The still-simmering U.S. Attorneys scandal started when Karl Rove (and other Bush political allies) urged the DOJ and its attorneys to wage war on voter fraud before the 2006 elections. A long, exhaustive report by Greg Gordon shows that the voter fraud issue in Missouri was a white elephant—Republicans often had no evidence of actual fraud when they launched public accusations against voters or voter registrars. And attorneys didn't have much more evidence when they started indicting.
Last fall, with Missouri's new voter-ID law thrown out by the court, allegations of fraud arose over registration drives among Democratic-leaning minorities in St. Louis and Kansas City by the Democratic-leaning Association of Community Organizations for Reform (ACORN).
Brian Mellor, a Boston lawyer for ACORN, said many of the accusations surrounded the submission of duplicate or multiple registration forms for the same voters. Such duplication would be caught by election officials and wouldn't enable anyone to vote twice, he said.
But officials at St. Louis' Board of Elections took the unusual step of alerting the FBI to those and other irregularities, Mellor said, and he wound up turning over copies of 40,000 St. Louis-area registration forms to bureau agents.
Facing the FBI scrutiny, Mellor said, ACORN reviewed its forms in Kansas City and found several with similar handwriting, suggesting that they were bogus. He said the group turned over evidence involving four workers to a county prosecutor in mid-October.
That same month, at the initiative of a Republican appointee, the St. Louis Board of Elections sent letters warning 5,000 people who'd registered through ACORN that their voting status was in question. They were given one week to return signed copies of the letter and confirm personal identifying information or they'd lose their registration status.
ACORN attorneys charged that the notice "appears to be an unlawful attempt to suppress and intimidate voters of color." The board sent another mailing withdrawing the threat.
Meanwhile, the evidence against the four ACORN workers ended up with the FBI.
Five days before the election, U.S. Attorney Schlozman got another voter-fraud headline, announcing the indictments of the four workers. The indictments charged that six applications that ACORN had submitted were fraudulent.
The gap between the headlines and the crime was Grand Canyon-sized. The difference between handing in forged voter registrations and actual voter fraud is the difference between sending in a credit card application with a forged signature (llegal but harmless) and using someone else's credit card to cruise eBay.
Is the GOP gaining as much as it's losing for pushing this issue? Probably not. As Jim Harper at Cato noticed, "voter fraud" is one of the rationales the party uses for national ID cards, which are tremendously unpopular. Every two or four years the GOP rounds up a team of African-American candidates to run for high-profile jobs; meanwhile, the party apparatus is scoring headlines by scraping black voters off the rolls and alleging their roles in massive fraud schemes. The party simply can't do that and expect to win the black vote.