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Bring Out Yer Dead!

A new book on voter fraud demonstrates that what's good for Monty Python is bad for reliable elections.

By 8.14.12

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Who's Counting?: How Fraudsters and Bureaucrats Put Your Vote at Risk
By John Fund and Hans von Spakovsky
(Encounter Books, $16.99, 256 pages)

The cry, "Bring out yer dead," is dark humor of a high order in the 1975 film Monty Python and the Holy Grail. When it could easily serve as the slogan for a presidential campaign's get out the vote effort, however, it's not so amusing. Rather, it would call for a sensible and well-informed discussion on election integrity. We should be pleased that two very experienced experts have authored a book that meets this need fairly and squarely.     

John Fund and Hans von Spakovsky both have impressive credentials on voting rights and "vote fraud." Mr. Fund, a senior editor of this magazine, is the author of Stealing Elections: How Voter Fraud Threatens Our Democracy, published in 2004; he has also authored numerous opinion articles on the subject for the Wall Street Journal, New Republic, and other publications. Mr. von Spakovsky, a senior legal fellow at the Heritage Foundation, is a former member of the Federal Election Commission; he had responsibility for enforcing federal voting rights laws when he served as counsel in the Department of Justice; he has also served as an election official in both Virginia and Georgia.

In Who's Counting?: How Fraudsters and Bureaucrats Put Your Vote at Risk, Messrs. Fund and von Spakovsky have co-authored a very readable and informative new book, one that is welcome as both a useful reference and a persuasive response to rampant inaccurate reporting and political posturing about efforts to reduce fraud and increase public confidence in our electoral system.

Who's Counting? treats readers to a trove of actual facts about the tactics of fraudsters, along with lucid explanations of the relevant legal issues. By way of illustration, we learn that a Pew Center study published in February 2012 found that 1.8 million dead people are still on state rolls of registered voters, and 2.75 million voters are registered in more than one state. Small wonder, then, that a Rasmussen poll found 82 percent of Americans -- including 67 percent of African-Americans and 67 percent of Democrats -- "supported requiring that voters prove their identity before voting."

In addition, the authors explain that the Supreme Court and lower federal courts have consistently upheld voter identification laws. The charge that reasonable identification requirements are somehow illegal or unconstitutional is utterly baseless. Nevertheless, and despite well-documented evidence of fraud and abuse in numerous states and localities, "only 17 states require some form of documentation in order to vote."

The authors' brief mention of requirements in other countries is also revealing. One striking example is our southern neighbor, Mexico. 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 protected the integrity of the electoral process, and in 2000 Mexico elected its first opposition-party president (Vicente Fox) in 70 years. As this and other examples illustrate, by international standards the United States' voter registration and election processes are unusually vulnerable to fraud. 

Most examples of actual vote fraud presented in the book involved Democrats, but Fund and von Spakovsky are prudently sensitive to charges of partisanship, and they address the issue forthrightly. "Voter fraud occurs both in Republican strongholds such as Kentucky hollows and Democratic bastions such as south Texas." Moreover, when Republicans "operated political machines… they were fully capable of bending -- and breaking -- the rules." Still, as Larry Sabato has noted, "Republican-base voters are middle-class and not easily induced to commit fraud," and the inner city populations that "appear to be available and more vulnerable to an invitation to participate in vote fraud tend to lean Democratic."

For the enlightenment of skeptics, the book provides detailed descriptions of numerous vote fraud enterprises, and they are by no means limited to big city political machines. The authors acquaint us with fraud that perpetuated the power of local Democratic Party politicians in rural Alabama and Mississippi -- where both perpetrators and victims were largely African-American, and the candidates on both sides were Democrats -- to a variety of schemes in Minnesota, Illinois, Indiana, Tennessee, Georgia, New York, Vermont, New Hampshire, New Jersey, the District of Columbia, and elsewhere.

We also learn of the methodology of vote fraud. Absentee ballots, early voting, and voting by mail are especially vulnerable. In more egregious schemes, voters are provided "assistance" in the polling place by officials who actively advance the fraud by directing voters how to mark their ballots, a coercive tactic to which the elderly are particularly vulnerable. Of course, voting by non-citizens, illegal aliens, dead people, and "deadwood" voters who have moved but remain on the rolls, are all facilitated by lax registration requirements and failure to clean up voter rolls as required by federal law.

Just as we read how fraud is implemented, so we are informed about what works to deter it. Voter ID is vital because it "can deter not just impersonation fraud at the polls, but also voting under fictitious voter registrations, double-voting by individuals registered in more than one state or locality, and voting by illegal aliens." Unfortunately, in "states without identification requirements, election officials have no means for preventing the casting of fraudulent votes."

The authors make a strong case for voter identification laws and provide extensive data demonstrating that such requirements have not suppressed turnout. They likewise debunk claims that many poor and minority citizens lack photo identification, with detailed studies supporting the common sense notion that, in today's world, virtually everyone has "photo ID."

The relatively lengthy chapter on "Holder's Justice Department" is essential reading. This is especially so because the national media have been conspicuously silent on the very aggressive politicization of the DOJ's Civil Rights Division, which is responsible for enforcing federal voting laws. Unfortunately, "fair and impartial enforcement of the law is hampered by the radical ideological makeup of almost all of the employees in the Civil Rights Division, especially the Voting Section." Career attorneys in that office have been told that the Obama administration will not, as a matter of policy, support "race neutral" enforcement of civil rights laws.

Under Eric Holder, the Department of Justice has declined to pursue clear violations of the law, such as intimidation of white voters by armed members of the New Black Panthers, and has shown contempt for the law by refusing to respond when its own conduct is investigated. The authors have explored this subject thoroughly, and their carefully documented report is truly alarming.

The authors also address other election-related topics that should be of interest to concerned citizens. One of these is the "national popular vote scheme," a proposed interstate compact that would essentially nullify the Electoral College provisions of the Constitution. We are provided a succinct review of the history and purpose of the Electoral College, which "prevents candidates from winning an election by focusing solely on high-population urban centers, and forces them to seek the support of a larger cross section of the American electorate." Fund and von Spakovsky offer a thoughtful and informative discussion of why the proposal is almost certainly unconstitutional. And beyond that, they describe the incentives for nationwide vote fraud, and the potential for equally extensive recount disputes, implicit in the scheme. Readers will come away with a better understanding of just how fraught with peril the proposal is.

Who's Counting? concludes with a chapter that enumerates reasonable measures state and local governments -- and citizens -- can take "to safeguard America's elections and improve the integrity of the process." These include voter identification laws, "a basic requirement for secure elections" that "should be implemented in all states." In addition, the authors propose steps to assure that all voters are citizens, to reduce the likelihood of absentee ballot fraud, to provide for robust voter registration databases, and to increase information sharing among states to eliminate duplicate registrations and otherwise keep the lists clean.

In their concluding recommendations, the authors urge that we avoid "any attempt to create artificial barriers to voter participation," while recognizing that "citizenship requires orderly, clear, and vigorous procedures to ensure that the integrity of our elections is maintained."

This is an excellent primer on vote fraud and election issues, which I heartily commend to readers on both sides of today's political divide.

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About the Author

Ray V. Hartwell, III was a Washington lawyer and a senior fellow at the Alabama Policy Institute. He died on February 7, 2014, in Anniston, Alabama.