After all the front-page caterwauling about “anonymous donors” supposedly “buying the election” by running ads favoring the GOP this election cycle, the New York Times isn’t showing itself overly concerned about actual cases of potential vote fraud involving Democrats.
In his Wednesday story “Fraudulent Voting Re-emerges as a Partisan Issue.” reporter Ian Urbina quickly dismissed concerns about vote fraud from “conservative activists,” claiming that 2006 accusations from the same quarters “turned out to be largely false.”
In 2006, conservative activists repeatedly claimed that the problem of people casting fraudulent votes was so widespread that it was corrupting the political process and possibly costing their candidates victories.
The accusations turned out to be largely false, but they led to a heated debate, with voting rights groups claiming that the accusations were crippling voter registration drives and squelching turnout.
That debate is flaring up anew.
Tea Party members have started challenging voter registration applications and have announced plans to question any individual voters at the polls whom they suspect of being ineligible.
In response, liberal groups and voting rights advocates are sounding the alarm, claiming that such strategies are scare tactics intended to suppress minority and poor voters.
The "voting rights advocates" cited by Urbina, the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University, is a clearly liberal organization. The giveaway is in the name: William Brennan was a proudly liberal Supreme Court Justice.
A caption under a photo (by Darren Hauck for the Times) of an allegedly threatening billboard in Milwaukee also took the liberal perspective: “This Milwaukee sign was criticized as intended intimidation.”
Voting rights advocates say they are worried.
“Private efforts to police the polls create a real risk of vote suppression, regardless of their intent,” said Wendy R. Weiser, director of the Voting Rights and Elections Project at the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University. “People need to know that any form of discrimination, intimidation or challenge to voters without adequate basis is illegal or improper.”
Voter fraud and voter-registration fraud are, of course, different.
While many states have voter registration records riddled with names of dead people, out-of-date addresses and other erroneous information, there is little evidence that such errors lead to fraudulent votes, many experts note.
Urbina downplayed the threat:
A report by the public-integrity section of the Justice Department found that from October 2002 to September 2005, the department charged 95 people with “election fraud”; 55 were convicted.
Among those, fewer than 20 people were convicted of casting fraudulent ballots, and only 5 were convicted of registration fraud. Most of the rest were charged with other voting violations, including a scheme meant to help Republicans by blocking the phone lines used by two voting groups that were arranging rides to get voters to the polls.
Urbina attempted to explain the decline in voter-registration applications in swing states by again blaming “conservative activists” for shutting down the corrupt left-wing activist group ACORN.
Voter enthusiasm is low now, and fewer groups like the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now, or Acorn, are engaged in drives to sign people up. Acorn collected about 550,000 voter-registration applications across the country in 2006, mostly from low-income and minority Americans, and 1.3 million in 2008.
But in March, the organization closed down after accusations by two conservative activists that low-level Acorn employees had advised them on how to hide prostitution activities and avoid taxes. The group was also battered by conservatives for having submitted some voter registration cards with incorrect, duplicate or false information.
While the Times can clearly spot phantom voter intimidation by conservative activists, it hasn’t concerned itself with actual attempts at voter intimidation coming from the left, as when members of the New Black Panther Party patrolled with a billy club outside a polling place in Philadelphia in 2008. Legal reporter Charlie Savage’s July 7, 2010 report leaned heavily on the “conservative” politics of those making the charges.
In her most recent column, Michelle Malkin listed examples of potential vote fraud the Times skipped.