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October 23, 2014

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POLITICAL MEMO:

Voter fraud isn’t what — by some — it’s cracked up to be

ACORN missteps unlikely to affect election

At first blush, Secretary of State Ross Miller and Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto struck a blow for democracy last week when they staged a raid on a group working to register low-income people to vote in next month’s election.

Authorities accused the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now of voter-registration fraud, alleging the group had submitted registration forms with false information or duplicated information on multiple forms. Not to worry, Miller said. The raid, he said, proves the system works and that the integrity of the voting process in Nevada remains intact.

Nevada Republicans weren’t so sure. Gov. Jim Gibbons and Assembly Minority Leader Heidi Gansert quickly called for legislation requiring photo identification to vote in Nevada. And before long, ACORN, the group performing the registration work, found itself at the center of presidential politics, with the campaign of Sen. John McCain linking the group to Sen. Barack Obama.

During the primary season, the Democrat’s campaign paid an ACORN subsidiary to help canvass voters. Also, in 1995, Obama and two other lawyers from his law firm represented the group in a lawsuit against Illinois to make voter registration easier.

“I think that we should worry about what impact they’re going to have as an organization on this year’s election,” McCain campaign manager Rick Davis said. “The only reason you pack lists of voter registration is because you want to steal votes, because you want to cheat ... We don’t feel that the election is something that should be stolen from the American electorate.”

The major problem with all of this, though, is the fact that several national studies have shown widespread voter fraud to be a myth, a specter raised in large part to drive policy — photo ID laws — that is seen to suppress turnout. Marc Ambinder of The Atlantic summed up the politics on his blog: “By trumping up ACORN’s problems and by linking them to the Obama campaign, Republicans are building a foundation on top of which they can aggressively challenge voters on Election Day.”

Nevada authorities say any fraudulent registrations would have no effect on the November election for the simple reason that fake addresses and duplicates never make it onto the voter rolls. Registrations without a valid driver’s license or Social Security number require photo ID at the polls.

The proponents of photo ID laws say legislation will prevent individuals from impersonating other voters on Election Day. But, according to a report by the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law, such behavior is “more rare than getting struck by lightning.” The report also noted fraud by individual voters is “a singularly foolish and ineffective way to attempt to win an election” given the heavy federal penalties and relatively small benefit — one vote. (Studies also have shown that photo ID laws disproportionately affect minority and low-income voters, reducing turnout among two groups that traditionally vote Democratic.)

A five-year effort by the Bush administration to crack down on voter fraud turned up virtually no evidence of any organized effort to skew federal elections, The New York Times reported last year. As of 2006, about 120 people have been charged and 86 convicted. Many of the cases involved people who mistakenly filled out registration forms or misunderstood eligibility rules, the Times reported.

The push to prosecute voter fraud figured prominently into the removals of at least two U.S. attorneys two years ago. Republican politicians or party officials had criticized the attorneys for failing to pursue such cases.

Nevada authorities criticized ACORN for setting up a system they say encouraged fraud. Canvassers were paid to gather registrations, based on a loose quota. Some of those workers were prison inmates on work release, Miller said. For its part, ACORN says it alerted officials about rogue canvassers but its complaints fell on deaf ears.

So what does it all add up to? Not a whole lot.

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