Right-wing media reacted to news that Democrat-backed JoAnne Kloppenburg emerged from Wisconsin's Supreme Court election with a small lead by predictably bringing up baseless allegations of voter fraud. The right-wing media regularly uses voter fraud to respond to elections where a Democrat wins or is winning, especially following a close race.
Right-Wing Media Baselessly Level Familiar Voter Fraud Charges Following WI Supreme Court Election
Hoft Cites "Wisconsin Reader" Who Alleges "Widespread Voter Fraud." In an April 7 post on Gateway Pundit, conservative blogger Jim Hoft quoted a "Wisconsin reader" who alleged "widespread voter fraud/tampering in Wisconsin Supreme Court election." The reader claimed a radio host had heard from voters "who described many voting discrepancies, disenfranchisement, ballot shredding, UW students voting more than once, etc." [Gateway Pundit, 4/7/11]
Power Line: "I Assume" A Kloppenburg Win "Will Have Been Procured By Fraud." In an April 6 post on the conservative blog Power Line, blogger John Hinderaker wrote, "JoAnne Kloppenburg holds a tiny lead over Justice David Prosser in the Wisconsin Supreme Court race. I assume she will win, and if the final result is within a few hundred votes, I assume it will have been procured by fraud, of which there is some evidence." [Power Line, 4/6/11]
Red State: Voter Fraud In Wisconsin "Is A Valid Concern." In an April 6 post on Red State, blogger Moe Lane wrote that "[y]ou're going to see the phrase 'margin of fraud' a lot this morning" and claimed fraud in the election "is a valid concern." [Red State, 4/6/11]
Carlson: "New Demands For A Recount This Morning After Allegations Of Voter Fraud." On the April 7 edition of Fox News' Fox & Friends, co-host Gretchen Carlson claimed there were "[n]ew demands for a recount this morning after allegations of voter fraud in Wisconsin's Supreme Court race. The union-backed candidate edging out a conservative justice by 204 votes. Reports suggest some voters were underage. Oops." Carlson never explained to which "reports" she was referring. [Fox News, Fox & Friends, 4/7/11]
Daily Caller Hypes Conservative WI Radio Host Claim That There Was "Full-Blown Voter Fraud." From The Daily Caller:
Madison and Milwaukee conservative radio show host Vicki McKenna aired several concerns during her Wednesday show. She told TheDC she spent almost her entire two-hour show taking audience calls, in which listeners detailed what may be considered full-blown voter fraud.
One caller, McKenna said, talked about a "missing box of ballots," a voter overheard poll workers talking about. On air, McKenna said the ballot box could have contained blank ballots or it could have been filled with Wisconsin voters' completed ballot. Either possibility presents a dilemma, though, as blank ballots in the hands of the wrong people could be used to illegally influence counts after the election.
"There are reports of 17-year-olds voting because they didn't need to show proof of their age or anything like that," McKenna told TheDC. "There were folks allegedly using their husbands' or relatives' utility bills in voter registration, ballots weren't being counted because they were using the wrong kind of pens. There's an over-count of 10,000 votes in Dane County." [The Daily Caller, 4/7/11]
However, Actual Voter Fraud Is Extremely Rare
Justice Department Report Shows Very Few Prosecutions For Illegally Casting Ballots. According to a report by the Public Integrity Section of the Justice Department, from October 2002 through September 2005, the Justice Department charged 95 people with "election fraud" and convicted 55. Among those, however, just 17 individuals were convicted for casting fraudulent ballots; cases against three other individuals accused of casting fraudulent votes were pending at the time of the report. In addition, the Justice Department convicted one election official of submitting fraudulent ballots and convicted five individuals of registration fraud, with cases against 12 individuals pending at the time of the report. Thirty-two individuals were convicted of other "election fraud" issues, including Republicans convicted of offenses arising from "a scheme to block the phone lines used by two Manchester [New Hampshire] organizations to arrange drives to the polls during the 2002 general election." In other words, many of these convictions were connected to voter suppression efforts, not voter fraud. Several other people listed in the report were convicted of vote-buying. [Department of Justice, accessed 4/7/11]
NYU's Brennan Center: Allegations Of Voter Fraud "Simply Do Not Pan Out" And Distract From "Real [Election] Problems That Need Real Solutions." From a 2007 report by New York University's Brennan Center for Justice:
Perhaps because these stories are dramatic, voter fraud makes a popular scapegoat. In the aftermath of a close election, losing candidates are often quick to blame voter fraud for the results. Legislators cite voter fraud as justification for various new restrictions on the exercise of the franchise. And pundits trot out the same few anecdotes time and again as proof that a wave of fraud is imminent.
