October 2012, Week 4


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Fri, 26 Oct 2012 23:11:48 -0400
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The Voter-Fraud Myth

The man who has stoked fear about impostors at the

By Jane Mayer
October 29, 2012

Read more http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2012/10/29/121029fa_fact_mayer#ixzz2ASTuTN6A

Teresa Sharp is fifty-three years old and has lived in
a modest single-family house on Millsdale Street, in a
suburb of Cincinnati, for nearly thirty-three years. A
lifelong Democrat, she has voted in every Presidential
election since she turned eighteen. So she was agitated
when an official summons from the Hamilton County Board
of Elections arrived in the mail last month. Hamilton
County, which includes Cincinnati, is one of the most
populous regions of the most fiercely contested state
in the 2012 election. No Republican candidate has ever
won the Presidency without carrying Ohio, and recent
polls show Barack Obama and Mitt Romney almost even in
the state. Every vote may matter, including those cast
by the seven members of the Sharp family—Teresa, her
husband, four grown children, and an elderly
aunt—living in the Millsdale Street house.

The letter, which cited arcane legal statutes and was
printed on government letterhead, was dated September
4th. “You are hereby notified that your right to vote
has been challenged by a qualified elector,” it said.
“The Hamilton County Board of Elections has scheduled a
hearing regarding your right to vote on Monday,
September 10th, 2012, at 8:30 a.m. . . . You have the
right to appear and testify, call witnesses and be
represented by counsel.”

“My first thought was, Oh, no!” Sharp, who is African-
American, said. “They ain’t messing with us poor black
folks! Who is challenging my right to vote?”

The answer to Sharp’s question is that a new watchdog
group, the Ohio Voter Integrity Project, which polices
voter-registration rolls in search of “electoral
irregularities,” raised questions about her eligibility
after consulting a government-compiled list of local
properties and mistakenly identifying her house as a
vacant lot.

The Sharp household had first been identified as
suspicious by computer software that had been provided
to the Ohio Voter Integrity Project by a national
organization called True the Vote. The software, which
has been distributed to similar groups around the
country, is used to flag certain households, including
those with six or more registered voters. This approach
inevitably pinpoints many lower-income residents,
students, and extended families.

True the Vote, which was founded in 2009 and is based
in Houston, describes itself as a nonprofit
organization, created “by citizens for citizens,” that
aims to protect “the rights of legitimate voters,
regardless of their political party.” Although the
group has a spontaneous grassroots aura, it was founded
by a local Tea Party activist, Catherine Engelbrecht,
and from the start it has received guidance from
intensely partisan election lawyers and political
operatives, who have spent years stoking fear about
election fraud. This cohort—which Roll Call has called
the “voter fraud brain trust”—has filed lawsuits,
released studies, testified before Congress, and
written op-ed columns and books. Since 2011, the effort
has spurred legislative initiatives in thirty-seven
states to require photo identification to vote.

Engelbrecht has received especially valuable counsel
from one member of the group: Hans von Spakovsky. A
Republican lawyer who served in the Bush
Administration, he is now a senior legal fellow at the
Heritage Foundation, the conservative think tank. “Hans
is very, very helpful,” Engelbrecht said. “He’s one of
the senior advisers on our advisory council.” Von
Spakovsky, who frequently appears on Fox News, is the
co-author, with the columnist John Fund, of the recent
book “Who’s Counting?,” which argues that America is
facing an electoral-security crisis. “Election fraud,
whether it’s phony voter registrations, illegal
absentee ballots, vote-buying, shady recounts, or old-
fashioned ballot-box stuffing, can be found in every
part of the United States,” they write. The book
connects these modern threats with sordid episodes from
the American past: crooked inner-city machines, corrupt
black bosses in the Deep South. Von Spakovsky and Fund
conclude that electoral fraud is a “spreading” danger,
and declare that True the Vote serves “an obvious

Mainstream election experts say that Spakovsky has had
an improbably large impact. Richard L. Hasen, a law
professor at the University of California at Irvine,
and the author of a recent book, “The Voting Wars,”
says, “Before 2000, there were some rumblings about
Democratic voter fraud, but it really wasn’t part of
the main discourse. But thanks to von Spakovsky and the
flame-fanning of a few others, the myth that Democratic
voter fraud is common, and that it helps Democrats win
elections, has become part of the Republican
orthodoxy.” In December, Reince Priebus, the chairman
of the Republican National Committee, wrote, “Election
fraud is a real and persistent threat to our electoral
system.” He accused Democrats of “standing up for
potential fraud—presumably because ending it would
disenfranchise at least two of its core constituencies:
the deceased and double-voters.” Hasen believes that
Democrats, for their part, have made exaggerated claims
about the number of voters who may be disenfranchised
by Republican election-security measures. But he
regards the conservative alarmists as more successful.
“Their job is really done,” Hasen says. “It’s common
now to assert that there is a need for voter I.D.s,
even without any evidence.”

In Hamilton County alone, the new citizens’ groups have
challenged more than a thousand names since March. Some
challenges, such as those aiming to disqualify college
students who failed to include their dorm-room numbers
on their registration forms, were tossed out
immediately. But the board accepted nearly two hundred
challenges, including those to twenty-six voters
registered at a trailer park that no longer existed.

In Ohio, if voters whose eligibility has been
challenged come to the polls in November, they may be
forced to use a provisional ballot, which will be
counted only if officials sanction it—after Election
Day. Some experts worry that voters who have been
needlessly challenged will feel too intimidated even to
show up. “People have other things to do with their
lives than respond to inaccurate complaints accusing
them of being criminals,” Justin Levitt, a professor at
Loyola Law School in Los Angeles, said.

Read more http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2012/10/29/121029fa_fact_mayer#ixzz2ASUKsm4C


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