Based on the attention paid to the over-hyped threat of voter fraud in the 2012 election cycle, observers of Fox News, the right-wing blogosphere, and Republican state legislatures might believe that double-voting, fraudulent absentee ballots and undocumented aliens casting votes on Election Day is such a frequent phenomenon that the very foundation of our democracy is being pulled out from underneath us. As many states look to pass controversial voter ID laws that make it more difficult to vote, right-wing commentators like the Heritage Foundation's Hans von Spakovsky and The American Spectator's John Fund are pushing the voter fraud agenda to the public. When questioned about the vote-suppressing effects of these laws and the absence of any evidence of widespread voter fraud in America, however, voter ID proponents slip on their dancing shoes.
Von Spakovsky, in a November 5 segment on CNN Saturday Morning, was pushed by host T.J. Holmes to explain the justification for these laws, given the lack of evidence that any widespread voter fraud exists. Spakovsky, who last month admitted that there is no massive voter fraud problem in America, dodges answering twice and argues that whether voter fraud is widespread or not isn't important.
HOLMES: What evidence do you have that that's happening on a widespread level?
VON SPAKOVSKY: Well, you don't need it on a widespread level. As the U.S. Supreme Court said when it upheld Indiana's voter ID law, that kind of fraud can make the difference in close elections. And you know, in Missouri, where Ms. Lieberman is from, we had an election just two years ago that was decided by one vote. And if I may say, what's said is Ms. Lieberman has been misled by her attorneys. She is exempt from the voter ID law that Missouri is going to have go in place if it is approved in a referendum. That law, which was passed a couple of years ago, specifically says anyone born before 1941, and that includes her, is exempt, as are people with physical and mental disabilities.
HOLMES: Well sir, a lot of people don't feel that way. And they feel like a lot of people just throw up their hands and say, 'ok, I can't deal with this and can't do this.' And you talked about the Supreme Court case with Indiana - yes, they ruled for Indiana, but also Indiana couldn't come up with a single case of voter fraud there, so I guess where do you see the voter fraud taking place that justifies states changing laws like this?
VON SPAKOVSKY: Well look, I can't give you an inventory here today. I've written about a lot of case studies on various kinds of voter fraud.
John Fund, editor of The American Spectator, was questioned by Media Matters at the Americans for Prosperity's “Defending the American Dream Summit” in Washington, DC where he defended von Spakovsky and struggled to rationalize the voter suppression laws he supports.
MEDIA MATTERS: Hans von Spakovsky was quoted in The New York Times saying that there isn't massive fraud in American elections. Do you agree with him?
FUND: Well, depends on how you define “massive.” In some places, it's enormous. In some places, it's not a problem. In some places, it's minor. So it depends. Is there massive fraud throughout all 50 states? No. Is there massive fraud in many states where the elections are close and can decide the presidency? The answer is yes.
MMFA: So you sort of agree with him, sort of don't?
FUND: Well, you know, I think - remember, I talked to him. He was quoted out of context. Now, he did say that, and I would agree with that, but I think the context is important.
While Fund claims that “enormous” fraud is taking place in some states, the record suggests. The Justice Department, for example, prosecuted only 17 individuals for casting fraudulent ballots from October 2002 through September 2005. During that period, DOJ charged a total of 95 individuals with “election fraud,” convicting 55. Even Fox News, who has consistently over-hyped the menace of voter fraud, suffered a blow on the issue when America Live host Megyn Kelly was forced to admit that the problem of voter fraud is “not overwhelming.”
In the videos above, both Fund and von Spakovsky latch onto the example of former Rep. Arthur Davis, an Alabama Democrat who has changed his position on voter ID laws, claiming that people have approached him asking for help in committing ballot box fraud. While he's become the new hero of the voter fraud hype-sters as a result, Davis' claims are suspect because he refuses to be specific about the cases, individuals, or circumstances he claims to reference. According to Bama Fact Check, a fact-checking website produced by a partnership of the state's news organizations, the vagueness of the types of claims made by Davis is not new - the people who claim that voter fraud is a danger don't seem to be able to lay out the big fraud schemes they say exist. The website gave Davis' claim two of five stars, suggesting it is “completely unsupported by any external factual evidence but not actually contradicted by the facts.”
Voter ID laws like the ones being pushed by the right aren't meant to solve the problem of voter fraud. They're meant to suppress Democratic votes. Most of the proposed laws would affect the poor, young people, and racial minorities -- all groups that tend to vote Democratic. The laws could disenfranchise millions of voters, and furthermore the laws will be expensive to execute. Government officials in Madison, WI estimate that restrictive new voter ID requirements pushed through by Republican Gov. Scott Walker will cost that city alone $350,000 over the next four elections.
Julia Krieger contributed additional reporting to this article.