4 | The InsIder summer 2012 - InsiderOnline.org

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4 | The InsIder summer 2012 - InsiderOnline.org

4 | The Insider Summer 2012


Invitation to Fraud

How Neglecting Election Integrity Threatens

American Democracy

By John Fund and Hans von Spakovsky

iStockphoto.com

Come November 2012, the United

States may be on the brink of repeating its 2000

Florida election debacle—but this time in several

states—with allegations of voter fraud, intimidation,

and manipulation of voting machines added to the

generalized chaos that sent the Bush–Gore race into

overtime.

There is still time to reduce the chance of another

electoral meltdown, both this year and in future

years. But fixing the problem will not happen unless

we acknowledge that the United States has a haphazard,

fraud-prone election system more befitting

an emerging Third World country than the world’s

leading democracy.

With its hanging chads, butterfly ballots, and

Supreme Court intervention, the Florida fiasco

compelled this country to confront an ugly reality:

that the United States has been making do with

what noted political scientist Walter Dean Burnham

has called “the modern world’s sloppiest electoral

systems.”

Just how sloppy was demonstrated in February

2012, when the Pew Center on the States found

1.8 million names of deceased persons still registered

to vote on state rolls. Roughly 2.75 million

people are registered to vote in more than one

state. The study found altogether that 24 million

voter registrations—13 percent of the nation’s

total—contained major inaccuracies or were otherwise

invalid. That’s a lot of room for confusion or

mischief.

With the demise of most big-city political

machines and the rise of election supervision by

nonpartisan civil service employees, concerns

about honest and accurate election counts receded.

But Dr. Larry J. Sabato, the director of the University

of Virginia’s Center for Politics, who co-wrote a

pioneering book on the subject, Dirty Little Secrets:

The Persistence of Corruption in American Politics,

warned as early as the 1990s that “voter fraud is

making a comeback.” As he testified before Congress

after the Florida debacle:

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When we look at the registration system

and voting process, we have to balance two

conflicting values; one, the goal of full and

informed participation of the electorate, and

two, the integrity of the system. To the extent

that we keep expanding the participation rate

and make it easier and easier for people to register

and vote, we almost certainly increase

the chances for voter fraud. So, in a sense it is

a tradeoff. To move completely in the direction

of one value as opposed to the other is

foolhardy.

Every close race now carries with

it the prospect of demands for

recounts, lawsuits, and seating

challenges in Congress. “We’re

waiting for the day that pols can

just cut out the middleman and

settle all elections in court,” jokes

Chuck Todd.

Alamy.com

The 2000 recount was more than merely a

national embarrassment; it left a lasting scar on the

American electoral psyche. A Zogby poll a few years

ago found that 38 percent of Americans still regarded

the 2000 election outcome as questionable. Many

Republicans believe that Democratic judges on the

Florida Supreme Court tried to hand their state to

Al Gore via selective partisan recounts and the illegal

votes of felons and aliens. Many Democrats feel

that the justices of the U.S. Supreme Court tilted

toward George Bush, and they refuse to accept his

victory as valid. But this issue transcends red-stateversus-blue-state

partisan grievances. Many Americans

are convinced that politicians can’t be trusted

to play by the rules, and either will commit fraud or

intimidate voters at the slightest opportunity.

Indeed, the level of suspicion has grown so dramatically

that it threatens to undermine the U.S.

political system. A Fox News poll taken in April 2012

reported that 34 percent of voters believe supporters

of voter ID laws are trying to “steal” elections

by keeping eligible voters away from the polls. But

more people—50 percent—think opponents of the

laws are acting in bad faith by trying to increase participation

from ineligible or illegal voters.

Such attitudes can create a toxic brew. The United

States ranks 139th out of 163 democracies in the rate

of voter participation. “If this escalates, we’re in horrendous

shape as a country,” says Curtis Gans, who

6 | The Insider Summer 2012


uns the Center for the Study of the American Electorate

at American University. “If election results

are followed by lawsuits, appeals, fire, and counterfire,

many people who are already saying to hell with

the process are going to exit.” The more that voting

is left to the zealous or self-interested few, the more

we see harshly personal campaigns that dispense

with any positive vision of America’s national future.

A Rasmussen Reports poll taken for our book,

Who’s Counting? How Fraudsters and Bureaucrats

Put Your Vote at Risk, found that both interest in

and concern about voter fraud is high. Nearly twothirds

of Americans reported they were following

news reports about voter fraud closely or somewhat

closely. When asked how serious a problem it is, 64

percent said “very serious” or “somewhat serious.”

