Remember the dire warnings and shrill allegations of voter fraud surrounding the 2008 election? That ACORN would steal it, that the New Black Panthers were intimidating voters, that fraud across the county would be “rampant?”
They never panned out. ACORN no longer exists. (Although that hasn’t stopped 20 percent of the American public from believing they’ll try to steal the election.) The DOJ found that the New Black Panthers incident was isolated — although that case found new life in allegations against the Justice Department itself (more on that below). A five-year effort by the Bush DOJ to weed out fraud, an effort the Obama team said was designed to suppress minority voter turnout, turned up “virtually no evidence.”
Voter fraud “exists, and anyone who denies it has no credibility,” J. Christian Adams told TPMmuckraker recently. “But it doesn’t affect the outcome of elections as much as people say. I don’t think that if there’s 100 or 1,000 dead voters in, let’s say, Texas … I don’t think it’s going to affect the outcome of statewide elections.”
And yet, with all the evidence against them, the fearmongers of voter fraud — a mantle most recently taken up by the tea party — soldier on.
Take Rep. Darrel Issa (R-CA), poised to become the chairman of the oversight committee, who this July sent a letter to the Minnesota secretary of state directing him to save all records concerning the hotly contested 2008 election that put Al Franken in the Senate. Issa says his staff “has uncovered the concerted efforts of nationwide organizations to subvert the American electoral process,” and makes ample mention of ACORN and convicted felons.
Much of the right-wing rage focuses on the perception that racial minorities are disenfranchising whites.
The most prominent example, of course, is the aforementioned New Black Panthers case. After the Obama administration decided only to act against one member, ordering him away from polling places in Philadelphia until 2012, Adams and other Bush appointees cried foul. They allege that Obama’s DOJ, under Attorney General Eric Holder, is purposely dropping cases against black defendants, and got the conservative-dominated Commission on Civil Rights to investigate it. Gail Heriot, who sits on the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, expressed concern in one meeting that the New Black Panther who held a nightstick at the polling place could “just hop on a bus” and intimidate other voters on election day this year.
That case has gotten new life in the headlines as the election nears. Last week, the former head of the voting rights division, Chris Coates, defied the DOJ and testified before the commission. Before that, the DOJ’s inspector general announced he would investigate allegations that the department is handling cases based on race.
Other cases trumpeted by the right have similar racial undertones. In Harris County, Texas, a tea party offshoot called True The Vote and the Republican registrar of voters have accused a low-income voter registration program of falsifying thousands of applications in an effort to conduct “an organized and systematic attack.” True The Vote says they found the alleged fraud by scouring voter registration records in districts with a high number of households with six or more registered voters — which also happened to be the predominantly poor, black voting districts. True The Vote is now advocating for proof of citizenship to be required at the polls. And the Tea Party Nation has told its members to “steal their good idea.”
Then there’s former ACORN employee Anita MonCrief, a self-described whistleblower who’s making the right-wing conference circuit and urging tea partiers to take up the cause of voter fraud. They should keep an eye on places like welfare offices and bus stops, she says, where liberal vote-stealers look for marks. As she tells it, the successors of ACORN use diversity as a ploy.
“I called it ‘Operation Darkie Shield,’” she said at one recent conference.
In Wisconsin, the state GOP scrapped a planned operation with tea party groups to “investigate” possible fake registrations — but someone still put up billboards featuring dark-skinned, jailed figures who admit to voter fraud to warn Milwaukee residents of jail time if they vote illegally.
Those who fear voter fraud in Wisconsin have a friend in the race for governor.
“As governor, I will sign into law a bill to require a photo ID to vote,” Wisconsin GOP gubernatorial candidate Scott Walker has said.
Amidst the fears, voting experts say they want to make sure that those who become poll watchers know the rules of the polling place so legitimate voters are not unfairly challenged.
“We just want to make sure that everyone is clear on the rules — that voters know their rights, that these groups know what they are and aren’t allowed to do,” said Tova Wang, Senior Democracy Fellow at Demos.
“Every single election there are these allegations of voter fraud that turn out to be mostly untrue and every year we find that there might be a very small handful of voter fraud cases but nothing on the order of what is alleged,” Wang said.