Allegations of widespread voter fraud, however, often prove greatly exaggerated. It is easy to grab headlines with a lurid claim ("Tens of thousands may be voting illegally!"); the follow-up -- when any exists -- is not usually deemed newsworthy. Yet on closer examination, many of the claims of voter fraud amount to a great deal of smoke without much fire. The allegations simply do not pan out.
These inflated claims are not harmless. Crying "wolf" when the allegations are unsubstantiated distracts attention from real problems that need real solutions. If we can move beyond the fixation on voter fraud, we will be able to focus on the real changes our elections need, from universal registration all the way down to sufficient parking at the poll site. Moreover, these claims of voter fraud are frequently used to justify policies that do not solve the alleged wrongs, but that could well disenfranchise legitimate voters. Overly restrictive identification requirements for voters at the polls -- which address a sort of voter fraud more rare than death by lightning -- is only the most prominent example. [Brennan Center for Justice, accessed 4/7/11]
Hasen: "No Proof Of Any Systemic Fraud Has Been Unearthed." In an April 6 Politico column, election law expert Richard Hasen discussed the "razor-thin" electoral results in Wisconsin and noted:
A recount in this race, which some view as a referendum on Gov. Scott Walker's anti-union policies, seems inevitable, and it is not clear who will ultimately take the seat on the Wisconsin bench. But if this expensive and nasty race ends up in protracted litigation, it could undermine public confidence in both the judiciary and Wisconsin's electoral process, especially if, as I expect, supporters of Prosser raise ugly allegations of voter fraud
Whether the 2004 governor's race in Washington State between Dino Rossi and Christine Gregoire, the 2008 Senate race in Minnesota pitching Al Franken against Norm Coleman or the 2010 Senate race in Alaska between Lisa Murkowski and Joe Miller, close elections bring out intense partisan fighting and, often from the Republican side, allegations of fraud or voting irregularities.
While the fraud allegations remain stuck in the public's mind, no proof of any systemic fraud has been unearthed. Instead, close examination of elections show, time and again, that our election systems are not perfect - but this is due to human error and not fraud.
Allowing counties or localities rather than states to administer our elections can introduce inconsistencies to voting procedures. In addition, thanks largely to election official or voter error -- not fraud--some voters' votes do not get counted, while some people ineligible to vote cast ballots that count. [Politico, 4/6/11]
Conservatives Regularly Level Baseless And False Voter Fraud Accusations
Discussing 2010 Midterms, O'Reilly Claimed Elections In Seattle And Chicago Areas Are "Not Honest." On the October 5, 2010, edition of Fox News' The O'Reilly Factor, O'Reilly and Fox News contributor Newt Gingrich discussed Republican prospects in the Senate elections. After O'Reilly asserted that elections in the Seattle and Chicago areas are not "honest" and that the "entrenched power" there "is Democrat," Gingrich said, "It always helps if you're the Republican candidate in certain states to win by a big enough margin":
O'REILLY: I think Illinois and Washington state -- and I know how these elections go in King County, the Seattle area, and in Cook County, the Chicago area. Now, you may say -- but I know how they go, and it's not honest. It isn't honest. So, if it's close, the Democrats are going to -- they're going -- and I'm not accusing anyone of anything. But I know the entrenched power in the Seattle area and the Chicago area is Democrat. You wouldn't argue with that. The entrenched power is Democrat.
GINGRICH: It always helps if you're the Republican candidate in certain states to win by a big enough margin.
O'REILLY: You've got to win by four or five --
GINGRICH: That's right.
O'REILLY: -- all right, to win in those states.
GINGRICH: In order to win by two.
GINGRICH: That's right.