Interestingly, the highest levels of concern came

from African Americans (64 percent), conservatives

(85 percent), and those earning under $20,000

a year (71 percent). When it came to remedies, an

astonishing 82 percent of respondents supported

requiring that voters prove their identity before voting.

The lowest support across demographic groups

was still sky-high: 67 percent of African Americans,

67 percent of Democrats, and 58 percent of professed

liberals all backed having people prove who

they say they are as a condition of voting.

The Supreme Court is in agreement with the

majority. In a unanimous decision reinstating Arizona’s

voter identification law in 2006, it stated:

Confidence in the integrity of our electoral

processes is essential to the functioning of

our participatory democracy. Voter fraud

drives honest citizens out of the democratic

process and breeds distrust of our government.

Voters who fear their legitimate votes

will be outweighed by fraudulent ones will feel

disenfranchised.

Confusion and claims of fraud are again likely this

time around, especially if the election is as close as

it was in 2000. Can the nation take another Floridastyle

controversy?

Indeed, the United States may be on the way to

turning Election Day into Election Month (or Election

Year) through a new legal quagmire: election

by litigation. Every close race now carries with it

the prospect of demands for recounts, lawsuits, and

seating challenges in Congress. “We’re waiting for

the day that pols can just cut out the middleman

and settle all elections in court,” jokes Chuck Todd,

former editor of the political tip sheet The Hotline.

Such gallows humor may be entirely appropriate,

given the predicament the United States faces.

Much as the battle over the Supreme Court nomination

of Robert Bork changed, apparently forever, the

politics of judicial appointments, the 2000 election

may have marked a permanent change in how elections

can be decided: The number of election-related

lawsuits has skyrocketed since 2000.

Democrats plan to have more than 10,000 lawyers

on the ground in every state in November 2012, ready

for action if the election is close, and they see a way

to contest it. “If you think of election problems as

akin to forest fires, the woods are no drier than they

were in 2000, but many more people have matches,”

says Doug Chapin, founder of Electionline.org, an

Internet clearinghouse of election news. If the trend

toward litigation continues, winners in the future

may have to hope not only that they win, but that

their leads are beyond “the margin of litigation.”

Some of the sloppiness that makes fraud and foulups

in election counts possible seems to be built into

the system by design. The “Motor Voter Law”—the

National Voter Registration Act of 1993—the first

piece of legislation signed into law by President

Clinton upon entering office, imposed fraud-friendly

rules on the states by requiring driver’s license

bureaus and welfare agencies to register anyone

applying for a license, and to offer mail-in registration

with no identification needed, while making

it difficult to purge “deadwood” voters (those

who have died or moved). In 2012, the voter rolls in

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many American cities include more names than the

U.S. Census listed as the total number of residents

over age 18. Philadelphia’s voter rolls, for instance,

have increased dramatically as the city’s population

has declined. CBS’s “60 Minutes” created a stir

in 1999 when it found people in California using

mail-in forms to register fictitious people, or even

pets, and then obtaining absentee ballots in those

names. By this means, the illegal alien who assassinated

the Mexican presidential candidate Luis

Donaldo Colosio was registered to vote in San Pedro,

California—twice.

Ironically, Mexico and many other countries

have election systems that are far more secure than

ours. To obtain voter credentials in Mexico, a citizen

must present a photo, write a signature, and give a

thumbprint. To guard against tampering, the voter

card includes a picture with a hologram covering it,

a magnetic strip, and a serial number. To cast a ballot,

voters must present the card and be certified by

a thumbprint scanner. This system was instrumental

in allowing the 2000 election of Vicente Fox, the

first opposition-party candidate to be elected president

in 70 years.

But in the United States, at a time of heightened

security and mundane rules that require citizens to

show identification to travel or even rent a video,

only 17 states require some form of documentation

in order to vote. “Why should the important process

of voting be the one exception to this rule?” asks

Karen Saranita, a former fraud investigator for a

Democratic state senator in California. Americans

agree. Polls have consistently shown that people

should be required to show a driver’s license or some

other form of photo ID before they are allowed to

vote.

Election fraud, whether it’s phony voter registrations,

illegal absentee ballots, vote-buying, shady

recounts, or old-fashioned ballot-box stuffing, can

be found in every part of the United States, although

it is probably spreading because of the ever-so-tight

red state/blue state divisions that have polarized the

country and created so many close elections lately.

