Von Spakovsky Spreads Falsehoods To Push For Voter ID Laws

››› ››› ADAM SHAH

In a USA Today op-ed, Pajamas Media blogger and former DOJ Civil Rights Division official Hans von Spakovsky employed numerous falsehoods to defend statutes requiring all voters to show identification before casting ballots. In fact, contrary to von Spakovsky's argument, legal voters have been turned away from the voting booth because they lacked proper identification, the effects of voter ID laws may fall disproportionately on the poor and members of racial minorities, and instances of fraudulent voting are very rare.

Von Spakovsky Falsely Suggests Voter ID Laws Did Not Prevent People From Voting

Von Spakovksy: Plaintiffs Challenging Voter ID Law "Couldn't Produce Anyone Who Would Be Unable To Vote Because Of The Voter ID Requirements." In his USA Today op-ed claiming that states pass voter ID laws "to ensure the integrity of our election process," von Spakovsky wrote:

Numerous academic studies have also shown that voter ID does not depress the turnout of minority, poor and elderly voters. Georgia and Indiana saw no decrease in the turnout of such voters in elections after their voter ID laws went into effect. All the federal and state lawsuits filed against Georgia and Indiana were thrown out. Why? Because the plaintiffs couldn't produce anyone who would be unable to vote because of the voter ID requirements. [USA Today, 6/12/11]

  • USA Today Editorial Published The Same Day Said "Republican ID Laws Smack Of Voter Suppression." Von Spakovsky's op-ed was an "opposing view" to a USA Today editorial criticizing voter identification laws and accusing Republicans of supporting such laws "for their political benefit." [USA Today, 6/12/11]

Voter ID Laws Have Kept The Elderly, Racial Minorities, And Nuns From Voting

LA Times: Indiana Voter ID Law "Ke[pt] Nuns, Students From Polls." Contrary to von Spakovsky's suggestion that voter ID laws do not keep anyone from voting, the Los Angeles Times reported: "A dozen nuns and an unknown number of students were turned away from polls Tuesday in the first use of Indiana's stringent voter ID law since it was upheld last week by the U.S. Supreme Court." From the LA Times article, headlined "ID law keeps nuns, students from polls":

A dozen nuns and an unknown number of students were turned away from polls Tuesday in the first use of Indiana's stringent voter ID law since it was upheld last week by the U.S. Supreme Court.

The nuns, all residents of a retirement home at Saint Mary's Convent near Notre Dame University, were denied ballots by a fellow sister and poll worker because the women, in their 80s and 90s, did not have valid Indiana photo ID cards.

Though state officials reported no significant problems, advocates monitoring polling places said there was occasional confusion.

"We were at one polling place for a few hours and picked up three or four different stories of people being turned away," said Gary Kalman of the U.S. Public Interest Research Group in Washington. "I don't have numbers about how widespread it is."

"It's the law, and it makes it hard," said Sister Julie McGuire, who was working at the polling place and had to explain to the nuns that they could not vote. "Some don't understand why."

Indiana requires voters who come to the polls show a photo ID issued by the state or the federal government. The law was pressed by Republicans citing voter fraud and opposed by Democrats and the ACLU, who argued that it would disenfranchise voters. [Los Angeles Times, 5/7/08]

NY Times: In One Indiana County, 32 "Voters Had Their Ballots Thrown Out" Because Of Voter ID Laws. From The New York Times:

After Ms. [Valerie] Williams grabbed her cane that day and walked into the polling station in the lobby of her retirement home to vote, as she has done in at least the last two elections, she was barred from doing so.

The election officials at the polling place, whom she had known for years, told her she could not cast a regular ballot. They said the forms of identification she had always used -- a telephone bill, a Social Security letter with her address on it and an expired Indiana driver's license -- were no longer valid under the voter ID law, which required a current state-issued photo identification card.

"Of course I threw a fit," said Ms. Williams, 61, who was made to cast a provisional ballot instead, which, according to voting records, was never counted. Ms. Williams -- who has difficulty walking -- said she was not able to get a ride to the voting office to prove her identity within 10 days as required under the law, and her ballot was discarded.


A brief filed with the Supreme Court by the Marion County Board of Elections, the state's largest voting jurisdiction and a defendant in the case, said Ms. Williams -- who is a black Republican -- and 31 other voters had to cast provisional ballots because they showed up at the polls without the state-required ID, which can include a driver's license, a passport, a state-issued ID or some other government-issued photo identification. Because they also failed to appear later at county offices with the identification required to validate their identities, all of these voters had their ballots thrown out, records show. In interviews, many of these voters said they could not find transportation or could not afford the IDs.


