Blog on the Run: Reloaded

Saturday, July 1, 2017 8:29 am

The best election money can steal

Dolt 45’s poll numbers continue to tank, and the Senate Republicans’ “health care” plan is polling down around the levels of cat poop: As of earlier this week, only 12% of Americans supported it. But Republicans don’t seem overly worried about the 2018 or 2020 elections. There are a couple of reasons for this: They’re pretty confident they can use Trump’s new election commission to steal the elections, and they may even be relying on voting-machine hacking.

When Trump signed an executive order in May to form an election commission, he said it was “to promote fair and honest elections.” It’s not. Trump himself continues to say (if not believe) that he lost the popular vote because 3 to 5 million people voted illegally. (That’s despite the fact that documented cases of voter fraud in the U.S. are vanishingly rare — law professor Justin Levitt found 135 cases of vote fraud nationally out of 1 billion ballots cast between 2000 and 2014, while the Washington Post found four cases out of 135 million ballots cast in 2016.) He clearly wants this commission to try to find evidence to back up his claim.

To do that, he named perhaps the country’s most notorious vote suppressor, Kansas Secretary of State (and gubernatorial candidate) Kris Kobach, vice chair of the commission. Kobach made headlines this week by demanding voter registration data from all 50 states; more on that below. Let’s be blunt: If you’re interested in fair and honest elections, you don’t hire Kris Kobach. If, on the other hand, you’re interested in suppressing the votes of people who might be disproportionately inclined to vote Democratic, Kobach’s your guy.

As this New York Times profile from a couple of weeks ago indicates, Kobach is basically a Klansman without the n-bombs. (Hey, in his spare time he provides legal counsel to a hate group, as one does.) He’s also a committed ideologue who has never allowed the facts to get in the way of a good delusion, on voting or anything else. (Read that profile. Kobach is the kind of scary true believer who could get us into a nuclear war if he ever got elected president.)

Since being elected Secretary of State, he has enacted four measures in Kansas to restrict voting, and the ACLU whipped his ass in court on all four. Not only that, a federal judge fined him $1,000 for lying to the court about the contents of some of his documents. (I’d’ve jailed him for contempt and referred the matter to the state bar for additional sanctions, as well.)

Moreover, Kobach was the driver of the GOP’s notorious “Crosscheck” program in the 2016 elections. Crosscheck, in place in swing states including Wisconsin, Michigan, and North Carolina, ostensibly was intended to search voter-registration data for people who were registered to vote in multiple places and states, to ensure they voted only once. But in real life, its matching parameters were so loose — just a name and a date of birth — that the program generated roughly 200 false positives for every duplicate registration it detected.

Here’s how it worked in North Carolina:

Crosscheck has led to outrageous headlines that make double voting seem far more common than it is. In 2014, after North Carolina joined Crosscheck, the head of the state board of elections reported that in the 2012 general election, there were 35,750 voters in the state whose first and last names and dates of birth matched those of individuals who voted in the same election in a different state. Republican leaders of the North Carolina Legislature called it “alarming evidence of voter fraud,” and the conservative political strategist Dick Morris told Sean Hannity on Fox News, “It’s the most important data I’ve read in a year,” adding that it was “the first concrete evidence we’ve ever had of massive voter fraud.” But when North Carolina investigated the numbers using additional data like the last four digits of voters’ Social Security numbers, eight cases of potential double voting were referred to prosecutors and two people were convicted.

So, as we see, this is not a man who is disinterestedly pursuing free and fair elections. This is a man who is attempting to strike likely Democratic voters from the rolls, even when they are legally entitled to vote; indeed, as noted by former Justice official Sam Bagenstos, it appears Kobach intends for the commission to sue the states to force them to purge their voter rolls in the manner he favors. I note for the record that 18 USC 241 makes it a crime, punishable by up to 10 years in prison, to conspire to deny people their civil rights. And Kobach has been so wrong for so long on voting rights that it is difficult to understand his actions as anything other than intentional.

Also on the commission: Hans von Spakovsky, a former member Bush 43-era Justice Department official who also has a long history of vote suppression efforts under the guise of preventing vote fraud — indeed, Democrats successfully blocked his nomination to the Federal Election Commission in 2008 because of it. Like Kobach, von Spakovsky also has a certain morally casual attitude, as this 2006 Post article highlights:

When he was a senior lawyer in the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division, Hans von Spakovsky played a central role in approving a controversial Georgia voter identification program over the objections of staff lawyers.

