The State Department has invited representatives of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) to monitor this fall’s election. Despite conservative objections to “foreign meddling” in domestic affairs, Americans should welcome international observers by the planeload. Perhaps seeing Belgians watch for monkey business at U.S. precincts finally will shame America into taking vote fraud seriously.
Despite frequent ballot shenanigans here, vote fraud still is shrugged off as something that happens “over there:” In pre-war Iraq, for instance, Saddam Hussein claimed to have won a 100 percent “Yes” vote in an October 2002 referendum on a new term. He reputedly enjoyed a 100 percent election-day turnout, too. In Venezuela, President Hugo Chavez survived an August 15 recall, even as election officials instructed some Caracas voters to cast their ballots at Venezuela’s embassy in Stockholm, Sweden.
As pathetic as these overseas stories are, American electoral deficiencies are disturbingly easy to find:
‐For its August 22 edition, the New York Daily News compared Florida’s and Gotham’s voter rolls. It discovered 45,882 voters who appear to be registered in both places. They are 68 percent Democrat and 12 percent Republican, while 16 percent chose no party. Between 400 and 1,000 of them voted twice in at least one election. This federal offense carries up to a $10,000 fine and five years behind bars. Irving and Magdolna Hertz allegedly voted in person in Brooklyn and absentee in Miami in 1996 and 1998. When the News called for comment, Irving Hertz said, “I’m not here today,” then hung up the phone. Recall that President Bush won Florida in 2000 by 537 votes.
‐GOP activist Shelley Hayner and 11 volunteers audited the votes in Dona Ana County, New Mexico. Among other glitches, they discovered that 5,509 absentee ballots were submitted with signatures, yet 6,456 were counted in the November 2000 final, official tally. When journalist Federico Almarez asked Denise Lamb in the secretary of State’s office to explain these 947 phantom votes, she blamed “administrative lapses.” Al Gore won New Mexico by 366 votes.
‐According to U.S. Senator Christopher Bond (R., Missouri), St. Louis’s 2000 rolls included 247,135 voters versus 258,532 eligible adults. That constitutes an incredibly civic-minded 95.6 percent registration rate. Alderman Albert Villa–dead for a decade–was registered, as was Ritzy Mekler, a Springer Spaniel. Meanwhile, an elephant at the San Diego Zoo registered to vote, probably Republican.
‐During a recount of votes cast in a Democratic primary last March 9, Rep. Ciro Rodriguez (D., Texas) complained that a ballot box suddenly appeared in south Texas containing enough votes to hand his opponent, Henry Cuellar, a 58-vote victory.
‐Nursing home staffers have been caught filling absentee ballots on behalf of befuddled seniors who may believe, for example, that Harry Truman is president.
Why are these, and many more, outrages so widespread? For one, these crimes are rarely punished.
“After extensive research, I can report that while voting irregularities are common, the number of people who have spent time in jail as a result of a conviction for voter fraud in the last dozen years can be counted on the fingers of one hand,” writes Wall Street Journal editorialist John Fund in his new book Stealing Elections: How Voter Fraud Undermines Our Democracy.
Election chicanery is most common in heavily minority urban centers. Thus, Fund adds, “Several prosecutors told me they fear charges of racism or a return to Jim Crow voter suppression tactics if they pursue touchy fraud cases.”
When Pennsylvania Republicans tried in June 2002 to require voters to present photo ID (as needed to cash checks), Democrats and the NAACP screamed that the GOP was “disenfranchising” electors. Democratic National Committee spokeswoman Maria Cardona helpfully notes that “ballot security and preventing voter fraud are just code words for voter intimidation and suppression.”
Absent serious repairs, John Fund fears America will “drift toward banana-republic elections.”
Can the OSCE observers help? While they correctly will lack legal standing to intervene, they can and should blow their whistles as loudly as possible if they witness skullduggery. Their mere presence, however, may be their best weapon. One hopes that with guests in our house, Americans will be on our best behavior on November 2.