The New Yorker’s Voting Myths
Evidence shows that voter-ID laws are effective and fair.

The New Yorker’s Jane Mayer in 2009


Hans A. von Spakovsky

Critics often assert that huge numbers of voters are unable to get ID, but rarely can they find examples. Lawsuits challenging both the Georgia and the Indiana voter-ID laws were dismissed because the plaintiffs could not produce a single witness who would be unable to vote because of the voter-ID requirement. 

Mayer’s article insists that voter ID can help prevent only impersonation fraud at the polls. This ignores what I told her (and what is outlined further in our book) about the other kinds of fraud that can be prevented by requiring a government-issued photo ID with a current address. That includes voting by illegal aliens; voting under a false registration, where the name or address is bogus; double voting by individuals registered in more than one state, a practice that can be prevented if both states have ID laws; and absentee-ballot fraud, which can be prevented if the ID requirement is applied to absentee balloting as well as in-person voting. ID requirements could have prevented many of the voter-fraud incidents that came to light in the past month.

Mayer also criticizes my citation of a state grand-jury report released in 1984 by Elizabeth Holtzman, then the district attorney of Kings County, N.Y., and a former Democratic congresswoman. The report detailed a successful 14-year vote-fraud conspiracy in Brooklyn. In what Holtzman called “a systematic attack on the integrity of elections,” thousands of bogus votes in state and congressional primary elections were cast.

Apparently too busy to read the report herself, Mayer instead cited Rick Hasen, a liberal law professor at the University of California, Irvine. Hasen glibly pronounced the report “weak,” asserting that voter ID would have done nothing to stop the fraud.

Really? That’s not what the district attorney or grand jury thought. As Holtzman said in a press release accompanying the report:

The voting and registration fraud was accomplished by a group of people who used fictitious names to create large numbers of voter registration cards which they filed with the Board of Elections. Using these phony cards, fraudulent votes were cast at the primaries of specified candidates. Fraudulent votes were also cast using the registrations of newly registered or dead voters.

One witness detailed how he voted ten times in a primary election using bogus registration cards. He became the chief of a five-man crew, each of whom voted more than ten times in another election. Later, he ran a crew of eight, each of whom voted more than 20 times. And 20 other crews operated in that same election. In yet another election, he led a group of five people who cast a total of at least 100 votes. This is what Hasen, an academic with no election-administration experience, considers a “weak” case of impersonation fraud.

And what did the grand jury recommend? That the governor and the legislature initiate a study to “examine as possible remedies requiring identification from voters at the time of voting or registration.”

Hasen justifies dismissing the grand-jury report by claiming that all of the local election officials were in collusion with the fraudsters. The report does not reflect that. It does say that, before New York’s adoption of mail-in voter registration (which made voter-registration fraud easier to commit), some election inspectors responsible for voter registration were involved in the fraud. But there is no indication anywhere in the report that local election officials were involved in or knew about the widespread impersonation fraud carried out by the crews. Nor does it suggest that local officials were involved in the other methods of voter-registration fraud outlined in the report. What the report does show, however, is how easily mail-in voter registration can be manipulated by those intent on stealing elections.

Mayer moved from New York to Florida, only to repeat the conventional wisdom among liberals that a database cleanup to remove ineligible felons from the state’s voting rolls before the 2000 election led to the “disenfranchisement of thousands of voters — most of them Democrats and many of them black.” In 2001, Abigail Thernstrom of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights noted that this claim had “little basis in fact.” In fact, she pointed out, “whites were twice as likely as blacks to be placed on the list.” Indeed, both the Miami Herald and the Palm Beach Post concluded that, if anything, county officials were too permissive in whom they allowed to vote, and this largely benefited Al Gore.

The Post’s analysis found that 5,600 likely felons who should have been disqualified were permitted to cast ballots — and 68 percent of them were registered Democrats. Indeed, during all the various lawsuits against Florida, only two people testified that they were not allowed to vote because their names were mistakenly on the list. What Mayer calls “purges,” election officials call list maintenance. Keeping registration lists accurate and up to date is normal and necessary.

Some of Mayer’s slams against me are just odd. The civil-rights movement “created tumult in Alabama,” she notes, before adding that I had “no memory of it.” The clear implication is that I am deficient in character or cavalier in my attitude toward the civil-rights movement because I was five years old when the Civil Rights Act passed. When the Voting Rights Act passed, I was six.

Mayer also cites Joe Rich, a former Justice Department lawyer critical of how the Bush administration handled voting-rights cases. She ignores the sworn testimony of Christopher Coates, the former chief of the Voting Section at Justice, who described Rich’s attempt to stop the investigation of voting discrimination by local black officials in Mississippi. Rich’s rationale: He doesn’t believe in race-neutral enforcement of the Voting Rights Act. The judge in that case called it some of the most blatant discrimination he had ever seen, and Coates’s testimony confirmed that Rich publicly lied about his involvement in the case.

Like many liberals, Mayer resists reporting on voter fraud because it upsets her narrative that reform efforts such as voter-ID laws are both unnecessary and fraught with evil intent. Fortunately, neither the American public nor the courts agree with that view.

Polls show that Americans of all races and ethnic backgrounds overwhelmingly support voter ID and have serious concerns that voter fraud could affect our elections. With few exceptions, outfits like the Advancement Project and the Brennan Center have been unsuccessful in convincing the public to change their minds or in getting courts to throw out voter-ID laws.

I do owe one debt of gratitude to Mayer. Her attempted hatchet job — and her subsequent publicity tour (she’s making the rounds on the lefty talk circuit: Diane Rehm one day, Jansing and Co. the next) — has drawn additional attention to our book on election fraud, although she doesn’t refer to it by its full title. Indeed, since her yarn hit the newsstands, Who’s Counting? How Fraudsters and Bureaucrats Put Your Vote at Risk has moved up in the Amazon rankings. Apparently a lot of people are more interested in the hard facts than in the ideological spin of a “reporter” with an agenda.

— Hans A. von Spakovsky is a senior legal fellow at the Heritage Foundation and a former counsel to the assistant attorney general for civil rights at the Justice Department.


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