Although most fraud is found in urban areas, there

are recent scandals in rural Kentucky and Minnesota;

St. Louis, Detroit, New Orleans, and Memphis

have all had election-related scandals. Wisconsin

officials convicted a New York heiress working for

Al Gore of giving homeless people cigarettes if they

rode in a van to the polls and voted. The Miami

Herald won a Pulitzer Prize in 1999 for uncovering

how “vote brokers” employed by mayoral candidate

Xavier Suarez stole the 1997 election by tampering

with 4,740 absentee ballots. Many were cast

by homeless people from outside Miami who were

paid $10 apiece and shuttled to the elections office

in vans. All of the absentee ballots were thrown out

by a court four months later, and Mr. Suarez’s opponent

was installed as mayor.

But such interventions are rare, even when

fraud is proven. In 1997, the House of Representatives

voted along partisan lines to demand that the

Justice Department prosecute Hermandad Mexicana

Nacional, a group that investigators for the

House Administration Committee said registered

hundreds of illegal voters who were not citizens in

a razor-thin congressional race in Orange County,

California. But federal immigration officials refused

to cooperate, citing “privacy” concerns, and nothing

was done beyond yanking a federal contract that

paid Hermandad to conduct citizenship classes.

The same year, a Senate probe of fraud in a Louisiana

Senate race found more than 1,500 cases in

which two voters provided the same Social Security

number. But further investigations collapsed after

Democratic senators abandoned the probe, calling it

unfair; Attorney General Janet Reno then removed

FBI agents from the case because the probe wasn’t

“bipartisan.”

A note about partisanship: Since Democrats figure

prominently in the vast majority of examples of

election fraud described in this article, some readers

will jump to the conclusion that this is a one-sided

attack on a single party. We do not maintain that

8 | The Insider Summer 2012


Republicans are inherently more virtuous or honest

than anyone else in politics. Voter fraud occurs both

in Republican strongholds such as Kentucky hollows

and Democratic bastions such as south Texas. When

Republicans operated political machines (such as

Philadelphia’s Meehan dynasty, up until 1951, or the

patronage mill of Nassau County, New York, until

the 1990s), they were fully capable of bending—and

breaking—the rules. Earl Mazo, the journalist who

exhaustively documented the election fraud in Richard

Daley’s Chicago that may have handed Illinois

to John F. Kennedy in the photo-finish 1960 election,

says there was “definitely fraud” in downstate

Republican counties, “but they didn’t have the votes

to counterbalance Chicago.”

While they have not had the control of local and

administrative offices necessary to tilt the rules

improperly in their favor, Republicans have at times

been guilty of improper tactics. In December 2011,

Maryland political consultant Paul Schurick was

convicted of authorizing robocalls on Election Day

that used false information to discourage 112,000

registered Democrats in largely black Baltimore

and in Prince George’s County from voting in 2010.

Schurick was sentenced to 500 hours of community

service and a probation period of four years.

Schurick was the campaign manager for the ultimately

unsuccessful Republican gubernatorial candidate

Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., and paid Julius Henson,

a black Democratic consultant who was a gun for

hire, to write the robocall script. It implied that the

call came from Democrats who had already won, and

read: “Our goals have been met. The polls are correct,

and we took it back. We’re OK. Relax. Everything’s

fine. The only thing left is to watch it on TV

tonight.”

Henson, who was convicted in May 2012 on one

of four counts in the incident, has used sleazy tactics

on behalf of many candidates in Maryland, usually

Democrats. In 1998 he was behind an effort to

portray Republican gubernatorial candidate Ellen

R. Sauerbrey as a racist. And in 2002, while work-

Alamy.com

At a time of heightened security

and mundane rules that require

citizens to show identification to

travel or even rent a video, only

17 states require some form of

documentation in order to vote.

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And when voters are

disenfranchised by the counting

of improperly cast ballots or

outright fraud, their civil rights are

violated just as surely as if they

were prevented from voting. The

integrity of the ballot box is just

as important to the credibility of

elections as is access to it.

Alamy.com

ing for Democrats, he vowed to portray Ehrlich, who

was running his first race for governor that year, as

a “Nazi.” By 2010, he was working for Ehrlich as a

campaign consultant.

In their book Dirty Little Secrets, Larry Sabato

and co-author Glenn Simpson, formerly of The

Wall Street Journal, noted another factor as to

why Republican election fraud is less common.

Republican-base voters are middle-class and not

easily induced to commit fraud, while “the pool of

people who appear to be available and more vulnerable

to an invitation to participate in vote fraud

tend to lean Democratic.” Some liberal activists

that Sabato and Simpson interviewed even partly

justified fraudulent electoral behavior on the

grounds that because the poor and dispossessed

have so little political clout, “extraordinary measures

[for example, stretching the absentee ballot

or registration rules] are required to compensate.”

