Thomas Jackson, American Renaissance, December 2004
John Fund, Stealing Elections: How Voter Fraud Threatens Our Democracy, Encounter Books, 2004 173 pp.
Despite much self-congratulation about the quality of American democracy, our elections are surprisingly vulnerable to fraud. As Wall Street Journal writer John Fund explains in Stealing Elections, we may have some of the worst-protected balloting systems of any country that holds regular elections.
There is great variation from jurisdiction to jurisdiction, but our elections are easy to jimmy because they are based on the honor system. In the past, election boards have assumed only eligible citizens would register and vote, and there has been only cursory protection against fraud. Now, as Mr. Fund boldly explains, blacks and Hispanics often take advantage of lax enforcement — sometimes in the most brazen way — and then call their critics “racists.”
Despite persistent charges that Republicans kept blacks away from the polls during the 2000 election and would do the same this year, vote fraud is largely Democratic. There are several reasons for this. First, it is easier to buy votes from poor people. Second, Democratic candidates are often life-long politicians desperate to keep their jobs, whereas Republicans who lose elections often have private sector professions to which they can return.
Third, liberal notions of “inclusion” go along with the view that making sure everyone gets a chance to vote is more important than worrying about strict eligibility. This year, for example, Kerry supporters split 62 to 19 in favor of the importance of inclusion over procedure, whereas by 59 to 18, Bush supporters thought integrity of eligibility standards was more important than making sure no one was wrongly excluded. These positions reflect partisan interests — the doubtful voters kept out by the rules are likely to vote Democrat — but conservatives like rules and procedures more than liberals do. Women tend to be liberal and worry more than men that eligibility rules could unfairly exclude someone.
Finally, although Mr. Fund does not say so specifically, it stands to reason that blacks and Hispanics are more fraud-prone than whites. They break almost all laws more often than whites, and Third-World immigrants are used to cutting corners. As a consequence, voter fraud is concentrated among black and immigrant populations.
Varieties of Fraud
When Americans think of election fraud they imagine Africans or South Americans shooting opponents or confiscating ballot boxes. That doesn’t happen here. Fraud is less blatant, and usually involves phony registrations and gimmicky ways to cast absentee ballots rather than deliberate miscounts. Since fraud is at the margins rather than at the heart of the system, it is usually not possible to steal an election unless it is close.
The long-standing Democratic campaign to increase turnout by making it easy to register has made it easy to break the law. The National Voter Registration Act (the “motor voter law”) was the first bill President Clinton signed. It imposed fraud-friendly rules on every state by forcing driver’s license bureaus and welfare and unemployment agencies to offer no-questions-asked mail-in voter registration to everyone. The law also made it hard to challenge new registrants or to purge “deadwood” from the voter rolls — people who have died, moved away, or gone to prison.
Lax registration means non-citizens, minors, and felons can register. It makes it easy to register in several locations and vote more than once. When it is hard to purge voter lists, enterprising citizens can cast ballots in the names of neighbors they know are dead, in jail, or out of state.
Voting in someone else’s name is one of the most common types of fraud. Nationally, 12 percent of registered voters never vote, and political activists often take their places at the polls. The “motor voter” law made this problem worse because only about five percent of the people it put on the rolls bother to vote. The more inactive voters there are, the easier it is for someone to “borrow” their franchise.
Clearly, it would be much harder to vote in someone else’s name if people had to show photo ID at the polls, but only 17 states require this. Eighty-two percent of voters favor requiring identification, but Democrats have consistently headed off reform by arguing it would “intimidate” poor and non-white voters.
In 1997, Louisiana wanted to require ID at least from new voters who had registered by mail and whom no election bureaucrat had ever seen. The state was under 1965 Voting Rights Act requirements to get federal permission for any change to election rules, and the Clinton administration refused, arguing that asking for ID would remind blacks of the days when they couldn’t vote. The feds backed down only after it was widely pointed out that Mr. Clinton’s FDA had just ordered all retailers to card anyone who wanted to buy cigarettes and did not look at least 27 years old.
