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Hullabaloo


Monday, April 03, 2017

 

Dusk of the Dead revisited

by Tom Sullivan


Photo by La Tête Krançien via Creative Commons.

Zombie lies. They just won't die. A head shot works for normal zombies, but lies have no heads. [Film idea: headless zombies. How then do the eat brains?] Voter fraud, that really unstoppable zombie lie, gets its genealogy mapped at Politico. The lie's history goes back decades, but for those just catching up, Lisa Rab begins in 2002. U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft sent federal prosecutors on a snipe hunt:
"Votes have been bought, voters intimidated and ballot boxes stuffed,” he told the attendees of the Justice Department’s inaugural Voting Integrity Symposium. “Voters have been duped into signing absentee ballots believing they were applications for public relief. And the residents of cemeteries have infamously shown up at the polls on Election Day.”
Guess what color he imagined those seeking "public relief" were. The same color we all do. We've been conditioned to it since at least the Reagan years. Race has been the subtext to voter suppression measures since the days of Jim Crow and literacy tests. Who knows what color Ashcroft thought the zombies were.

The U.S. attorneys found no evidence of any massive conspiracy. By July 2006, they had only 86 convictions to show for over 300 investigations. The Bush Justice Department abruptly fired seven U.S. attorneys that December (and two others later), critics said, for failing to prosecute thin evidence of election fraud. The scandal resulted in a congressional investigation and the resignations of then United States Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, White House Deputy Chief of Staff Karl Rove, and several others.

But this stuff never goes away no matter how often it's debunked. In January 2012, S.C. Department of Motor Vehicles director Kevin Shwedo tesified — and got big headlines for saying so (Dusk of the Dead, 2-25-12) — that 950 dead people had voted in the state's 2010 elections. The Institute for Southern Studies reported the investigation's findings:
As was suspected from the beginning, the fevered stories of "zombie voters" turned out to be fantasy. This week, state elections officials reviewed 207 of the supposed 950 cases of dead people voting, and couldn't confirm fraud in any of them. 106 stemmed from clerical errors at the polls, and another 56 involved bad data -- the usual culprits when claims of dead voters have surfaced in the past.
Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence where the Voting Dead are concerned. The last I heard, the SCGOP was still looking. Eventually, however, the party's national branch turned from pursuing the dead to accusing the living. Now it's non-citizen immigrants behind the alleged widespread and undetectable conspiracy. Plus the threat from people who move from one state but another remain on the voter rolls in their former states for a few years.

In 2014, the Institute for Southern Studies again weighed in on the alleged fraud carried out (somehow) by people registered in two states:
Chris Kromm of the Institute for Southern Studies just as quickly debunked the study by Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach whose office, after checking 5 million voter records in 2013, "couldn't provide any evidence of a single instance in which the Interstate Crosscheck's data had led to an actual legal charge of voter fraud." Because the data, Kromm writes, "offers no proof such fraud is occurring." Requiring citizens to present identity cards to vote would have no effect on voting in multiple states.
But millions of dead still on the voter rolls (over two and a half million Americans die each year) and the existence of two-state registrants translates, in Republican minds anyway, to millions of actual votes cast against Republican candidates. Cast by whom, they cannot say, but rest assured they have a mental image of their skin color. President Donald Trump is convinced that 3 million or more voted illegally in 2016 and he's put Vice President Mike Pence in charge of finding them. Just don't expect Trump to ask Congress for funding to help states upgrade their voter registration systems and do better list maintenance.

Lisa Rab concludes:
The Republican narrative of massive voter fraud persists despite evidence from the party’s own crackdown—what election law expert Rick Hasen, a University of California-Irvine professor, calls “a whole lot of nothing.” For many conservatives, fears about voting by felons, who they say lean Democratic, and ACORN registration drives have simply been replaced with concerns about undocumented immigrants. (ACORN shut down in 2010 after conservative activist James O’Keefe posed as a pimp and filmed a misleading video of ACORN employees supposedly advising him and a prostitute on how to get a mortgage. O’Keefe later paid a $100,000 settlement to one employee whose name he had smeared.)

[...]

“Just because someone can fill out a registration form doesn’t meant they get on a [voter] list, doesn’t mean they cast a ballot, doesn’t meant the ballot is counted,” Becker says. “There’s a variety of checks in place … that would easily prevent widespread fraud.”

Studies conducted by academics and secretaries of state have found noncitizen voting to be extremely rare. There are small-scale examples, such as the Texas city councilwoman who was sentenced to five years in prison for registering noncitizens to vote during a 2006 primary. But Lorraine Minnite, a public policy professor at Rutgers, studied the Justice Department’s voter fraud crackdown during the Bush years and found that only 14 noncitizens were convicted of voting between 2002 and 2005.
But promoting the threat of voter fraud is a cottage industry, as I've said repreatedly:
Every couple of months, their agents (figuratively) fling smoke bombs into newsrooms and yell “voter fraud.” By the time the smoke clears and reporters realize there’s no fire — and no fraud — all viewers remember are hearing the words “voter fraud” over and over again, and the eye-popping crawlers on the news at six about dead people voting. Thus is spread an urban legend.
The voter fraud promotion industry conflates any and all kinds of election irregularities with in-person voter fraud to manufacture a significant problem where there is none, undermine confidence in elections (Vladimir Putin would approve), and build a constituency for photo ID and other election suppression laws that target minority voters with almost surgical precision. The Heritage Foundation maintains a database frequently referenced to support the need for state election "reforms." But try finding in it actual cases of in-person fraud among 462 criminal cases of vote-buying, registration fraud, double voting, and election rigging by local officials dating back to 1990. In-person fraud is a fraction of a fraction of a fraction of votes cast in each election.

Point this out and you might be accused of not valuing election integrity. That the potential exists that someone might vote improperly, the argument goes, demands greater vigilance and higher hurdles to participation. That so few people go to their polling places on Election Day to commit felonies is no counterargument to fraud believers. States allowing concealed and open carry of firearms means millions might breeze into banks and rob them, yet there is no concomitant push for heightened bank security. Nor calls for more barriers to widespread carrying of firearms. Because more regulations simply infringe honest Americans’ rights, and we can't have that.

Mike Pence will have as much chance of finding those millions of elusive illegal voters as finding space aliens. As those paying attention recall, a clever study published in 2013 looked at how many people in America report having committed voter fraud. Researchers found that roughly the same percentages of the population admit to perpetrating voter fraud as admit to being abducted by aliens:
The implication here is that if one accepts that 2.5% is a valid lower bound for the prevalence of voter impersonation in the 2012 election then one must also accept that about 2.5% of the adult U.S. population — about 6 million people — believe that they were abducted by extra-terrestrials in the last year. If this were true then voter impersonation would be the least of our worries.
Since we know Trump gets some of his "intel" from Infowars conspiracist Alex Jones, perhaps reporters should ask whether Trump believes he has ever been abducted by aliens and if Alex Jones might be the better leader of the search for extra-legal voters.