Commentary: The nonexistent problem of voter fraud

The San Luis Obispo TribuneOctober 26, 2012 

It seems not a day goes by that I don’t marvel at the good fortune we have to live in the state of California.

My latest cause for celebration came upon reading a front-page story detailing how our state has become a national leader in improving voter rights and access — at the very same time all sorts of nasty winds are blowing in the opposite direction.

I can get riled up pretty easily, but few issues raise my blood pressure more than those that assault the core principles upon which this nation was founded — you know, Bill of Rights-type stuff … freedom of speech, freedom of the press, freedom of religion.

The right to vote lands squarely in that group.

It is one of the elemental principles of our democracy and one of the most powerful acts you can make as an individual, lending your voice to the chorus of countless others in the cause of self- governance.

It is the chance we get — from the smallest municipal councils to the highest office in the land — to stand and be counted, to have our wishes be heard, to play a part in the great experiment.

It is one none of us should take lightly. It is one all of us should exercise exuberantly.

Yet here we are in 2012 watching as powerful partisan forces attempt to thwart that right under pretenses so faulty and laughable they should be an affront to intelligent, rational people everywhere.

According to the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University referenced in that story, in the past two years the number of states requiring voters to show a photo ID has grown from two to eight. Three states require proof of citizenship to register. And 16 have introduced bills to make voter registration more difficult.

Why? To put a stop once and for all to the rampant, destructive, insidious threat of voter fraud, which might be a frightening risk if it existed AT ALL.

Which it doesn’t.

Get that? It’s a nonexistent problem searching for an unnecessary solution.

Actually, it’s not even that. It’s a bald-faced attempt by a fearful right to systematically manipulate the voting population in order to reduce the number of voters — such as young people and minorities — who don’t tend to see things their way.

Don’t believe me? Try these facts on for size.

This year, a group of bright student journalists from around the country embarked on a massive effort to determine, once and for all, whether any such voter fraud problem exists.

Called “Who Can Vote?,” the effort gathered 24 students from 11 universities around the country under the auspices of News21, a national investigative reporting project funded by the Carnegie Corp. of New York and the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.

The students spent 10 weeks starting in May traveling to more than 40 cities and 21 states, conducting more than 1,000 interviews, requesting thousands of public records and scouring nearly 5,000 documents.

“Their most ambitious effort,” according to the News21 website, “was to gather, organize and analyze all reported cases of election fraud in the U.S. since 2000, building the most comprehensive database of its kind.”

What did they find?

“Despite the push for strict voter ID laws in a charged partisan and racial debate, the most exhaustive study ever of American election fraud reveals the rate is infinitesimal. Since 2000, a time when 146 million Americans were registered to vote, News21 found 10 cases of in-person voter fraud, which only photo ID laws would prevent. That would be about one case for every 15 million eligible voters.”

Let me say that again: They found 10 cases.

The rate is infinitesimal. It’s 0.00000007.

And yet, according to News21, 37 state legislatures have enacted or are considering tough voter ID laws.

Why? Politics, plain and simple. It’s a grab for power at the expense of the people.

And to make it more galling, these days, we should be going in exactly the opposite direction.

Voting should be getting easier. We have the technology to create secure online mechanisms.

If we can trust all of our money, bank accounts, retirement funds and stock portfolios online, why shouldn’t we trust the ability to cast a ballot there as well?

Likewise, why shouldn’t we explore same-day registration, if it gets more people to engage in the democratic process?

Yet, when just such a bill passed the California Legislature on a party-line vote, Republican Assemblyman Dan Logue of the 3rd District, northeast of Sacramento, claimed it “weakens our election law to dangerous levels.”

No, what it weakens is your chances to get elected because it includes more voters, many of who will not be inclined to put a check next to your name.

That’s the truth with no bias, and I am disgusted by politicians who would cloak themselves in fake outrage while actively engaging in voter suppression.

Assemblyman Logue, your cause should be 100 percent voter participation, and if it turns out that a 100 percent-participating electorate works against you, then that is your problem.

You can work your partisan angles all you want and still claim to uphold American ideals.

But if one of those angles includes manipulating the vote by discouraging registration and disenfranchising those who may disagree with you, then you are upholding un-American ideals.

You want a real example of voter fraud? That’s it.

Joe Tarica is the presentation editor for The Tribune. Reach him at

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