Mary-Jo Criswell, 71, who -- like Ms. Williams -- an Indiana voter cited in the case before the Supreme Court, had her vote thrown out in November after she was told the identification she had used in previous elections -- a bank card with a photograph, a utility bill and a phone bill -- no longer sufficed. [The New York Times, 1/7/08]

Supreme Court Dissent: When Bill Was Passed, Nearly "1% Of [Indiana's] Voting Age Population" Did Not Have "A Qualifying ID." In a dissent in the Supreme Court case upholding Indiana's voter ID law, Crawford v. Marion County Election Board, then-Justice David Souter wrote:

Although the District Court found that petitioners failed to offer any reliable empirical study of numbers of voters affected, we may accept that court's rough calculation that 43,000 voting-age residents lack the kind of identification card required by Indiana's law.


The State, in fact, shows no discomfort with the District Court's finding that an "estimated 43,000 individuals" (about 1% of the State's voting-age population) lack a qualifying ID. If the State's willingness to take that number is surprising, it may be less so in light of the District Court's observation that "several factors . . . suggest the percentage of Indiana's voting age population with photo identification is actually lower than 99%," a suggestion in line with national surveys showing roughly 6-10% of voting-age Americans without a state-issued photo-identification card. We have been offered no reason to think that Indiana does a substantially better job of distributing IDs than other States. [U.S. Supreme Court, Crawford v. Marion County Election Board, 4/28/08, via SCOTUSblog, footnote and citations omitted]

Supreme Court Dissent: Studies "Suggest That The Burdens Of An ID Requirement May Also Fall Disproportionately Upon Racial Minorities." From Souter's dissent in Crawford v. Marion County Election Board:

Studies in other States suggest that the burdens of an ID requirement may also fall disproportionately upon racial minorities. See Overton, Voter Identification, 105 Mich. L. Rev. 631, 659 (2007) ("In 1994, the U. S. Department of Justice found that African-Americans in Louisiana were four to five times less likely than white residents to have government-sanctioned photo identification"); id., at 659-660 (describing June 2005 study by the Employment and Training Institute at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, which found that while 17% of voting-age whites lacked a valid driver's license, 55% of black males and 49% of black females were unlicensed, and 46% of Latino males and 59% of Latino females were similarly unlicensed). [U.S. Supreme Court, Crawford v. Marion County Election Board, 4/28/08, via SCOTUSblog]

Von Spakovsky Misleads About Supreme Court Ruling To Falsely Suggest Voter Fraud Is A Significant Problem

Von Spakovsky Falsely Claims "The Supreme Court Has Pointed Out" That "Flagrant Examples" Of Voter Fraud Have Occurred Throughout U.S. History. From von Spakovsky's op-ed:

Voter ID can significantly defeat and deter impersonation fraud at the polls, voting under fictitious names, double-voting by individuals registered in more than one state, and voting by non-citizens. As the Supreme Court has pointed out, "flagrant examples of such fraud ... have been documented throughout this nation's history."

No one claims that this occurs in every election. But, as the Supreme Court concluded, "not only is the risk of voter fraud real," but "it could affect the outcome of a close election." It also erodes public confidence in the results. [USA Today, 6/12/11]

Instances Of Voter Fraud Are Actually Very Rare

Supreme Court Plurality Actually Found Only "Scattered Instances Of In-Person Voting Fraud." The Supreme Court plurality (not the majority as von Spakovsky suggests) in Crawford v. Marion County Election Board did not find widespread in-person voter fraud, the type of fraud that a requirement that voters show identification at their polling places is meant to address. Rather, it found only "scattered instances" of such fraud. From the plurality opinion in Crawford v. Marion County Election Board:

Judge Barker cited record evidence containing examples from California, Washington, Maryland, Wisconsin, Georgia, Illinois, Pennsylvania, Missouri, Miami, and St. Louis. The Brief of Amici Curiae Brenan Center for Justice et al. in Support of Petitioners addresses each of these examples of fraud. While the brief indicates that the record evidence of in-person fraud was overstated because much of the fraud was actually absentee ballot fraud or voter registration fraud, there remain scattered instances of in-person voter fraud. For example, after a hotly contested gubernatorial election in 2004, Washington conducted an investigation of voter fraud and uncovered 19 "ghost voters." Borders v. King Cty., No. 05-2-00027-3 (Super. Ct. Chelan Cty., Wash., June 6, 2005) (verbatim report of unpublished oral decision), 4 Election L. J. 418, 423 (2005). After a partial investigation of the ghost voting, one voter was confirmed to have committed in-person voting fraud. Le & Nicolosi, Dead Voted in Governor's Race, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, Jan. 7, 2005, p. A1. [U.S. Supreme Court, Crawford v. Marion County Election Board, 4/28/08, via SCOTUSblog]