Paul Herrison, director of the Center for American

Politics at the University of Maryland, agrees that

“most incidents of wide-scale voter fraud reportedly

occur in inner cities, which are largely populated

by minority groups.” Democrats are far more

skilled at encouraging poor people—who need

money—to participate in vote-buying schemes.

“I had no choice. I was hungry that day,” Thomas

Felder told The Miami Herald in explaining why he

illegally voted in a mayoral election. “You wanted

the money, you were told who to vote for.” Sometimes

it’s not just food that vote stealers are hungry

for. A former Democratic congressman gave one of

the authors this explanation of why voting irregularities

more often crop up in his party’s backyard:

“When many Republicans lose an election, they go

back into what they call the private sector. When

many Democrats lose an election, they lose power

and money. They need to eat, and people will do an

awful lot in order to eat.”

Investigations of voter fraud are inherently

political; and because they often involve race, they

often are not zealously pursued or prosecuted. Many

10 | The Insider Summer 2012


federal and state prosecutors remain leery of tackling

fraud or intimidation, and sentences imposed

for convictions are often far too light. While voting

irregularities are common, the number of people

who have spent hard time in jail in the last few years

as a result of a conviction for voter fraud can be

counted on your fingers.

The former U.S. Attorney for the Western District

of Louisiana, Donald Washington, admits:

“[M]ost of the time, we can’t do much of anything

[about ballot-box improprieties] until the election

is over. And the closer we get to the election, the

less willing we are to get involved because of just

the appearance of impropriety, just the appearance

of the federal government somehow shading how

this election ought to occur.” Several prosecutors

told us they fear charges of racism or of a return to

Jim Crow vote-suppression tactics if they pursue

fraud cases. Hilary Shelton of the NAACP had the

following exchange with Eric Shawn of Fox News

in 2012:

Shawn: “You talk about Jim Crow. Is voter ID

similar?”

Shelton: “Absolutely.”

Shawn: “Even to murder? Even to lynchings?”

Shelton: “It’s the same thing in many ways.

Now look, we can argue that it’s not as violent.

It’s not as bloody. Bottom line is, what kind of

effect does it have?”

Artur Davis, the former Democratic congressman

from Alabama who seconded Barack Obama’s nomination

for president at the 2008 Democratic convention,

finds that analogy preposterous. “I never

heard a single voter in my 68 percent African American

district complain to me about ID being something

that was onerous or burdensome or difficult.”

He went on to say: “The idea that people in lowincome

African American communities are bothered

or intimidated or burdened by attaching just a

few responsibilities to their all-important core right

of voting—it’s a condescending idea. It’s a patronizing

idea. If the law works the same with respect to

everybody, it’s free and clear of whatever history or

bigotry or racial animus [exists].”

And when voters are disenfranchised by the

counting of improperly cast ballots or outright

fraud, their civil rights are violated just as surely as

if they were prevented from voting. The integrity of

the ballot box is just as important to the credibility

of elections as is access to it. Voting irregularities

have a long pedigree in America, stretching back

to the founding of the nation—though most people

thought the “bad old days” had ended in 1948, after

pistol-packing Texas sheriffs helped stuff Ballot Box

13, stealing a U.S. senate seat and setting Lyndon

Johnson on his road to the White House. Then came

the 2004 primary election, when Representative

Ciro Rodriguez, a Democrat, charged that during

a recount a missing ballot box reappeared in south

Texas with enough votes to make his opponent the

Democratic nominee by 58 votes.

Even after the events in Florida in 2000, the

media tend to downplay or ignore stories of election

incompetence, manipulation, or theft. Allowing

such abuses to vanish into an informational

black hole in effect legitimates them. The refusal to

insist on simple procedural changes like requiring a

photo ID to vote, secure technology, and more vigorous

prosecutions accelerates the U.S. drift toward

banana-republic elections.

Scrutinizing its own elections the way the United

States has traditionally scrutinized voting in developing

countries is a sad, but necessary, step in the

right direction.

Mr. Fund is Senior Editor at The American Spectator.

Mr. von Spakovsky is Senior Legal Fellow in

the Center for Legal & Judicial Studies at The Heritage

Foundation. This article is an adapted excerpt

from their book Who’s Counting: How Fraudsters

and Bureaucrats Put Your Vote at Risk (Encounter,

August, 2012).

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