Friday, August 20, 2010

Election Day Registration: Debunking the Myth of Voter Fraud

Voter turnout is again an issue with the coming 2010 elections. With midterm elections producing turnouts dramatically lower than in presidential election years, some argue for election day registration (EDR).

Advocates for this point out that seven states–Idaho, Iowa, Maine, Minnesota, New Hampshire, Wisconsin, and Wyoming–permit EDR, with North Dakota not even requiring registration.

EDR critics raise the specter of voter fraud, contending that it would affect election outcomes. Even though there is no evidence that voter fraud is rampant or has changed the outcome of any election in a EDR state, claims persist.
The most recent salvo trumpeting the myth of voter fraud is a July Minnesota Majority report. They allege that illegal felon voting may have cost Norm Coleman to lose his senate seat to Al Franken. The Minnesota Majority argues that 1,400 felons may have voted illegally in the 2008 Minnesota elections and they have forwarded these names on to county attorneys for investigation. Republican Governor Tim Pawlenty commented on this report, echoing that illegal felon voting may account for Franken’s 312 voter victory over Coleman.

Does the Minnesota Majority report stand up to scrutiny? Hardly.

First, think about who makes up the Minnesota Majority. They are an ultra-conservative partisan political group that is a pro-property rights, pro-gun, anti-choice, anti gay, anti-immigrant, anti-sex education, and global warming denying organization. They are hardly politically neutral. They have repeatedly made unsubstantiated accusations about voter fraud in Minnesota, only to have their claims dismissed when critically examined.

Second, their initial July numbers asserting illegal ex-felon voting have been reduced based upon preliminary review by voting officials and county attorneys. That initial 1,400 has been whittled down to a few hundred–hardly enough to change the outcome of the race. Second, the Minnesota Majority did not investigate or examine whether any of the alleged voting occurred as a result of ex-felons who had their voting rights restored. Ex-felons in Minnesota are eligible to have voting rights restored upon leaving prison and that may have occurred here.

Third, the Minnesota Majority makes the assumption that any illegal voting that occurred favored Franken over Coleman. Why or how can one assume this? The political science literature indicates that, in general, people who are more affluent and better educated are more likely to vote than the poor and less well educated. Immediately this raises a series of questions regarding who exactly are the ex-felons that supposedly voted? Clearly the Minnesota Majority assumes that these individuals are more poor, uneducated, and therefore more liberal and thus voted for Franken over Coleman. Yet voting studies research suggests that this demographic is much less likely to vote.

Instead, think about who the felon voters might have been. Perhaps the most famous felon in Minnesota right now is Tom Petters–a middle aged affluent white male convicted of multiple counts of mail and wire fraud connected to a $3.5 billion Ponzi scheme he ran. He is a felon and, assuming he could vote, would he have voted for Franken? Probably not.

Moreover, think about all the other Wall Street felons from around the country–Jeffrey Skilling and Kenneth Lay of Enron, or Bernie Ebbers from Worldcom–if they could have voted in Minnesota in 2008 would they have voted for Franken? No. The odds are they would have voted for Coleman. Felons include white-collar criminals, drunk drivers, wife beaters, and middle class cocaine users. None of them fit the bill of those voting for Franken. We do not know the mix of the felons who allegedly voted in 2008. It is equally possible that if they voted they did so for Coleman, making the race even closer than it should have been.

Finally, the percentage of the vote of among illegal voters had to unrealistically favor Franken as opposed to Coleman to overcome the 312 vote victory. The Minnesota Majority states that perhaps up to 1,000 cases are possible for prosecution (although county attorneys have already cut this figure to one-third, and more, if not all will be dismissed). To overcome the 312 margin of victory, one would have to assume that of this 1,000, at least 656 votes went for Franken. In a race where Franken only received 43% of the popular vote, to assume he received nearly 2/3 of this vote is speculative.

Overall, keep in mind that county attorneys have not indicted anyone and no one has been convicted on voter fraud. The assertions of the Minnesota Majority are simply that, just unsubstantiated partisan assertions made by a group that is committed to the belief that if it denies enough people the right to vote they can successfully secure their agenda.

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