But now, after leaving Justice for the Federal Election Commission, von Spakovsky has acknowledged writing a law review article that endorsed photo identification, which was Georgia’s approach, before the state’s proposal was even submitted to Justice for review. He also took the unusual step of using a pseudonym, “Publius,” in publishing the article, which appeared in the spring 2005 issue of the Texas Review of Law & Politics.

The article and its unusual authorship prompted a letter of complaint to the Justice Department last week from the Voting Rights Project, an arm of the American Civil Liberties Union that is opposed to Georgia’s voter identification plans. The group said the article shows von Spakovsky had already made up his mind on the issue and that his attempt to hide his views may have violated Justice Department guidelines.

In addition, a link to the Publius article suddenly disappeared this week from the FEC Web site, which had featured the article among a list of von Spakovsky’s writings.

“There appears to have been an intentional desire to prevent the public and, in particular, advocates with business before the Voting Section, from knowing the views of one of the senior officials involved,” Neil Bradley, the ACLU group’s associate director, wrote in his letter to Justice.

Whether or not von Spakovsky did anything to merit discipline, this is not the behavior of someone with a disinterested desire for free and fair elections.

Earlier this week, as noted above, Kobach asked all 50 secretaries of state, who oversee voter registration in most states, for voter registration data, including not only such things as names, addresses and dates of birth but also political party, last four digits of Social Security number, and voting history since 2006.

It is hard to avoid the inference that Kobach intends to apply Crosscheck nationwide — basically doing for the country what he did for North Carolina and possibly illegally disenfranchising millions of Americans.

(Even if Kobach’s motives were above suspicion, Kobach appears to know nothing about how to transmit, store, and analyze data safely and securely — you don’t transmit sensitive data files by email, just for starters. In short, this national database, even if it weren’t being used for partisan purposes, would be an identity-theft catastrophe just waiting to happen, particularly given the unseemly closeness of others in this administration to the Russian government.)

Fortunately, close to half of the secretaries of state are resisting, and not all of them are from blue states. Mississippi’s Republican Secretary of State, Delbert Hosemann, literally invited the commission to jump into the Gulf of Mexico. Even another member of the commission, Indiana Secretary of State Connie Lawson, a Republican, is refusing to provide anything more than what’s already public in Indiana: a voter’s name, address, and congressional district.

It remains to be seen what, if anything, the commission will accomplish, but one thing it manifestly will not do is probe fully the question of whether our elections are truly honest.

For one thing, neither the commission nor anyone else in the Trump administration appears interested in the question of whether Russians — or anyone else — hacked voting machines in 2016. The Department of Homeland Security says it hasn’t examined a single voting machine and does not intend to. And Trump, who could insist upon it, has been silent on the issue.

To be clear, there is as yet no proof that anyone ever has successfully hacked a voting machine to alter or delete a ballot in a U.S. election. That’s a topic I’ve followed ever since editing the 2004 book “Black Box Voting: Ballot Tampering in the 21st Century,” by Bev Harris and David Allen (more on that here). But I’ve always believed it possible — the evidence that it’s doable is just too overwhelming. And that’s why you need robust election auditing, including but not limited to examining machines.

For another, an election commission truly interested in election integrity would be examining a lot of topics this commission isn’t. Some of them, as suggested by Vermont’s Secretary of State, Jim Condos, include:

  • Foreign interference and attacks on our voting systems;
  • Funding for the Election Assistance Commission, which, among many other virtues, is the only U.S. government agency currently empowered to look into voting-machine hacking.
  • Partisan gerrymandering
  • Updating election equipment
  • Automatic voter registration
  • Requiring paper ballots instead of hackable machines
  • Requiring election audits
  • Expanding early voting opportunities
  • Expanding voting by mail
  • Increasing the convenience and accessibility of voting places
  • Reducing long lines and wait times at the polls.

 

Anyone seriously interested in helping authorized voters exercise their right to vote would be working on these issues. But that ain’t what Kobach’s commission is about. And that’s why it must be resisted. Otherwise, the Republicans will steal the upcoming elections and our 240 years as a democratic republic will be over.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014 10:05 pm

Lookie here! Some honest-to-goodness voter fraud!

Why, it’s 200 votes’ worth! See! All those restrictions on voting that all the GOP legislatures have enacted are there for a reason! We’re trying to prevent the wrong people from voting outrages like this!

In … um … Texas.

By … um … a Republican.

Oh, snap.

Monday, August 11, 2014 9:21 pm

Noted almost without comment, voter-impersonation fraud edition

A comprehensive investigation of voter impersonation finds 31 credible incidents out of one billion ballots cast.

I was right. Again.

Thursday, April 3, 2014 6:12 am

Phil Berger and Thom Tillis think they’ve found themselves some voter fraud. Fine. Let’s see if they’re right.

