Voter fraud issue returns on schedule

The issue of voter fraud has surfaced again, as it usually does near an election.

Slate wades into the fray today, thanks primarily to a group in St. Paul, which is offering a bounty for those who are voting illegally.

In 2002, the Bush administration made cracking down on voter fraud a top priority. Five years later, the effort had yielded 86 convictions. About 30 convictions were linked to vote-buying schemes in races for small offices like sheriff or judge. Only 26 were attributable to individual voters, and most of those were misunderstandings about voter eligibility, such as felons who voted without knowing it was illegal. The prosecutions provided little evidence of organized fraud.

A 2007 study by the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University reached a similar conclusion. The vast majority of “fraud” cases, it found, were due to typographical errors in poll books and registration records, bad matches between voter databases (for example, you could be listed as John Smith in one database and John T. Smith in another), and voters registering at new addresses without deleting old registrations. Much of the alleged “voter fraud,” it turns out, is just poorly filled out registration cards. And even if someone purposely files a fraudulent form by writing the name “Mickey Mouse,” it doesn’t affect the election. “Mickey Mouse doesn’t vote,” says Wendy Weiser of the Brennan Institute. Actual voter fraud–a voter pretending to be someone he’s not–is, according to the study, less common than getting struck by lightning.

But there is a lingering question left over from the infamous 2008 Senate election, which, of course, was dominated by the recount between Al Franken and Norm Coleman: Are there more people voting who shouldn’t, or more people not being allowed to vote who should.

On Election Day in 2008, we had little trouble finding people who were registered to vote, but were turned away. Fortunately, Minnesota’s same-day registration allowed them to re-register. Still, we don’t know how many people turned away, gave up and went home without voting.

Under Minnesota law, voters can be declared inactive if they haven’t voted in the last four years. Not sure if you’re registered? Go here. You might save yourself some trouble on Tuesday.

By the way, allegations of voter fraud aren’t limited to Republicans. At the Democratic National Convention in 2008, I met Don Shaffer of Ottumwa, Iowa, a Democratic activist (and also the real Radar O’Reilly,he said). He was a Hillary Clinton supporter who said he wouldn’t support Barack Obama, insisting that he saw Obama forces bringing in non-residents to vote in the Iowa caucuses, although nothing to that effect was proven.

This year, those who allege voter fraud have more tools. American Majority Action is providing a downloadable app to report such allegations, and take pictures of the alleged perpetrators.