The pretense that an ID requirement will terrify blacks lives on. In Mississippi, anyone over age 65 is exempt from the requirement because elderly blacks might be reminded of the days of fire hoses and police dogs. (How do they prove to poll watchers they are over 65 without showing ID?)
Sloppy registration has serious consequences. The voting age population of St. Louis, Missouri, is 258,532 and the number of registered voters is 247,135, for a completely unrealistic registration rate of 97 percent. Not surprisingly, the city gets unusual results. After elections in 2002, an investigation turned up no fewer than 24,000 fraudulent voters. Of this number 4,405 had voted in the names of dead people, 2,242 were ineligible felons, and 15,963 were registered in more than one place and could have voted more than once.
For four years, a St. Louis dog named Ritzy Meckler was registered to vote. Her owners put the dog’s name in the telephone book as a privacy measure, and someone “harvested” it for a phony registration.
St. Louis does have procedures to purge the rolls of people who have not voted in four years, and who cannot be reached at the address they gave when they registered. A voter must re-register or go before an election judge to be reinstated. Mr. Fund writes that recently all the judges were Democratic and many were openly partisan. He writes that some black judges reinstated voters only on condition that they vote Democratic.
Anyone who proposes cleaning up this loose system faces accusations of “racism.” William Lacy Smith, the city’s black congressman, promises racial trouble if anyone investigates.
Mr. Fund argues strongly that absentee ballots are the most vulnerable to fraud. Because they do not require a trip to the polls, the authorities never really know who cast them or under what circumstances. When mail-in registration is combined with absentee voting, election officials may never see a voter at all.
Twenty states have no-excuse absentee voting, which means people can mail in their ballots for reasons of pure convenience, not because they will be out of town. In many states, the aged and incapacitated can vote absentee, and nursing home managers have been known to rent out the residents to activists who “help” them fill out ballots. In 2002, Democratic operatives were caught on video giving food and money to mentally ill people in exchange for absentee votes.
In three of the no-excuse states — California, Utah, and Washington — a voter can leave a standing order with the elections board to mail out an absentee ballot before every election. People die or move away, and the ballots keep coming. The resourceful can intercept ballots, forge signatures, and keep voting for years. Operatives sometimes go through the projects and sign everyone up for regular absentee ballots. When the ballots come, the activist makes the rounds again, distributing small gifts in exchange for the right vote. One great advantage of absentee balloting is that a bought vote stays bought whereas vote-buyers can never be sure what someone will do in the voting booth.
Oregon has a 100 percent mail-in ballot system. This means registered voters get ballots in the mail without even asking for them. It is easy to steal a ballot from a mail box, and the large number of people who don’t vote anyway never miss them. Many of these ballots are, of course, cast by someone else.
Even if it did not lend itself to fraud, Mr. Fund opposes voting by mail. Proponents say it increases voter turnout, but this is a false claim. He also thinks the pilgrimage to the polls is part of the ritual and solemnity of democracy, and should not be given up. Finally, absentee voters have to decide early, and may miss late developments. In California, some women who voted absentee for Arnold Schwarzenegger would have voted for someone else if they had waited until election day and learned of his record as a groper.
Convictions for violations of campaign and election laws are very rare, and Mr. Fund doesn’t hesitate to point to race as one of the reasons. Most of the criminals are Democratic — often non-white — and Republicans are afraid to make a fuss. They have not even been able to quash the completely unfounded charges that they kept blacks from voting in 2000, and it is now an article of faith among blacks that Republicans will do anything to bottle up the black vote.
Mr. Fund cites only one case in which Republicans could conceivably be accused of targeting blacks. In 1986, the Louisiana Republicans sent letters to all the voters in precincts in which Republicans got less than 20 percent of the vote, to see if the voters were still at those addresses. When they got 31,000 letters back, they asked the election authorities to purge those voters from the rolls. These Democratic neighborhoods were overwhelmingly black, and the Republicans never heard the end of it. Since this episode — nearly 20 years ago — Republicans have had an abiding terror of doing anything even faintly “racist.”