Supreme Court Plurality's Example Of "Flagrant" Voting Fraud Actually Came From 1868. Von Spakovsky quoted the Supreme Court plurality noting that there have been "flagrant examples" of voter fraud, but failed to note that the example cited by the plurality was of Boss Tweed in 1860s New York City:

One infamous example is the New York City elections of 1868. William (Boss) Tweed set about solidifying and consolidating his control of the city. One local tough who worked for Boss Tweed, "Big Tim" Sullivan, insisted that his "repeaters" (individuals paid to vote multiple times) have whiskers:

" 'When you've voted 'em with their whiskers on, you take 'em to a barber and scrape off the chin fringe. Then you vote 'em again with the side lilacs and a mustache. Then to a barber again, off comes the sides and you vote 'em a third time with the mustache. If that ain't enough and the box can stand a few more ballots, clean off the mustache and vote 'em plain face. That makes every one of 'em good for four votes.' " [U.S. Supreme Court, Crawford v. Marion County Election Board, 4/28/08, via SCOTUSblog]

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 6/14/11]

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 6/14/11]

Von Spakovsky Overruled Career DOJ Officials To Approve Georgia Voter ID Law

As A DOJ Civil Rights Division Official, Von Spakovsky Took Controversial Actions To Approve Georgia Voter ID Law. According to a Washington Post report, career attorneys at the Department of Justice's Civil Rights Division concluded that the Georgia voter identification law, which von Spakovsky hyped in his USA Today op-ed, "should be rejected because it would harm black voters." But von Spakovsky and other senior officials at DOJ overruled them. From The Washington Post:

In a letter to Senate Rules Committee Chairman Trent Lott (R-Miss.), Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.) wrote that he is "extremely troubled" by the von Spakovsky nomination. Kennedy contends that von Spakovsky "may be at the heart of the political interference that is undermining the [Justice] Department's enforcement of federal civil laws."

Career Justice Department lawyers involved in a Georgia case said von Spakovsky pushed strongly for approval of a state program requiring voters to have photo identification. A team of staff lawyers that examined the case recommended 4 to 1 that the Georgia plan should be rejected because it would harm black voters; the recommendation was overruled by von Spakovsky and other senior officials in the Civil Rights Division.

Before working in the Justice Department, von Spakovsky was the Republican Party chairman in Fulton County, Ga., and served on the board of the Voter Integrity Project, which advocated regular purging of voter roles to prevent felons from casting ballots.

In a brief telephone interview, von Spakovsky played down his role in policy decisions in the Civil Rights Division. "I'm just a career lawyer who works in the front office of civil rights," he said. He noted that the department has rules against career lawyers talking to reporters. [The Washington Post, 12/16/05]

Von Spakovsky Has A History Of Pushing Dubious Claims About Civil Rights Issues

Von Spakovsky Repeatedly Pushed Debunked Claim That The Obama DOJ's Civil Rights Division Refuses To Enforce The Law Against Black People. Von Spakovsky has repeatedly pushed the debunked claim that top officials in DOJ's Civil Rights Division refused to enforce civil rights laws against black people and acted nefariously in the case of New Black Panther Party members who faced civil charges of voter intimidation. The Department of Justice ethics office has found that there is "no evidence" to support the claims von Spakovsky and others have made. [Media Matters, 4/1/11, 3/29/11, 3/18/11, 11/19/10, 10/25/10]

Von Spakovsky Also Dubiously Accused An Obama African American Judicial Nominee Of Engaging In Racism. In a February 3 blog post, von Spakovsky asserted that Obama judicial nominee James Graves "apparently believes that while the First Amendment protects black judges, it has its limits when it comes to white judges." The claim, which was based on a dubious reading of Graves' handling of cases alleging judicial misconduct, was resoundingly rejected by Senate Republicans and Democrats, who confirmed Graves to a seat on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit. [Media Matters, 2/16/11, 2/4/11]

Posted In
Elections, Election Law, Voting Rights & Issues
Hans von Spakovsky
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