Fred sent me this link (thank you, sir), which purports to claim “widespread” voter fraud in North Carolina during the 2012 general election. That link in turn links to a news release issued jointly on Wednesday by Phil Berger, the state Senate GOP leader and father of one of the Republicans trying to succeed Howard Coble in the 6th Congressional District race, and Thom Tillis, the state House speaker and one of the Republicans seeking Kay Hagan’s U.S. Senate seat this year. They write:

[We have learned of] more alarming evidence of voter error and fraud discovered by the North Carolina State Board of Elections.

Initial findings from the Board presented to the Joint Legislative Elections Oversight Committee today show:

  • 765 voters with an exact match of first and last name, DOB and last four digits of SSN were registered in N.C. and another state and voted in N.C. and the other state in the 2012 general election.
  • 35,750 voters with the same first and last name and DOB were registered in N.C. and another state and voted in both states in the 2012 general election.
  • 155,692 voters with the same first and last name, DOB and last four digits of SSN were registered in N.C. and another state – and the latest date of registration or voter activity did not take place within N.C.

These findings only take into account data from the 28 states who participated in the 2014 Interstate Crosscheck, leaving out potential voter error and fraud in the 22 states that do not participate in the consortium.

My first reaction, which I admit is kind of geeky and inside-baseballish, is: Show your work, guys. Post the board’s findings online even if it’s in hard-to-search .pdf format. (As of now, the State Board of Elections itself hasn’t done it.) Otherwise, you’re asking me to trust a couple of demonstrably untrustworthy pols, although I’m gonna  set that point aside and examine this argument as if it were being made by someone with no obvious political interest one way or the other.

That said, the massive gap between the number reported in point 1 (with SocSec numbers) and the number reported in point 2 (no SSNs) leaves an awful lot of room for speculation and even more for  mismatched records. Cops have access to info that I didn’t have as a reporter, but when I was doing investigative stuff, particularly on people with very common names, I always tried to get an SSN. That’s the gold standard of unique identifiers.

All point 3 says — allowing for the elision between being registered and casting a ballot, which is actually enormous; I wonder why? — is, “and the latest date of registration or voter activity did not take place within N.C.” That’s a big-ass loophole, considering that “voter activity” can be as simple as changing a phone number and that N.C. counties, last I checked (which I admit was years ago),  purge their voters rolls typically only once every four years — immediately after a presidential election.

But, OK, let’s put this in the light most favorable to the authors: Even with all my caveats, no fewer than 765 voters appear to have voted in both N.C. and another state in the 2012 general election, per elections data. Voter fraud is a felony, and if that report is true, all 765 should go to prison. I’d be happy to be the person to slam the door on ’em.

Problem is, it won’t be true, because — and this is a national shame and embarrassment, but a topic for another time — voter-registration data is some of the dirtiest mass public info out there. (The reason is that it attempts to gather a large amount of basic information about a lot of people, and in a society as dynamic and mobile as ours, that pool of data is changing in small but measurable ways thousands of times a day, on average.) Now, our friends Berger and Tillis claim to have attempted to “clean up” voter rolls, but they have done so in ways that give advantages to likely Republican voters while creating barriers for the young, the very old, racial and ethnic minorities, women, convicted felons and other likely Democratic voters. But that’s also an issue for another day, as is the Republicans’ reluctance to look into voter fraud in absentee balloting, where most of the real voter fraud takes place, because absentee voters are more likely to vote Republican.)

But don’t take my word for it that the 765 alleged cases aren’t real. Examining 765 records, one at a time, to determine whether or not the registrant committed a crime would take a while, but not that long. So I encourage — nay, challenge — the State Board of Elections to refer the case to the SBI and get it done. And assuming that happens, I think you’re going to find that many, and probably most, of those 765 are paperwork errors of some kind. A person was recorded as having voted in one state or the other — or at all — when he/she in fact did not vote. Whatever. Because that’s what almost always happens. Because the data is always that dirty.

That’s what I think will happen. I might be wrong, but I doubt it.

Pro-voter ID types hop on preliminary numbers like this because they look like proof of serious undermining of the very bedrock of democracy, the vote. Unfortunately, when it gets down to proving actual voter fraud, those numbers fold like a cheap card table into something a lot less impressive, interesting or dangerous, thereby undermining their rationale for voter ID as well as their rationale for other limits on voting rights alluded to above.

The bottom line here is that 765 cases is a manageable number to check into. So let’s check. Let’s have the State Board of Elections turn these cases over to the SBI for investigation. Let’s see what we learn. I’m eager to find out.