Republicans used to stand outside heavily Hispanic polling stations, carrying signs in Spanish that said “Non-citizens can’t vote.” This, too, has gone down in the annals as outrageous intimidation of non-whites, increasing Republican timidity.
With prosecution unlikely, many people do not bother to hide what they do. Among the Mexicans in Texas there is a profession called politiquero. Practitioners regularly persuade elderly or illiterate Chicanos to get ballots by mail, and then bribe or browbeat them to vote the right way. Herminia Becerra, who calls herself the queeen of Brownsville politiqueros, is proud of what she does, claiming that she helps choose candidates who are good for the community. Republicans control the state house, but are afraid to tighten the system for fear of being accused of “racism.”
In South Dakota, corruption is most common on Indian reservations, where Democrats register all sorts of doubtful and bogus voters. It is common for Democrats to herd Indians to the polls in vans, and sometimes to give them money for voting. The reservations also have a tradition of reporting their results last, after the count is in for the rest of the state. This makes it easy to know just how much extra help a candidate needs.
Recently, Democrats offered a $3 bounty for new voter registrations on the reservation, and Becky Red Earth Villeda collected no less than $13,000 for her efforts. She saw to it that people registered as Democrats but also forged a huge number of new registrations. When this came to light, tribal officials defended her and fought every attempt to get evidence against her, claiming that the white man did not have subpoena authority on the reservation. According to a prosecutor who worked on the case, the government gladly dropped its investigation into what was promising to stir up embarrassing charges of “racism.” Reporters who looked into irregularities faced the same charge.
Wherever there are large numbers of immigrants, there is the risk that non-citizens will vote. In 1996, Orange County discovered that in one five-month period 125 registered voters had excused themselves from jury duty on the grounds that they were not citizens. No charges were filed. In the county’s vote that year that ended Robert Dornan’s congressional career and replaced him with Loretta Sanchez, the INS estimated that as many as 4,023 non-citizens voted. The election was decided by fewer than 1,000 votes.
Mr. Fund reports that Hawaii is another swamp of dirty politics, where former Governor Benjamin Cayetano did not hesitate to use his power to punish people who tried to keep fraud under control. Non-citizen voting and absentee-ballot fraud have been so bad there have actually been a few convictions.
Other rare prosecutions have been in Miami, which, as Mr. Fund explains, “has long since supplanted Chicago as the epicenter of the country’s most colorful political life.” The 1997 race for mayor was so rife with vote buying and absentee-ballot fraud that prosecutors easily convicted City Commissioner Humberto Hernandez. All along, he had boasted to friends he could head off trouble by claiming racial persecution. He screeched as promised, but went to jail anyway.
Many jurisdictions are switching to electronic voting machines in the hope that they will eliminate ballot ambiguity and faulty counts. So far, they have not fallen victim to the mass tampering or partisan hacking that some people fear. Mr. Fund does note, however, that unlike the machines used to run state lotteries, there are no standard reliability protocols for voting machines. Ever since the Help America Vote Act of 2002 dangled a potential $3.9 billion over what had been a sleepy industry, there has been a rash of corruption and contract kickbacks.
One possible advantage of voting machines is that when they go haywire it can be so spectacular no one fails to notice. In a 2003 election in Boone County, Indiana, the machines recorded 140,000 votes in a jurisdiction in which only about 5,000 people cast ballots. Well-tested software should solve the problems of security and reliability, but even the cleanest vote counts will do nothing to stop fake registrations and absentee-ballot fraud.
Franchise control is one area in which Americans could learn from Mexicans. To get a voter card, a Mexican must have his picture taken, sign his name, and give a thumbprint. The voter card has a serial number, and a photo with a hologram over it. Every voter must produce the card and have his thumbprint scanned at the polling station to see if it matches the one on file.
This system is clearly designed to deal with Third-World corner cutting. The honor system may have worked when the United States was largely European and blacks could not vote. An increasingly Third-World population needs Third-World safeguards.