In today’s Washington Post, columnist Harold Meyerson highlights a little-noted study on the politics of voting fraud published in March by Lorraine Minnite, a political science professor at Columbia University, for a group called Project Vote. The study “makes unmistakably clear” that “the government’s failure to prosecute or convict more than a handful of people for voter fraud isn’t for lack of trying.”
Since 2002, the Justice Department’s Ballot Access and Voting Integrity Initiative has, as Gonzales put it, “made enforcement of election fraud and corruption offenses a top priority.” And yet between October 2002 and September 2005, just 38 cases were brought nationally, and of those, 14 ended in dismissals or acquittals, 11 in guilty pleas, and 13 in convictions. Though a Justice Department manual on election crime states that these cases “may present an easier means of obtaining convictions than do other forms of public corruption,” federal attorneys have failed to rack up those convictions, for the simple reason that incidents of fraud have been few and far between.
As the Republican Myth has it, nothing is more fraught with fraud than voter-registration campaigns waged in working-class and poor neighborhoods that are largely black or Hispanic. According to the 2004 Census, 15 percent of blacks and Hispanics were registered during such campaigns; the figure for whites is just 9 percent. But of those 38 prosecutions that the Justice Department brought between 2002 and 2005, a grand total of two were for fabricating or falsifying voter registration applications. This qualifies as one of our smaller crime waves.
Here’s a chart from the study:
Given these figures, the Justice Department’s intense focus on voter fraud is hard to explain. Yet, as Meyerson notes, from Karl Rove’s perspective, “a crackdown on voter registration campaigns in minority communities made cold electoral sense.” In close races, a key plank of his strategy “was to suppress black and Hispanic turnout — a task that would become far easier if the airwaves were buzzing with news of voter-fraud indictments. It was a task that required federal prosecutors who would indict first and ask questions later.”