Heck, I might even be more eager than Phil Berger and Thom Tillis.

UPDATE, 4/3: Commenter George Barnett below wisely adds, “Keep in mind too that even if this does turn out to be true voter IDs would not have prevented it.” No, they wouldn’t have.

Friday, February 10, 2012 7:20 pm

The REAL voting problem — vote suppression by the GOP — by the numbers

If you’re a regular reader, you know how I feel about voting and the bogus “voter fraud” spectre being raised by the GOP. I’ve argued, to varying degrees of belief on the part of my readers, that the real problem isn’t voter fraud — that is, someone casting a vote he is not legally entitled to cast, by virtue of his not residing where he votes or by virtue (?) of his posing as  an existing eligible voter or by virtue of using an entirely fictitious identity.

Rather, I’ve argued, the real problem is that the Republican Party, apparently believing it cannot win an honest election, is doing everything it can to prevent legally eligible voters from voting, using “voter fraud” as an excuse for measures, such as requiring photo I.D. (an unconstitutional poll tax under another name, as more than one court has found), that it knows will make voting harder for certain large populations — the elderly, very young adults, racial and ethnic minorities, those who do not or cannot drive, and ex-felons — who tend to vote disproportionately for Democrats.

It’s an anti-get-out-the-vote campaign. It’s illegal and it’s unconstitutional (and arguably a federal crime), but the Republican Party and a good bit of our mainstream media are treating it as simply one more debatable notion in the era of postmodern law and politics.

Unfortunately, here in the real world, facts still matter, valid data still matter. And David Rothschild, an economist for Yahoo! Research (and, boy, doesn’t the phrase “an economist for Yahoo! Research” tell you how much the world has changed) with a Ph.D. in applied economics from the Wharton School of Business, tells us that those data show that Republicans, on this issue as on so many others, are full of crap:

Based on the most conservative estimates, then, we can estimate that voter ID laws could disenfranchise between 10,000-500,000 eligible voters for every 1-100 blocked fraudulent votes. Here’s how I get there:

It may seem like a government-issued photo ID isn’t so much to ask to cast a vote—after all, you need one to drive, get on a plane, or have a beer. The fact is that many eligible voters do not have the right documents under new or proposed laws. The right-wing Heritage Foundation trumpets a paper that claims that only 1.2% registered voters lack valid a photo ID. That may seem low, but nearly 130 million votes were cast in the 2008 presidential election, so that would translate into roughly 1,560,000 voters. The Heritage Foundation’s estimate is the lowest I could find. In 2007, the Georgia Secretary of State estimated 198,000 registered voters there did not have government issued photo IDs and in South Carolina, 200,000 registered voters do not have a photo ID that would be valid for voting under the proposed law, according to the state election commission. That translates into roughly 4-5 percent of voters for Georgia and 8-10 percent of voters for South Carolina, based on 2008 registration and vote totals.

Those eligible citizens who do not have a photo ID tend towards the more disenfranchised citizens:25% of African-Americans have no photo ID, 15% of people earning less than $35,000 have no photo ID, and 18% of the elderly have no photo ID. This represents millions of citizens in each category. Such laws also penalize college students since many of these laws require in-state photo IDs, which prevents college students from voting at their college if they attend from out-of-state.

Voter ID laws do not stop people who have fraudulently registered as themselves. The vast majority of these cases are people who believed themselves to be eligible, notably felons that do not know they are ineligible to vote in a given state. States that bar felons, such as Florida, have traditionally been so vigilant in blocking felons that thousands of eligible voters have been inadvertently purged from the voter rolls in the state’s fixation to ensure that felons do not vote. Nor would these laws stop non-citizens from voting as themselves. (Even so, investigations have found voting by non-citizens to be extremely rare; a study of 370,000 votes cast in Milwaukee from 1992-2000 showed 4 votes by non-citizens.)

The main voter fraud that photo IDs would stop, then, is that of a person voting in lieu of another registered voter; this is likely someone who has died, as it is otherwise hard to estimate when a live registered voter will not be voting. Again, studies have shown very few votes by dead people in recent election cycles; this study by the FBI showed that all 89 dead voters in a Maryland election died after they voted. Many other presumed dead voters are caused by clerical errors on death certificates.

(snip)

So here’s the question: if the most conservative estimates are correct and 10,000 eligible voters are disenfranchised so that 100 non-eligible votes can be stopped, do you think that that is a fair deal for democracy?

That’s a good question. Let’s rephrase it:

So here’s the question: if the most conservative estimates are correct and 10,000 innocent people are executed so that 100 murderers can be stopped from getting off scot-free, do you think that that is a fair deal for democracy?

