Friday, October 29, 2004

"Widespread Vote Fraud:" Applying Some Common Sense

Lots of accusations of Democratic vote fraud are flying around these days, even before the election has happened. Let's apply a little common sense to the three major pieces of "evidence" presented for challenging Democratic voters.

People are registering at addresses where they don't live, as evidenced by returned mail.

The Republican Party of Ohio sent registered letters to tens of thousands of newly registered voters. A lot of those letters came back as undeliverable, which the Republicans claim is prima facie evidence that those voters don't exist at those addresses.

But what happens when someone tries to deliver a registered letter, and you aren't home? Around here, the mail carrier leaves a little slip inviting you to pick up the letter at the post office. And my carrier always notes who the letter is from.

Now imagine that you're a Democrat, and you get a registered letter from the Republican Party. Why on earth would you go all the way down to the post office and wait in line to pick it up? What could the Republican Party possibly have to say that you'd be interested in reading? Most likely, you ignore the letter. Eventually, the post office returns it to the sender as "undeliverable." And your vote gets challenged as fraudulent.
When Catherine Herold received mail from the Ohio Republican Party earlier this year, she refused it.

The longtime Barberton Democrat wanted no part of the mailing and figured that by refusing it, the GOP would have to pay the return postage.

What she didn't count on was the returned mail being used to challenge the validity of her voter registration.

Herold,who is assistant to the senior vice president and provost at the University of Akron,was one of 976 Summit County voters whose registrations were challenged last week by local Republicans on behalf of the state party.

She went to the Board of Elections on Thursday morning to defend her right to vote and found herself among an angry mob -- people who had to take time off work to defend their right to vote.

After hearing some of the protests, the board voted unanimously to dismiss all 976 challenges.
(Via Atrios and Jerome, at MyDD.)

There are more registered voters than eligible voters in some Ohio cities.

What happens when you move, and have to re-register to vote at your new address? You fill out a voter registration card and send it in. The elections board adds you to the rolls for your new precinct and notifies your old precinct that you're no longer registered there. Eventually, your old precinct takes you off the rolls. But that process isn't instantaneous. There's nothing unusual or improper about voters temporarily appearing on the rolls twice, while the bureaucracy grinds through the process of removing them from their previous precinct of record. In particular, it's not surprising that, as voter registration deadlines approach, elections boards are more concerned about adding people to the rolls than they are about removing them from the rolls.

None of this adds up to fraud until a voter actually votes twice. And none of it is under the control of individual voters or organizations conducting voter registration drives. When I moved from the suburbs to the city, it wasn't up to me to tell my suburban precinct not to let me vote there anymore. It was up to the elections board. Did my name appear on the rolls of my suburban precinct for the primary election, when I voted in the city? I have no idea. I didn't try to vote there. So even if my name were on the rolls twice, no fraud was committed.

People have been submitting voter registrations under names like "Mary Poppins" and "Mickey Mouse."

That's what happens when you pay your voter registration workers by the completed form, instead of by the hour. This is perfectly well known, which is why most legitimate voter registration organizations don't give employees or volunteers incentives to forge registrations. Sure, it's fraud on the part of the guy standing outside the supermarket with a clipboard - but is it really going to lead to voter fraud? Could it really be part of a Democratic scheme to stuff the ballot box? I can't see how.

Let's try to imagine how that scenario would play out, shall we?

Someone shows up at the polls in a swing state and tells a pollworker, "My name is Mickey Mouse."

And the pollworker says... "Okay, Mr. Mouse, here's your ballot." The pollwatchers on hand from either party look on, sipping their coffee in unsuspecting bliss.

In what universe would it actually happen that way? Anyone trying to cast a ballot as "Mickey Mouse" is going to be immediately challenged by pollworkers, who, while they may be elderly in most precincts, are hardly so culturally illiterate as to not have heard of the most famous American cartoon character of all time. And even if you imagine a corrupt or clueless pollworker allowing "Mr. Mouse" to pass by unchallenged, it's hard to imagine the partisan pollwatchers doing the same. It is simply ridiculous to imagine that fraudulent ballots could be cast under famously fictional names. And it's even more ridiculous to imagine that Democrats would pursue such a boneheadedly transparent strategy in an attempt to steal the election.

Are Republicans legitimately picturing a smoke-filled room full of Democratic operatives cackling, "we'll register every character in the Disney archive! No one will ever catch on! Our plan is foolproof!" ...Of course they aren't. They're just trying to confuse the issue and set up the rationale for a preemptive challenge of a Kerry victory.

The DLC's New Donkey reminds us that the Ohio vote suppression efforts have Karl Rove's fingerprints all over them, and reminds us of what to expect next.