BUT IF WE MAKE ACCESS TO THE BALLOT EASIER, DEMOCRATIC UNICORNS WILL STEAL OUR ELECTIONS!

BUT IF WE MAKE ACCESS TO THE BALLOT EASIER, DEMOCRATIC UNICORNS WILL STEAL OUR ELECTIONS! Today Michael Waldman and Justin Levitt have a really terrific piece about the GOP's voter fraud fraud. The scam is advanced by the common method of "generalizing from apocryphal anecdotes":

Allegations of voter fraud -- someone sneaking into the polls to cast an illicit vote -- have been pushed in recent years by partisans seeking to justify proof-of-citizenship and other restrictive ID requirements as a condition of voting. Scare stories abound on the Internet and on editorial pages, and they quickly become accepted wisdom.

But the notion of widespread voter fraud, as these prosecutors found out, is itself a fraud. Firing a prosecutor for failing to find wide voter fraud is like firing a park ranger for failing to find Sasquatch. Where fraud exists, of course, it should be prosecuted and punished. (And politicians have been stuffing ballot boxes and buying votes since senators wore togas; Lyndon Johnson won a 1948 Senate race after his partisans famously "found" a box of votes well after the election.) Yet evidence of actual fraud by individual voters is painfully skimpy.

Before and after every close election, politicians and pundits proclaim: The dead are voting, foreigners are voting, people are voting twice. On closer examination, though, most such allegations don't pan out. Consider a list of supposedly dead voters in Upstate New York that was much touted last October. Where reporters looked into names on the list, it turned out that the voters were, to quote Monty Python, "not dead yet."

Or consider Washington state, where McKay closely watched the photo-finish gubernatorial election of 2004. A challenge to ostensibly noncitizen voters was lodged in April 2005 on the questionable basis of "foreign-sounding names." After an election there last year in which more than 2 million votes were cast, following much controversy, only one ballot ended up under suspicion for double-voting. That makes sense. A person casting two votes risks jail time and a fine for minimal gain. Proven voter fraud, statistically, happens about as often as death by lightning strike.

Yet the stories have taken on the character of urban myth.

And not only does the tiny problem of voter fraud detract attention from the really serious problems with voting in this country -- such as unreliable voting machines that vary across districts, insufficiently staffed voting centers, etc. -- these urban legends are used to actually oppose efforts to make it easier to vote, as it is in most liberal democracies (which don't seem to have problems running fair elections).

--Scott Lemieux

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