But wait, you say, voting and murder aren’t the same thing, and not getting to vote isn’t like being wrongly executed!

In terms of the consequences, of course, that’s absolutely correct.

But in America, we consider the right to life, absent due judicial process, to be fundamental and absolute. Guess what? We think exactly the same thing of the right to vote. Just as Americans have died over the centuries to protect their fellow citizens’ lives, so, too, have Americans died — and not just in the Jim Crow South — to protect the rights of their fellow citizens to vote. The right to vote is a Big Damn Deal and the closest thing to settled law, outside the realm of life and death, that this country has. Indeed, given our constitutional transgressions post-9/11, you could argue it is the most settled point of constitutional law.

So why are the Republicans doing what they’re doing, besides the tactical fact that if everyone who is eligible to vote does so, they’re going to lose a lot more than they’re going to win?

Because, philosophically, Republicans who support these voter-suppression efforts do not believe that every citizen has the right to vote.  And whatever else you want to call that belief, you need to call it what it is: un-American.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011 9:05 pm

The Republican Party has a big problem: voters

Filed under: Evil,I want my country back. — Lex @ 9:05 pm
Tags: ,

What do you do when your policies are insane, your candidates are a clown car full of geeks and waterheads off of which all the corporate money in the world can’t wipe the makeup, and your base is dying off rapidly?

At that point, you’re pretty much down to one option: You illegally and unconstitutionally conspire to deny people their right to vote. And that, under the guise of complaints about “vote fraud,” is how the GOP is rolling right now.

“Vote fraud” actually is a misleadingly broad term, a fact that works to the GOP’s advantage. It breaks down into two major subcategories — well, one minor and one major.

The one that GOP wants you to think is the major problem is “voter fraud,” or, to be technical, voter-impersonation fraud. This takes place when someone votes who is not legally registered to vote, or who votes while claiming to be someone he or she is not (typically because whoever he or she actually is is not legally registered to vote, or not registered in that jurisdiction).

The GOP has argued that this fraud is a problem so prevalent that people should be required to produce government-issued identification when casting ballots.

Two major points to recall about this type of fraud: First, fraudulently registering to vote, while properly a crime, has no affect on the outcome of an election. One must actually cast a fraudulent ballot to have even a chance of affecting the outcome. And, second, the actual incidence of fraudulently cast ballots in the computer age is, insofar as anyone has been able to document, vanishingly rare. It’s just simply not a big problem. As Kay at Balloon Juice summarizes:

Conservatives in Ohio (like Florida) instituted a strict voter ID regimen based on conservative and media claims of voter fraud. A lot of us said at the time that voter ID laws wouldn’t solve the voter impersonation fraud problem because there was no voter impersonation fraud problem. As predicted, the voter ID laws in Ohio and Florida have had no effect at all, the unsupported claims continue, and are now being used to justify still more draconian measures. This is not at all surprising, because it was never about fraud.

What it is about is election fraud — perpetrated by Republicans. The GOP is trying to prevent from voting those people — young, poor, elderly, minority, convicted felons who have paid their debts to society — who are statistically more likely to vote Democratic than Republican. The fact that doing so is a federal crime matters not a bit to them. If they can keep these people off the voter rolls, or prevent them from casting votes as they are legally entitled to do, then they have a shot at winning some elections they otherwise would have no chance to win. And because they lack a coherent philosophy, sane candidates, governing skill or anything else except an overwhelming desire to keep their faces firmly in the crotch of big business, that’s now their business plan.

Election fraud is very big and, unlike voter fraud, very real. George Bush “carried” Florida and thus was awarded the 2000 presidential election because a contractor retained by his brother Jeb, then the state’s governor, and Secretary of State Katherine Harris illegally struck from the voter registration rolls thousands of people who were legally eligible to vote and who, if even a small number had voted, likely would have swung the state and the election to Al Gore. This crime was documented in the first chapter of Greg Palast’s book The Best Democracy Money Can Buy. But that’s only the best-known example.

It’s easy to say that anyone who opposes voter ID opposes honest elections, and there’s a certain intuitive appeal to that argument. If you’re going to vote, shouldn’t you be who you claim to be? But it’s already a crime to vote when you’re not legally registered, and it’s already a crime to misrepresent yourself as eligible to register when you’re not. The fact of the matter is that Republicans aren’t pushing voter ID because they’re interested in honest elections. They’re pushing it because they are trying to keep anti-GOP voters from voting so that they can steal elections they can’t honestly win. Conspiring to deny people their constitutional rights is a felony, of course, but that’s never stopped them before.

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