Politics & Policy

One of Eight Voter Registrations Is Flawed, James O’Keefe Shows

O’Keefe gets the greenlight from an election official.
Watch how easy it is to turn those into illegal votes.

Filmmaker James O’Keefe has yet again demonstrated just how vulnerable our election system is to fraud.

A Pew Center on the States study in 2012 found that one out of eight voter registrations is inaccurate, out-of-date, or a duplicate. Some 2.8 million people are registered in two or more states, and 1.8 million registered voters are dead. 

So O’Keefe decided to take some of the 700,000 “inactive” voters the Voting Integrity Project says are on the rolls in North Carolina, the site of one of the nation’s most hotly contested Senate races, and see just how easy it would be to obtain a ballot in their name. Sadly, it was child’s play as his video demonstrates.

“Some twenty times, nearly a bus load, we were just a signature or two away from voting. Of course, we never signed anything, but we could have, and if we had, we could have voted and no one would have been the wiser,” is O’Keefe’s depressing conclusion.

But he did take some encouragement from the one time he was prevented from getting a ballot. Even though it is not required, election officials at one location wanted to see ID because it had been so many years since the voter on the rolls had shown up to vote. “They wanted to protect the system. They had to break the rules to do it,” O’Keefe said. He simply walked out of the polling place when asked for an ID, and is certain the incident wasn’t reported. Thankfully, North Carolina has passed a photo-ID requirement for voting — but it doesn’t take effect until 2016.

Those who deny that voter fraud is a problem usually make two arguments. First, they say that whatever fraud exists is far more likely to occur with mail-in or absentee ballots than with in-person voter impersonation. That is true, which is why it’s regrettable that so few “deniers” are willing to support efforts to clamp down on absentee-ballot fraud. Second, they say that the low number of prosecutions for in-person voter fraud is proof that voter-ID laws designed to prevent it aren’t necessary.

But we don’t judge the extent of a law-enforcement problem in any other area solely by the number of prosecutions. The fact is that efforts like O’Keefe’s show just how hard it is to catch someone. 

Nor is he the only one to demonstrate that. 

Last December, New York City’s Department of Investigation detailed how its undercover agents claimed at 63 polling places to be individuals who were in fact dead, had moved out of town, or who were in jail. In 61 instances, or 97 percent of the time, they were allowed to vote. (To avoid skewing results, they voted only for nonexistent write-in candidates.) How did the city’s Board of Elections respond? Did it immediately probe and reform their sloppy procedures? Not at all. It instead demanded that the investigators be prosecuted. 

The fact is that prosecutions for voter fraud are rare in part because the crime is so hard to catch, the level of proof required is high, the priority in filing such cases is low, and district attorneys are reluctant to pursue cases in which half of the ruling political class will be upset with them for doing so.

Former Democratic senator Chris Dodd once noted as the last bipartisan federal election-reform bill was passed by Congress in 2002 that the goal of our laws should be to “make it easy to vote and hard to cheat.” Indeed, there is no reason why we can’t pursue both goals. Our clearly slipshod voter-registration systems, the millions of inactive or suspect names on our voter rolls, and videos like the one James O’Keefe has made should convince us of the necessity to take action. 

— John Fund is national-affairs correspondent for National Review.

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