Right Warns of Voter Fraud, But Do Their Claims Have Merit?

And who's telling black people they need to pay the gas bill in order to vote?

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According to watchdogs on the right, voter fraud could potentially play a huge role in the midterms. Republicans and Tea Party activists are pointing to a number of phenomena--including malfunctioning voting machines and unregistered voters being shepherded to the polls--as evidence that Democrats will try to unfairly influence next week's elections. Meanwhile, commentators on the left maintain that the voter-fraud charges are all smoke and no fire--but that voter intimidation tactics could give Republicans an unfair advantage. Here's a look at the right's charges:

  • Fraud Happening Everywhere  "Faced with multiple reports of early voting irregularities and election shenanigans across the country, left-wing groups are playing dumb, deaf and blind," writes Michelle Malkin. "In North Carolina and Nevada, early voters have encountered ballot machine glitches that favor Democrats in hotly contested races. In Troy, N.Y., and Daytona Beach, Fla., police investigations into suspected absentee ballot fraud by elected government officials are underway."

  • A Checklist of Malfeasance  J. Christian Adams at Pajamas Media runs down the list of things to watch for: "commands to vote," "mass illegal assistance," "phony voters," "absentee ballot signature mismatches," and "cash for votes," among other things. "Anyone who says voter fraud doesn't exist has no credibility," writes Adams. "I've covered elections for over 10 years. I've seen it over and over again with my own eyes. I've proved it in federal court."

  • 'An Epidemic'  In an interview with Newsmax, David Norcross, chairman of the Republican National Lawyers Association, cited the defunct NGO ACORN, which endorsed Barack Obama in 2008, and said that former members of ACORN have remained active in voter registration. "They use quotas for registration. That encourages people to go out and sign up anybody, or nobody — just sign up addresses and things like that," said Norcross. He added, "It's an epidemic ... It's laughable that the left calls voter fraud nonexistent. It's very much existent."

And the response from the left:

  • Reports of Fraud Largely Baseless  At Mother Jones, Kevin Drum writes that when you look at "statistics" and "actual facts," you find that "for all practical purposes, there is no voter fraud ... Every two years, like clockwork, Republicans gin up a massive hysteria over voter fraud that study after study shows doesn't exist. The fact of its nonexistence is about as well established as anything can possibly be, so there has to be some other reason for relentlessly bringing it up. And that reason, quite plainly, is to suppress the vote of groups unlikely to vote for Republicans."

  • The Right's Misinformation Campaign  "There are certainly instances of fraud; of felons voting, say, that should be prosecuted, as it's the law," writes Michael Tomasky at The Guardian. "But they're few and far between." Tomasky goes on to note that "on the other side of this coin, mysterious fliers appear in black communities round about now 'informing' voters that if they have an outstanding traffic ticket, or haven't paid this month's gas bill, they can't vote ... We cannot of course measure the number of people who don't vote because of such intimidation, but the amount of money and time Republicans put into these schemes tells us that they think it's worth the effort."

  • Stay Out of the Rain  Ryan Reilly at Talking Points Memo calls voter fraud "a problem that most voting experts say has been exaggerated by the GOP in order to push for policies that suppress Democratic turnout." Reilly goes on to note that "one study by the Brennan Center found that a person is more likely to get struck by lightning than impersonate another voter at the polls."

  • Voting Fraud Not Worth It  Slate's Christopher Beam wonders why anyone would bother. "Perhaps the strongest evidence against claims of widespread voter fraud is that it would make no sense," writes Beam. "You'd first have to recruit a large number of voters willing to cooperate, each of whom would risk five years in prison and a $10,000 fine. Then you'd have to get them all registered, which would require fake IDs and mailing addresses ... The more people involved in the scheme, the more likely someone slips up." Beam adds that "for large organizations, there are much better, safer, more efficient ways to steal an election" than by gaming the registration process.

  • How Do We Define Fraud?  Adam Serwer, writing at The Washington Post, points out that "conservatives helped assemble the myth that now-defunct community organizing group ACORN 'stole elections' by blurring the distinction between voter registration fraud--which is as easy as filling out a registration form incorrectly--and the actual act of casting a fraudulent ballot." But, says Serwer, "while the voter fraud panic is mostly hype, voter suppression is a very real phenomenon."

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.