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Professor Dan Tokaji
Election reform, the Voting Rights Act, the Help America Vote Act, and related topics -- with special attention to the voting rights of people of color, non-English proficient citizens, and people with disabilities

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Equal Vote
Wednesday, October 11
 
USA Today Releases Voter Fraud Report
Today's news brings a significant development in the ongoing access-versus-integrity election debate. USA Today has this story on a previously unreleased status report prepared for the U.S. Election Assistance Commission (EAC) in May, which finds relatively little evidence of fraud at polling places. USA Today has made the report itself available online here, and has a sidebar on voter registration restrictions that may prevent people from participating in this year's elections.

The status report concerns research by consultants Tova Wang of the Century Foundation and Job Serebrov, an Arkansas attorney, under contract with the EAC. It finds that: "There is widespread but not unanimous agreement that there is little polling-place fraud, or at least much less than is claimed, including voter impersonation, 'dead' voters, non-citizen voting and felon voters." In fact, the only apparent dissenter from this view is a representative of the recently formed "American Center for Voting Rights" (ACVR), a group led by the former national election counsel to the Bush-Cheney 2004 campaign. As I've previously discussed here, ACVR has made it its business to pump up allegations of voting fraud in an effort to urge passage of exclusionary voter ID rules.

While finding little evidence of polling-place fraud, the status report states that there is "virtually universal agreement" that absentee voting is the area in which fraud poses the most serious problem. This makes sense, since mail-in ballots allow for the anonymity of the ballot to be compromised. This makes it possible to engage in vote-buying, for example, that is practically impossible with voting at the polling place given the privacy of the ballot. As a former Department of Justice official puts it: "Fraud at the polling place is generally difficult to pull off.... It takes a lot of planning and a lot of coordination."

The status report contains some discussion of voter intimidation. It finds that the abuse of challenger laws appears to be the biggest concern. It also finds some evidence of "outright intimidation and suppression," especially in Native American communities. In attempting to investigate why the DOJ has brought fewer intimidation cases in recent years, the report cites a DOJ official as saying that fewer such cases are warranted nowadays, noting that race-based problems are now comparatively rare.

What's not entirely clear from the USA Today story is why the EAC didn't release this report itself. The EAC's chairman Paul DeGregorio is quoted as saying: "There was a division of opinion here.... We've seen places where fraud does occur." This is undoubtedly true, but it is hardly a reason for not releasing new information tending to show that polling-place fraud is pretty rare. This information has obvious significance for the ongoing debate over laws that would require voters to show photo ID at the polls. Whether or not one agrees with the status report's findings, such information ought to be part of the public debate.

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Moritz College of Law The Ohio State University