Von Spakovsky Hawks “Voter Fraud” Snake Oil On C-SPAN

The Heritage Foundation's Hans von Spakovsky has been on the media circuit this week in a desperate effort to convince the American people that expensive and unnecessary voter ID laws are necessary to prevent widespread voter fraud from corrupting our democracy. After appearing on CNN Saturday morning, von Spakovsky was hosted on C-SPAN Tuesday morning to debate the matter with Jon Greenbaum of the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under the Law. His misrepresentations about the prevalence of voter fraud in America began almost immediately.

When pressed about the claim that there is very little evidence of voter fraud in America, von Spakovsky cited as the perfect example of why Mississippi and other states need to pass voter ID laws the case of U.S. v. Brown, a lawsuit prosecuted by the Justice Department against Ike Brown, the Democratic leader in Noxubee County, MS. But it's hard to see how the voter ID laws could have prevented Brown's crimes.

VON SPAKOVSKY: Well, let's talk about Mississippi where they're voting today in a referendum about voter ID. Anyone who has any doubts about this can pull up a case called U.S. v. Brown, it's a lawsuit that was won under the Voting Rights Act in 2007 by the Justice Department, and the defendant in that case was convicted of all kinds of violations of the Voting Rights Act, discrimination, also he was engaging in voter fraud. And there was testimony in that case, cited in the court decision, by a former deputy sheriff, an African American, about how he witnessed the defendant in that case outside a polling place, telling a young black woman that she should go into the polling place and vote, that she could use any name, no one would question her about it. And how could she do that? Because Mississippi doesn't have a voter ID law.

One woman trying to vote under another name (and there's no evidence in the judgment against Brown that she either attempted this or was successful at it) is the least of their problems in Noxubee County. The complaint against Brown and the Noxubee County Democratic Executive Committee accused the parties of, among other things, recruiting unqualified African American candidates from outside the district to run against white candidates, excluding white people from participation in Democratic Executive Committee activities/decisions, manipulating voter rolls, prohibiting white people from voting, and rejecting valid absentee ballots.

The Mississippi law being supported by von Spakovsky would require voters at the polls to present a government issued photo ID before being permitted to vote. The former DOJ attorney suggests that a voter ID requirement would prevent Brown's crimes. But how? Brown was running the polling operations in the voting district - he seemed to have no trouble picking and choosing which laws to follow, so why would von Spakovsky expect him to honor the voter ID restrictions? In fact, it stretches the boundaries of reason to believe that any laws on the books would have prevented Brown from committing the crimes of which he was found guilty.

Indeed, according to the court documents, Brown boldly flouted the law in front of federal election observers, who of course then reported his illegal conduct. From the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals ruling against Brown:

Though it is apparent that defendants' own conduct has rendered the remedial order's terms necessary to right the § 2 violation, defendants now challenge select provisions of the order. In so doing, defendants repeatedly urge that federal observers would constitute a sufficient remedy and argue that the district court failed to explain why such observers would be ineffective. The simple answer, of course, is that the presence of federal observers did nothing to dissuade defendants from engaging in the same conduct found to have violated § 2. Additionally, defendants' own authority for their proposition that observers alone are sufficient, United States v. Berks County, 277 F. Supp. 2d 570 (E.D. Pa. 2003), supports the contrary conclusion--that a remedy must be tailored to address the circumstances of the § 2 violation. [emphasis added]

Von Spakovsky specifically highlights the testimony of Deputy Sheriff Kendrick Slaughter, who testified that “during the 2005 Macon election, he saw Ike Brown outside the door of the precinct talking to a young black lady...and heard him tell her to go in there and vote, to use any name, and that no one was going to say anything.” Listening to Von Spakovsky, you might think this kind of voter fraud solicitation was at the core of the case against Brown. Nothing could be further from the truth.

The court didn't afford much significance to the anecdote at all. The testimony appeared only in a footnote of the court's decision, cited during a discussion about accusations that the Noxubee County Election Commission failed to purge the voter rolls, an allegation the court found no evidence to support.

The Government acknowledges that most of the evidence in this case addresses actions by Brown and the NDEC, but asserts there is evidence the Election Commission has been directly involved in some of the “election-related problems” in Noxubee County elections, and that in light of that evidence and because the Election Commission is a necessary party for the issuance of effective injunctive relief in this case, a liability ruling should be made against it as well. The “problem” to which the Government principally refers is the Commission's alleged failure to purge the voter registration roll to eliminate persons who have moved or died and who are thus no longer eligible voters, a failure which the Government maintains increases the opportunity for absentee ballot fraud.73

For its part, the Election Commission submits that there is no competent, credible evidence that it has failed in its duty to purge the voter rolls, and that in any event there has been no proof that any omission in that respect has amounted to a violation of Section 2. The court agrees that the Government has not established a Section 2 violation by this defendant, but there remains the question whether its presence is nonetheless needed in order to afford a complete remedy. Accordingly, the Election Commission will not be dismissed at this time.

73 It does create the potential for persons to vote under others' names. In fact, Kendrick Slaughter testified that during the 2005 Macon election, he saw Ike Brown outside the door of the precinct talking to a young black lady named Bridgette Brown, and heard him tell her to go in there and vote, to use any name, and that no one was going to say anything. Slaughter reported this incident to the Justice Department.

Once again, von Spakovsky resorts to obscure and isolated anecdotes in an attempt to make the case for vote-suppressing ID laws, and once again, no one is buying it.