Fraud? You Damn Betcha!

The zombies are back. It seems like only yesterday (okay, it was January) they were walking the sand hills of South Carolina.

The Nation reports from Michigan:

“Some 1,500 people voted under dead people’s and prisoners’ names from 2008-11, according to Michigan’s auditor general. Many might be clerical errors, but this illustrates the need to ensure accurate voter rolls.”

Michigan Secretary of State Ruth Johnson wrote this in a July 2 Times-Herald column, and she lied.

Brentin Mock continues:

While it’s true that the auditor general initially found close to 1,500 cases in which a dead or imprisoned person appeared to vote, the Department of State’s Bureau of Elections (BOE) said the auditor general was mistaken on all 1,500 counts (pdf; page 17). The auditor general reports that BOE informed investigators “that in every instance where it appears a deceased person or incarcerated person voted and local records were available, a clerical error was established as the reason for the situation. In addition, the Department [BOE] informed [the auditor general] that in some cases, voters submitted absent voter ballots shortly before they died. The Department informed us that the examples provided did not result in a single verified case that an ineligible person voted.” (My emphasis.)

Like model legislation drafted by the American Legislative Exchange Council, the groundless allegations from Michigan are almost a carbon copy of the January episode in which South Carolina Attorney General Alan Wilson (R) made similar claims:

COLUMBIA, S.C. — The South Carolina Attorney General asked SLED to investigate potential voter fraud in the state after evidence that more than 900 dead people appear to have “voted” in recent elections. The evidence was uncovered by Kevin Shwedo, the director of the Department of Motor Vehicles, during an extensive review of data related to the state's new voter ID law, officials said.

Let's recap what the investigation by the South Carolina State Election Commission revealed after a wasting staff time and taxpayer money on this earlier snipe hunt:

As was suspected from the beginning, the fevered stories of “zombie voters” turned out to be fantasy. This week, state elections officials reviewed 207 of the supposed 950 cases of dead people voting, and couldn’t confirm fraud in any of them. 106 stemmed from clerical errors at the polls, and another 56 involved bad data — the usual culprits when claims of dead voters have surfaced in the past.

Of course, proof isn't the point of these stunts. Advancing the "voter fraud" narrative is, and these allegations accomplish just what they are intended to. They get front-page headlines and prominent news-at-six coverage with an eye-popping crawler at the bottom of viewers' TV screens: Dead People Vote! Investigations that reveal the allegations to be bovine excrement end up on page A6. There are no crawlers condemning the state attorney general or secretary of state for running a con on the public. Republican operatives toss these "voter fraud" smoke bombs into newsrooms every few months to keep fresh anecdotes of voter fraud in circulation and, over time, to convince people that it is widespread, that where there's smoke, there must be a fire ... somewhere, one that can only be put out by passing Voter ID laws not designed to prevent it.

Urban legends of the dead voting are targeted not so much at the general public, but at the same conservatives who lapped up Bush administration lies about Iraqi WMDs like milk from a saucer. The GOP knows its base well. Tell supporters credulous enough to fall for the WMD lie that the dead are voting en masse, and the marks will fall for that, too. Wrap it in a flag and they'll believe anything.

A pattern of fraud? You damn betcha!

Courtesy of the Brennan Center (2007):

Exaggerated or unfounded allegations of fraud by dead voters include the following:

• In Georgia in 2000, 5,412 votes were alleged to have been cast by deceased voters over the past 20 years. The allegations were premised on a flawed match of voter rolls to death lists. A follow-up report clarified that only one instance had been substantiated, and this single instance was later found to have been an error: the example above, in which Alan J. Mandel was confused with Alan J. Mandell. No other evidence of fraudulent votes was reported.

• In Michigan in 2005, 132 votes were alleged to have been cast by deceased voters. The allegations were premised on a flawed match of voter rolls to death lists. A follow-up investigation by the Secretary of State revealed that these alleged dead voters were actually absentee ballots mailed to voters who died before Election Day; 97 of these ballots were never voted, and 2715 were voted before the voter passed away. Even if the remaining eight cases all revealed substantiated fraud, that would amount to a rate of at most 0.0027%.