O'REILLY: And Patty Murray is a bad senator, awful. Rossi -- I don't know the guy, but he's -- you know, he's tied with her now. And, that again, you would indicate that the challenger beats the incumbent when they're tied, but not in those states. [Fox News, The O'Reilly Factor, 10/6/10]
Conservative Media Raised Specter Of Stolen Special Election In Massachusetts. Offering no evidence to back up their claims, media conservatives asserted that the January 2010 special election for U.S. Senate in Massachusetts could be stolen. Glenn Beck said that ACORN and progressives would "lie, cheat, and steal their way through anything" and that Democrats would steal the election if it was "within a couple of thousand votes." Similarly, Rush Limbaugh stated that Democrats would "hold out and see how many votes they need" and then play "games with voter registrations and absentees." Newsmax also speculated that the election would be "stolen" by Democrats. However, the Republican candidate, Scott Brown, went on to win the race. [Media Matters, 1/19/10]
2005 Senate Republican Policy Committee Paper Claimed, "[V]oter Fraud Continues To Plague Our Nation's Federal Elections." The executive summary of a 2005 Senate Republican Policy Committee paper stated: "Voter fraud continues to plague our nation's federal elections, diluting and canceling out the lawful votes of the vast majority of Americans." The paper later stated: "As the November 2004 election approached, it appeared increasingly likely that widespread voter fraud in battleground states would distort the final election returns. Although voter fraud investigations continue in some cities such as Milwaukee and East St. Louis, it appears that the nation dodged a bullet so that the ultimate election results were unaffected." [Republican Policy Committee, 2/15/05]
Conservatives Made Baseless Claims Of Voter Fraud In 2009 NJ Race. Several conservative media outlets claimed that then-New Jersey Gov. Jon Corzine (D) was preparing to steal the 2009 re-election race that he ultimately lost to challenger Chris Christie. For instance, on November 1, 2009, Andrew Breitbart's blog Big Government suggested that the Corzine re-election campaign and its allies were planning to "rig" or "steal" the election. Big Government offered no evidence to support that claim, instead offering allegations including that "state Democrats are paying for robo calls supporting Independent Chris Daggett" and citing "the sudden appearance of ACORN on the scene." Similarly, on November 2, 2009, the day before the gubernatorial elections in New Jersey and Virginia, Limbaugh said to a caller: "But you mention the election fraud. I tell you what. Tomorrow's going to be a dry run for Democrat [sic] mischief and malfeasance, getting ready for 2010 and 2012. ACORN, SEIU, the New Black Panthers, they get their equivalent of the Super Bowl Tuesday." Also on November 2, 2009, Wall Street Journal writer John Fund appeared on Glenn Beck's Fox News show to claim that Hispanic voters in Camden were being told that there is "a new way for you to vote, la nueva forma de votar" -- an anecdote he suggested was evidence of voter fraud. In fact -- as Fund himself wrote in a Journal column published hours earlier -- that incident actually occurred in Philadelphia in 1993. [Big Government, 11/1/09; Premiere Radio Networks, The Rush Limbaugh Show, 11/2/09; Fox News, Glenn Beck, 11/2/09]
Conservatives Baselessly Claimed Fraudulent Votes In 2008 Presidential Election. Numerous conservative media and political figures have accused progressives of committing voter fraud in the 2008 presidential election, such as Fox News contributor Dick Morris. [Fox News, Fox & Friends, 10/15/08]
Conservatives Falsely Claimed Franken Stole Minnesota 2008 Senate Election. In its decision rejecting former Sen. Norm Coleman's (R-MN) appeal of the decision declaring Al Franken the winner of the 2008 U.S. Senate race in Minnesota, the Minnesota Supreme Court stated that "[n]o claim of fraud in the election or during the recount was made by either party" and that "Coleman's counsel confirmed at oral argument that Coleman makes no claim of fraud on the part of either voters or election officials." The St. Paul Pioneer Press reported in a June 29, 2009, article: "Experts said the lack of crookedness in the election, as well as a commitment to the law and not politics, allowed the five state high court justices to explore the key issues in depth." The Pioneer Press added: "Rick Hasen, an election law professor at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles, said the court's ruling Tuesday was so thorough that it also ruled out the possibility that either candidate -- or their lawyers -- could be accused of stealing the election." Nevertheless, conservative media personalities, including Brit Hume, Sean Hannity, Dick Morris, Fred Barnes, O'Reilly, Jim Hoft, and radio host Jim Quinn, suggested that voting misconduct took place to help Franken get elected. [Pioneer Press, 6/29/09 accessed via Nexis; Media Matters, 11/13/08; Fox News, The O'Reilly Factor, 1/7/09; Fox News, The Beltway Boys, 11/17/08; Fox News, The O'Reilly Factor, 10/6/09; Media Matters, 9/29/09]
Hannity Claimed Voter Fraud In 2004 Presidential Election. One day before the 2004 presidential election, Hannity suggested Democrats were guilty of voter fraud in Florida, Ohio, and Pennsylvania. Each of Hannity's claims was contradicted by media reports. [Fox News, Hannity, 11/02/04]
Contradicting Court Decision, GOP Leader Claimed Illegal Voting Took Place In 2004 Washington Gubernatorial Election. On the June 7, 2006, edition of MSNBC's Hardball, Ken Mehlman, then the chairman of the Republican National Committee, asserted that illegal votes helped Democrats win the Washington state gubernatorial election. Contrary to Mehlman's suggestion that Democrat Christine Gregoire owed her victory to illegal votes, the county superior court judge in the case found that Republicans had not proved that even a single illegal vote had been cast for Gregoire. From the judge's oral decision:
The Court concludes, by clear and convincing evidence, that Mr. [Dino] Rossi received four votes cast illegally by felons and that Ms. [Ruth] Bennett received one vote cast by a felon. There is no evidence, however, in this record that Ms. Gregoire received any illegal votes. Indeed, there has been no evidence produced that Ms. Gregoire received any of the 2,820 votes claimed by petitioners in their closing argument. [MSNBC, Hardball, 6/9/06; court decision accessed via University of California at Berkley, 4/7/11]