Wall Street Journal political reporter John Fund has been on the voter fraud beat for years. Back in 2004 and 2005 he had a lot of company, as Democrats-especially the bloggy variety-traded theories that Republicans were hacking electronic voting machines, trashing mail-in ballots (shades of George Galloway) and purging African-Americans from the rolls. In January 2005 bloggers goaded Democratic Sen. Barbara Boxer into officially challenging George W. Bush's re-election, and for her services Boxer received hundreds of roses. (Seriously.) The day of the 2006 midterms Greg Palast, a one-man Warren Commission of voter fraud theories, predicted that Republicans would beat the Democrats thanks to 4.5 million "shoplifted" votes. I lurked around the Democrats' election night party before the final Senate results came in and talked to grumbling liberals convinced that Karl Rove would swipe Missouri, Virginia, and Montana.
And then the Democrats won and we didn't hear about voter fraud anymore. The Senate Judiciary Committee has spent weeks grilling Bush administration officials on whether they made up voter fraud scandals out of whole cloth, sending letters to homeless shelters and military bases in the hope that they'd bounce back and create suspician about the voters Democrats were bringing to the polls.
Fund doesn't want to forget about voter fraud. In his newest dispatch on the issue he focuses on Seattle, where
…on Thursday local prosecutors indicted seven workers for Acorn, a union-backed activist group that last year registered more than 540,000 low-income and minority voters nationwide and deployed more than 4,000 get-out-the-vote workers. The Acorn defendants stand accused of submitting phony forms in what Secretary of State Sam Reed says is the "worst case of voter-registration fraud in the history" of the state.
The list of "voters" registered in Washington state included former House Speaker Dennis Hastert, New York Times columnists Frank Rich and Tom Friedman, actress Katie Holmes and nonexistent people with nonsensical names such as Stormi Bays and Fruto Boy. The addresses used for the fake names were local homeless shelters. Given that the state doesn't require the showing of any identification before voting, it is entirely possible people could have illegally voted using those names.
Local officials refused to accept the registrations because they had been delivered after last year's Oct. 7 registration deadline. Initially, Acorn officials demanded the registrations be accepted and threatened to sue King County (Seattle) officials if they were tossed out. But just after four Acorn registration workers were indicted in Kansas City, Mo., on similar charges of fraud, the group reversed its position and said the registrations should be rejected. But by then, local election workers had had a reason to carefully scrutinize the forms and uncovered the fraud. Of the 1,805 names submitted by Acorn, only nine have been confirmed as valid, and another 34 are still being investigated. The rest–over 97%–were fake.
But Fund isn't providing evidence of voter fraud. Acorn's engaging in registration fraud-easy to do, easy to block, and easy to get over-excited about. As Fund points out, nobody actually voted using the ridiculous names supplied by Acorn. The phony registrations are getting played up for many of the same reason Democrats are playing up the Bush-Cheney campaign's direct-mail anti-fraud campaigns: Party politics. Three years ago Washington's Republicans narrowly lost the closest gubernatorial campaign in history after Democratic winner Chris Gregoire paid for a recount that showed her inching ahead of State Sen. Dino Rossi. Rossi is gunning for a rematch in 2008 and part of his campaign narrative will be, to quote Joe Jacobs, "We wuz robbed!" That's not why the state nailed Acorn. Their lawyers determined that Acorn's fraudsters were simply cheating to meet a quota so they wouldn't lose their jobs. But the story gets played up in blogs and by the conservative media because it makes Democrats look like criminal conspirators.
The truth undergirding all of this: America's voting systems are incredibly flawed with machinery, deadlines, and regulations that differ from county to county. And they only ever get fixed when the parties are trying to out-skullduggery each other. Since the parties, not the government, used to run these elections, it seems sort of fitting.