In advance of a special election in New York's Ninth Congressional District, Fox News and National Review Online are raising the specter of voter fraud in case a Democrat wins the seat. In fact, the evidence they are citing has been debunked, and right-wing media regularly cry voter fraud when elections are close.
Fox, National Review Use Decades-Old Grand Jury Probe To Raise Specter Of Voter Fraud
National Review Online: "Watch Out For Voter Fraud In The New York Ninth." In a post on National Review Online's The Corner blog headlined "Watch Out for Voter Fraud in the New York Ninth," conservative blogger Hans von Spakovsky cited a 1984 New York grand jury report to suggest that Democrats may try to steal a special election in New York's Ninth Congressional District scheduled for September 13:
A source within the Turner camp tells me the campaign sent a letter and campaign literature to all the voters on the permanent list maintained by the Board of Elections who are automatically mailed absentee ballots. They have received hundreds of pieces of returned mail marked "address unknown" or "return to sender" and at least five marked "deceased." They were contacted by another voter who received an absentee ballot he had not even requested.
As I described in a Heritage case study, Kings County was a hub of organized voter fraud that cast thousands of fraudulent ballots in elections. In 1984, former Democratic Rep. Elizabeth Holtzman, who had become the Brooklyn district attorney, released a state grand jury report that detailed a successful 14-year conspiracy to steal election. The grand jury found evidence of fraud by Democrats in "two primary elections for Congress held in 1976 and 1982, four primary elections for the Assembly in three different assembly districts, three primary elections for the State Senate in one senatorial district and two elections for state committee in two different districts."
Let's hope that the fear of losing control over a Democratic congressional district will not entice anyone to repeat this kind of illegal behavior in tomorrow's election. But given the sordid history of this congressional district and what is at stake politically, election officials should be extremely vigilant for any signs of possible wrongdoing in the election. [National Review Online, 9/12/11]
Hannity Panel Gins Up Fear That Democrats May "Steal [The] Election To Win It." During a panel discussion on the September 12 edition of Fox News' Hannity conservative commentator John Fund also brought up the 1984 grand jury report and co-panelist Andrea Tantaros opined that Democrats might "steal" the election:
SEAN HANNITY (host): You sent me an e-mail today, and it was a link to the -- to National Review and The Corner about -- and you've talked about, written extensively about voter fraud. You're concerned in this district because it has a long history of voter fraud.
FUND: A Democratic district attorney, Elizabeth Holtzman, in the 1980s uncovered an amazing voter fraud scandal in that state involving absentee votes and also the bureaucracy.
HANNITY: But this was in the late 70s, early 80s.
FUND: Yes, but I'm simply saying right now you have a lot of permanent absentee voters whose returns are coming back, addresses are bad, people are registered in vacant lots.
HANNITY: Dead people.
FUND: At least a few people have gotten absentee ballots that they never requested. Absentee ballots are the preferred way of fraud. And I think we just have to keep an eye on this, given the history of this district.
TANTAROS: Which is still bad news because that means that Democrats literally have to steal any election to win it. So is that their strategy for 2012? Just steal the election, funnel a bunch of money to ACORN under a different name. [Fox News, Hannity, 9/12/11]
Instances Of Voter Fraud Are Actually Very 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 9/12/11]
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 9/12/11]
Decades-Old Grand Jury Probe In New York Has Very Little Relevance Today
Voting Law Expert On The Grand Jury Report: "The Way In Which The Fraud Was Done Almost Certainly Could Not Happen Today." University of California law professor Rick Hasen, who runs the Election Law Blog, examined the grand jury report cited by Spakovsky and Fund and wrote:
It is not clear to me why von Spakovsky did not respond to requests to turn over the grand jury report because the report contains the only apparently successful effort in the last 40 years of which I'm aware to actually affect election results through impersonation fraud. Perhaps the reason is that the way in which the fraud was done almost certainly could not happen today, thanks to basic safeguards put in place by election officials (such as checking the names and addresses of new registrants and ensuring greater security of voter registration materials). And of course when election officials collude with those committing fraud, a voter i.d. requirement would not help in the slightest.
The fact that most of this fraud took place 40 years ago and nothing like it has been discovered since is a good argument that schemes like these cannot successfully be done anymore. Vote buying schemes, fraudulent registration schemes, and absentee ballot fraud do get discovered and prosecuted. There's no reason to think this kind of fraud, if it happened, would not at least occasionally be discovered and prosecuted as well. At most we find a handful of isolated cases -- nothing organized, and certainly nothing to swing elections. [ElectionLawBlog.org, 6/23/11]
Conservatives Routinely Push Voter Fraud Myth To Cast Doubt On Possible Democratic Victories
Conservatives Push Voter Fraud Myth Whenever An Election Is Close.
- Conservatives Pushed Voter Fraud Myth After Initial Results In Wisconsin Supreme Court Election. [Media Matters, 4/7/11]
- Conservatives Pushed Voter Fraud Myth In Anticipation Of 2010 Midterm Elections. [Media Matters, 10/6/10]
- Conservatives Pushed Voter Fraud Myth In Anticipation Of Massachusetts Special Senate Election. [Media Matters, 1/19/10]
- Conservatives Pushed Voter Fraud Myth In Anticipation Of New Jersey Gubernatorial Election. [Media Matters, 11/2/09, 11/2/09]
- Conservatives Pushed Voter Fraud Myth After Minnesota Elected Franken To The Senate. [Media Matters, 9/29/09]
- Conservatives Pushed Voter Fraud Myth In Anticipation Of 2008 Presidential Election. [Media Matters, 10/18/08]
- Conservatives Pushed Voter Fraud Myth After 2004 Washington State Gubernatorial Election. [Media Matters, 6/9/06]
- Conservatives Pushed Voter Fraud Myth In Anticipation Of The 2000 And 2004 Presidential Elections. [Media Matters, 10/16/08]
- Conservatives Pushed Voter Fraud Myth After 2002 South Dakota Election. [Media Matters, 1/19/10]
For more on Spakovsky's dubious claims about possible voter fraud, see here.