• In New Jersey in 2004, 4,755 deceased voters were alleged to have cast a ballot. The allegations were premised on a flawed match of voter rolls to death lists. No follow-up investigation publicly documented any substantiated cases of fraud of which we are aware, and there were no reports that any of these allegedly deceased voters voted in 2005.

• In New York in 2002 and 2004, 2,600 deceased voters were alleged to have cast a ballot, again based on a match of voter rolls to death lists. Journalists following up on seven cases found clerical errors and mistakes but no fraud, and no other evidence of fraud was reported.

Michigan's Secretary of State and South Carolina's Attorney General were undoubtedly unaware of these facts, or or else didn't think they mattered. Republicans have been crying voter fraud since the 1980s, at least. What is different now is they have more channels for promoting the lie.

Examining the effects of recently passed Voter ID bills, the Washington Posreports that the "numbers suggest that the legitimate votes rejected by the laws are far more numerous than are the cases of fraud that advocates of the rules say they are trying to prevent."

In trying to promote Voter ID passage, the Republican National Lawyers Association published a report last year citing some "400 election fraud prosecutions" in the entire country in the last decade. The Post  observes, "That’s not even one per state per year." Among the dead links the association provides to substantiate its claims, only six cases are listed as voter impersonation fraud -- the kind Voter ID laws are supposedly designed to stop -- and none of those indicate votes actually being cast by anyone passing themselves off as someone else, dead or alive. Most involve vote buying or falsified registrations.

Meantime, the Christian Science Monitor  reports that Georgia rejected 873 provisional ballots in 2008 due to ID requirements, and 64 more in this year's presidential primary. Indiana tossed hundreds of provisional ballots in 2008, plus a hundred more in this year's primary. In its 2012 primary, Tennessee blocked 154. That's 1200 votes rejected in Georgia and Indiana alone according to an Associated Press investigation.

The party that believes government doesn't work has found a concrete way to prove it. Too cowardly to face the voters in a fair election? It's nothing a dose of vote suppression Viagra won't help. And Voter ID is only one of the tools in play. Common Cause just released an updated summary of additional Deceptive Election Practices and Voter Intimidation to watch out for this fall.

In an unguarded moment just weeks ago, Pennsylvania House Majority Leader Mike Turzai (R-Allegheny) revealed the real agenda behind passing Voter ID:

“We are focused on making sure that we meet our obligations that we’ve talked about for years,” said Turzai in a speech to committee members Saturday. He mentioned the law among a laundry list of accomplishments made by the GOP-run legislature.

“Pro-Second Amendment? The Castle Doctrine, it’s done. First pro-life legislation – abortion facility regulations – in 22 years, done. Voter ID, which is gonna allow Governor Romney to win the state of Pennsylvania, done.” [Emphasis mine]

Regarding Michigan Secretary of State Ruth Johnson, Digby writes:

If there is nothing else that can convince thinking people that the Republicans are a malevolent, anti-democratic Party, this should. There is no evidence, none, that there is any, election voter fraud, much less a systemic enough problem to turn elections, but there is ample evidence that if you make people go through ridiculous hoops to vote, a lot of them will give up. That's the point, that's what they're trying to do, everyone knows it.

It's pathetic to watch Republican spokesmen pretend otherwise. As Wally once said to The Beaver, everybody's wise to Eddie except Eddie. Then again, fooling the rest of us is not the point, is it? Many of the lies are directed at and spread by their own base. Between the lies they tell the rest of us and the lies they tell each other, daily, on Fox News, on talk radio, and in chain e-mail propaganda shared far and wide across the Internet, it is hard to know how many know the difference between truth and lies any more. Much less care.

Years ago, I read a report about a school bus service operator in North Carolina who bought a half dozen new buses, only to have multiple problems with them. Fresh from the factory, several would not pass inspection. Clutches kept burning out. He complained to the manufacturer and got nowhere. He called other owners and documented that they were having similar issues. Yet the manufacturer insisted there was no problem with the product. It must be his drivers.

Finally, the owner met with a regional manager who told him the same thing to his face. This was his reaction:

He was lying to me. I knew he was lying to me. He knew I knew he was lying to me. But he was lying anyway, not because he had anything to gain from his lies, but because it was company policy.

(Cross-posted from Scrutiny Hooligans.)