Like clockwork: Conservatives return to baseless voter fraud allegations

Continuing a pattern in which media conservatives stoke fears about election fraud by Democrats, Bill O'Reilly baselessly raised the specter of voter fraud in Washington state and Illinois in the midterm elections. In fact, voter fraud occurs infrequently, and many of the past claims by the conservative media that election fraud took place have been false.

O'Reilly claims Dems may commit voter fraud in midterm elections

Discussing midterms, O'Reilly claims elections in Seattle and Chicago areas are “not honest.” On the October 5 edition of Fox News' The O'Reilly Factor, O'Reilly and Fox News contributor Newt Gingrich discussed Republican prospects in this fall's 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.

O'REILLY: Right.

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 Nation: “O'Reilly Warns of Massive Midterm Voter Fraud.” On October 6, The Fox Nation linked to a clip of the O'Reilly Factor segment on its front page:

Extremely rare for illegal ballots to be cast

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 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, these convictions were connected to voter suppression efforts, not voter fraud. Several other people listed in the report were convicted of vote-buying.

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.

O'Reilly's claims part of conservative pattern of baselessly claiming voter fraud

Conservative media raise 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 would 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,” and Newsmax also speculated that the election would be “stolen” by Democrats.

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.” [footnote omitted]

Conservatives make baseless claims of voter fraud in 2009 NJ race. Several conservative media outlets claimed that New Jersey Gov. Jon Corzine 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 website suggested that the Corzine re-election campaign and its allies were planning to “rig” or “steal” the election. 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, Wall Street Journal writer John Fund appeared on 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.

Conservatives baselessly claim fraudulent votes in 2008 presidential election. Numerous conservative media and political figures have accused progressives of committing voter fraud in the 2008 presidential election, including Fund, Dick Morris, and Rick Davis -- campaign manager for Sen. John McCain's presidential campaign.

Conservatives falsely claim Franken stole Minnesota 2008 Senate election. In its decision rejecting former Sen. Norm Coleman's 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 (via Nexis): “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 and Sean Hannity, Dick Morris, Fred Barnes, O'Reilly, Gateway Pundit, and Jim Quinn suggested that voting misconduct took place to help Franken get elected.

Hannity claimed there was 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 each was contradicted by media reports.

Contradicting court decision, GOP leader makes claim that illegal voting 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.

Fund claims fraud in 2002 SD Senate election, but SD Republican attorney general disagreed. In the 2004 version of his book Stealing Elections: How Voter Fraud Threatens Democracy, Fund stated that Democrats engaged in fraudulent activities in South Dakota during the 2002 election that led to Democrat Tim Johnson's win. Fund cited a National Review article that reported that “the stories [of misconduct] are told in more than 40 affidavits collected by Republicans in the days after the election and obtained by National Review. That evidence, along with interviews with state and local officials, suggests that Johnson may have benefited from hundreds of votes that were the product of polling-place misconduct. Had those votes not been added to his total, it seems likely that the senator, who won by just 524 votes, would instead have lost, and John Thune would today be South Dakota's senator-elect.” But as Talking Points Memo's Josh Marshall pointed out in a December 16, 2002, blog post, South Dakota's Republican attorney general, Mark Barnett, dismissed the claims in the affidavits as involving nothing illegal. Indeed, according to a December 13, 2002, Associated Press report (retrieved from Nexis), Barnett “dismissed allegations in three affidavits” and called them “perjury or forgery ... just flat false.”