very good and up-to-date list of all local voters; and my own experiences as a helper at a local election (kind of on a similar basis as jury duty in the USA) suggest that this stuff doesn’t and cannot happen.

    We had one woman come in with the ID cards of several family members and proclaim that she was going to vote for all of them together, and then had to carefully explain to her that this is not how it works in a democracy. Apart from that, I have heard one news story over the years of a corrupt official ineptly trying to stuff the ballot box and being caught.

    So yes, in Germany you have to show ID to vote, but well, everybody has that ID. (Seriously, how can you expect to vote, much less run a 21st century society, without having ID? I could just waltz in there and vote in your name! And then repeat the same trick with three other citizen’s names.) But large numbers of people who should be allowed to vote turning up and being told they cannot vote because they have been struck off the lists? Inconceivable. Heads would roll.

  15. 19

    That’s the point Alex, as it turns out, because the potential benefit is so tiny compared to the punishment (it is illegal after all) nobody would even think about doing it.

    And if even if somebody did it, the actual distortional effects of said fraud would be tiny. Entirely tiny. Way too labor intensive.

    Now, if you’re interested in eliminating distortional effects (and you should be) in the US system, there are definitely things that you can do.

    First, is margin of error differential. Different voting methods have different rates of spoilage. If certain areas have higher rates than others, within the same election pool, it can alter the results.

    Second, is opportunity cost differential. If in some areas it takes half an hour to vote and in other areas it takes a few hours to votes, again, the results are distorted.

    These two issues are MUCH more of an issue than any sort of voter fraud.

  16. 20

    really who doesn’t have sone form of ID these days.

    From Ed’s blog this past October:

    That photo ID laws hit poor and minority voters the hardest is neither in dispute nor unintentional. Bills that require photo IDs before voting would disenfranchise 10 percent of all voters, including 18 percent of young voters and a whopping 25 percent of African-American voters. But it would also disenfranchise a lot of poor and elderly white voters. People who don’t drive cars often do not have drivers licenses, for obvious reasons, and that includes a lot of poor people, regardless of their race. It also includes a lot of elderly people who no longer drive.

    In South Carolina, the new photo ID law does offer the option of getting a free photo ID from the state, but only if the person has either a birth certificate or a passport. As a legacy of slavery, however, thousands of elderly black voters in that state, and in much of the south, never had a birth certificate in the first place. In order to get an ID to be allowed to vote they would have to go to court to prove their identity before being allowed to vote.

    But it isn’t just the poor and elderly who are harmed by such laws. Wisconsin has passed new rules that could disenfranchise more than 240,000 college students from voting in 2012 by requiring that their IDs include a current address, date of birth and a two-year expiration date; no universities in the entire state currently issue such IDs.


  17. 21

    Here in Oz everyone over the age if eighteen is required to both register to vote and to vote. Elections are supervised by the Electoral Commission. The electoral rolls are closed three weeks before an election. If you move house in those three weeks you must vote in your old electorate, not your new one. If you are away from home on election day you can vote as an absentee voter (that is, you cast a vote for your electorate in a voting booth for whatever electorate you happen to be in) or, if you arrange it in advance, you can send in a postal vote.

    When you vote you are marked off in the rolls. People who don’t vote (without a decent excuse) are fined; people who appear to vote twice are investigated closely. You don’t have to show ID.

    Votes are cast on paper and the paper is counted by hand by volunteers and employees of the Electoral Commission and watched carefully by scrutineers representing the candidates. Close elections will normally be recounted. Very close elections may go to a Court of Disputed Returns and the papers counted very, very carefully.

    Between elections the Electoral Commission does nothing but maintain the electoral rolls, so they are pretty accurate. No one is disenfranchised by the Commission and people who attempt to disenfranchise themselves can be fined if caught.

    All in all, it’s pretty bloody difficult for either individuals or political parties to commit electoral fraud. At one time the candidates were listed on the ballot papers in alphabetical order, giving a slight advantage to those named Aaronson over those named Zymansky, but these days the position is determined by lot, so what’s known as the donkey vote is pretty evenly distributed.

    In short, whatever shenanigans our pollies get up to, fiddling with elections isn’t one of them.

  18. 22

    That’s the point Alex, as it turns out, because the potential benefit is so tiny compared to the punishment (it is illegal after all) nobody would even think about doing it.

    It’s not just illegal; in most (possibly all) U.S. states, voter fraud is a felony punishable by multiple years in prison and thousands of dollars in fines.

    Here’s the relevant statute in my (and Stephanie’s) state of Minnesota:

    No individual shall intentionally:

    (a) misrepresent the individual’s identity in applying for a ballot, depositing a ballot in a ballot box or attempting to vote by means of a voting machine or electronic voting system;

    (b) vote more than once at the same election;

    (c) put a ballot in a ballot box for any illegal purpose;

    (d) give more than one ballot of the same kind and color to an election judge to be placed in a ballot box;

    (e) aid, abet, counsel or procure another to go into any precinct for the purpose of voting in that precinct, knowing that the other individual is not eligible to vote in that precinct; or

    (f) aid, abet, counsel or procure another to do any act in violation of this section.

    A violation of this section is a felony.

    A later Minnesota statute sets the maximum penalty for felonies like this one at up to five years in prison and/or a $10,000 fine.

  19. 23

    One thing to notice is the requirement for a state issued photo id is often eliminating other methods of identifying voters, such as showing a utility bill with your name on it, or using my photo id from work.

    I have been disappointed to hear some of my liberal friends talk about restricting people who would vote for tea party candidates.

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