Houston — The 2012 elections will feature many close races, likely including the presidential contest. That makes concern about voter fraud and ballot integrity all the more meaningful, and a conference held here last weekend by the watchdog group True the Vote made clear just how high the stakes are.
“Unfortunately, the United States has a long history of voter fraud that has been documented by historians and journalists,” Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens wrote in 2008, upholding a strict Indiana voter-ID law designed to combat fraud. Justice Stevens, who personally encountered voter fraud while serving on various reform commissions in his native Chicago, spoke for a six-member majority. In a decision two years earlier clearing the way for an Arizona ID law, the Court had declared in a unanimous opinion that “confidence in the integrity of our electoral processes is essential to the functioning of our participatory democracy. Voter fraud drives honest citizens out of the democratic process and breeds distrust of our government. Voters who fear their legitimate votes will be outweighed by fraudulent ones will feel disenfranchised.”
Indeed, a brand-new Rasmussen Reports poll finds that 64 percent of Americans believe voter fraud is a serious problem, with whites registering 63 percent agreement and African-Americans 64 percent. A Fox News poll taken last month found that 70 percent of Americans support requiring voters to show “state or federally issued photo identification” to prove their identity and citizenship before casting a ballot. Majorities of all demographic groups agreed on the need for photo ID, including 58 percent of non-white voters, 52 percent of liberals, and 52 percent of Democrats.
Catherine Englebrecht, the Houston businesswoman and mother who founded True the Vote in 2009 after witnessing an ACORN-style group registering thousands of illegal or nonexistent voters in Houston, told the voter observers from 32 states gathered for the summit: “There is nothing more important this year than your work in making sure legitimate votes aren’t canceled out by fraud.”
Liberal groups ranging from the ACLU to the NAACP oppose voter-ID laws, claiming that voter fraud is almost nonexistent and that an ID requirement would amount to voter suppression. It’s certainly true that in-person voter fraud — the type of fraud most easily fought with voter-ID laws — isn’t the whole picture. Voter-ID laws must be combined with tighter controls on absentee ballots, the tool of choice of fraudsters. But filmmaker James O’Keefe demonstrated just last month how easy — and almost impossible to detect — voter impersonation can be: A white 22-year-old assistant of O’Keefe’s was offered the Washington, D.C., primary ballot of Attorney General Eric Holder, the most visible opponent of ID laws.
Just this week in Fort Worth, Texas, a Democratic precinct chairwoman was indicted on charges of arranging an illegal vote. Hazel Woodard James has been charged with conspiring with her non-registered son to have him vote in place of his father. The only reason the crime was detected was that the father showed up later in the day to vote at the same precinct. Most fraudsters are smart enough to have their accomplices cast votes in the names of dead people on the voter rolls, who are highly unlikely to appear and complain that someone else voted in their place.
One of the highlights of the True the Vote conference was a speech by Artur Davis, who was a Democratic congressman from Alabama until last year. Davis has been an up-and-coming black Democratic leader, having been selected to second the nomination of Barack Obama at the 2008 Democratic convention in Denver.
But in 2009 he decided to vote against Obamacare because he viewed it as unworkable and too expensive. When he ran the next year in the Democratic primary for governor in Alabama, he was attacked as disloyal and defeated by a coalition of liberals, teachers’ unions, and old-style black political machines.
He told me that the voter suppression he most observed in his 68 percent African-American district was rampant fraud in counties with powerful political machines. To keep themselves in power, these machines would frequently steal the votes of members of minority groups. “I know it exists, I’ve had the chance to steal votes in my favor offered to me, and the people it hurts the most are the poor and those without power,” he said.
Davis made it clear in his speech to True the Vote that much of the opposition to voter-ID and ballot-integrity laws is a sad attempt to inject racism into the discussion and intimidate supporters of anti-fraud laws. “This is not a billy club, this is not a fire hose,” he told his audience while holding up his driver’s license. “Where is this notion that if I have a right [to vote], that I don’t have to be bothered with responsibility?” He concluded with an appeal for all sides to eschew racial appeals: “We have to be one country, but the way you become one country is you stop acting like a country that’s divided into different buckets and bases of people.”
It’s a pity that so much of the discussion about voting this fall will be drenched in race. Americans have two important rights when it comes to voting. The first is the right to vote without fear and intimidation, for which this country fought an epic civil-rights struggle in the 1960s. Those gains in voter access must be preserved. But Americans also have a right to vote without their ballots’ being canceled out by people who are voting twice, are voting for the dead or nonexistent, or are non-citizens. We can and should accomplish two goals in the 2012 election — making sure it is easy to vote, and making sure it is hard to cheat. Groups such as True the Vote will be essential to make sure both sides of that imperative are fulfilled.
— John Fund is the national-affairs columnist for NRO.