Colorado’s state ethics panel has ruled that Secretary of State Scott Gessler (R) violated state ethics laws and breached public trust for his own personal gain. Gessler, best known for his failed voter purge and his crusade against largely nonresistant voter fraud, received a fine for the violations.
The Denver Post reported Thursday that Colorado’s Independent Ethics Commission found Gessler had “breached the public trust for private gain” by using public funds to pay for his trip to a Republican National Lawyers Association in Florida. The panel also found he broke state ethics laws by keeping money from his office discretionary account without submitting receipts.
Gessler released a statement attacking the impartiality of the five-member independent ethics panel. “As we said from the start, I’ve had grave concerns about this tribunal’s ability to be fair and objective. Every attempt we made to expose the truth and the facts in the case were met with resistance or rejected outright. Instead of impartial, engaged commissioners, I faced a group of my political adversaries. In fact, two commissioners have donated to my political opponents, and they both unsurprisingly ruled against me.”
Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted (R) has finally closed the investigation into possible voter fraud in the 2012 election, declaring, “voter fraud does exist, but it is not an epidemic.”
To illustrate his point, Husted noted that the 135 cases of possible voter fraud referred for further investigation are a tiny percentage of more than 5.6 million votes cast in the presidential election last November. Most of these cases involved people who tried to double-vote by either voting in two different precincts or sending an absentee ballot and then showing up at the polls. According to a Cincinnati Enquirer report, most of these voters were not trying to swing the election illegally, but were worried their ballots got lost in the mail or followed incorrect instructions from poll workers.
Husted emphasized the fact that the safeguards in the voting system prevented these people from actually getting both their votes counted, as most cast one or more provisional ballots. Provisional ballots are used if there is some question regarding the voter’s eligibility, and are often discarded even if the voter is legitimate.
Conservative groups searching for compelling evidence of in-person voter fraud have seized on Ohio’s investigation as proof that voting restrictions, like strict voter ID laws, are necessary. Before the election, Husted toyed with supporting a strict voter ID law pushed by Republican lawmakers, but ultimately dropped it despite enthusiastic Republican support. After the voter fraud investigation, however, Husted observed that “a photo ID wouldn’t have mattered in most of these cases.”
However, the Secretary was quick to note that the investigation uncovered no evidence of voter suppression. Husted became one of the most notorious election officials of 2012 due to his multiple attempts to bend the law and restrict early voting hours despite multiplecounties’ requests to stay open to accommodate residents. A report after the election determined that Husted’s early voting restrictions created much longer lines for urban voters than those in suburban or rural areas. Though Husted is claiming there was no formal evidence of voter suppression, the marathon lines endured by thousands of voters in Columbus, Cleveland, and Cincinnati speak for themselves.
Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted became one of the villains of the 2012 presidential election for his multi-pronged efforts to restrict voting. After the election, Husted ordered all boards of elections to hold public hearings on voter fraud suspicions. Conservatives, long bereft of compelling evidence that in-person voter fraud actually exists, rushed to point out Hamilton County, Ohio, where 93 cases of anomaly votes are being investigated by the board.
The only problem is, 59 of the voters facing possible felony prosecution appear to have cast two ballots by mistake — and ultimately only had one ballot counted. The Cincinnati Enquirer conducted an extensive review of these cases, finding that most involve errors by Board of Elections employees or voter confusion:
• Five are the result of acknowledged errors by a board of elections office. In another nine cases, voters said they did what they did because a Board of Elections employee told them – or didn’t tell them – what to do.
• Eight are the result of postage problems.
• 12 came from people who were confused, according to the board’s own investigation.
On Wednesday, the board of elections split along party lines over whether 39 of these voters should be reviewed for prosecution. Husted will now have to decide whether to pursue cases like 64-year-old Bella Lipavsky, a Russian immigrant who feared she made a mistake on her absentee ballot and was told to cast a provisional ballot by poll workers. Many other Ohioans shared similar worries with the Enquirer that they had made an error on their absentee ballot or that it would not reach the board of elections. These voters then showed up at the polls and cast provisional ballots, which are used if the voter’s legitimacy is in question. In all 39 cases reviewed Wednesday, only one vote was counted.
Tim Burke, Hamilton County Board of Elections chairman, expressed misgivings to the Enquirer about “an effort by some to make it appear there is more voter fraud than there actually is” by inflating the number of allegations with people who were simply confused by the system. The Hamilton County prosecutor, Joe Deters (R), has charged 6 people for voter fraud thus far.
It’s no surprise these voters were concerned their ballots would not count; Ohio has the highest number of provisional ballots in the country, and routinely tosses thousands of legitimate votes every election. The confusion among voters and poll workers was exacerbated by Husted’s war with the courts over his voting hour restrictions and last-minute changes to vote protocols. Critics predicted that even Husted’s well-intentioned initiative to mail absentee ballot request forms to every registered voter would flood the system with provisional ballots from people who chose to return an absentee ballot application but later decided to vote in person. Sure enough, the number of provisional ballots increased in several Democratic strongholds.
While the hearings have netted a couple of cases of legitimate voter fraud — a nun who voted for a friend who passed away shortly before the election and a poll worker who filled out ballots for her granddaughter and other relatives — they make up less than .0034 percent of all Ohio voters. By contrast, laws meant to combat voter fraud raised obstacles for hundreds of thousands of people — primarily minority, low-income, and elderly Americans — trying to cast their votes all over the country. As many as 49,000 people in Florida, Ohio’s partner in election woes, were discouraged from voting by Republican voter suppression laws.
Christie’s claim that limiting early voting to mail in ballots will preserve the “integrity” of elections is, if anything, the opposite of true. According to the New York Times, mailed ballots are “less likely to be counted, more likely to be compromised and more likely to be contested than those cast in a voting booth, statistics show. Election officials reject almost 2 percent of ballots cast by mail, double the rate for in-person voting.” Moreover, while in-person voter fraud is virtually non-existent, fraud in mailed ballots is “vastly more prevalent.”
After a year in which voting lines proved to be a much bigger problem than alleged voter fraud, Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach (R) is gaining traction for his proposal to give himself more power to prosecute such cases. The power to investigate and charge individuals in cases of alleged election fraud now rests with local criminal prosecutors. But under a bill that has now passed in different forms in both houses of the state legislature, that power would be moved to Kobach’s office. The Associated Press reports:
The secretary of state is Kansas’ chief elections official but must refer cases of potential election irregularities to county and federal prosecutors if criminal charges are to be pursued. Even the state attorney general’s office must consult with local prosecutors on such cases.
Kobach said county prosecutors have too many other criminal cases to handle to pursue election fraud allegations aggressively, and the attorney general’s office also has “a very full plate.” He said the secretary of state’s office is most likely to pursue election fraud allegations aggressively and develop expertise in investigating them. [...]
Rep. Jan Pauls, a Hutchinson Democrat, said if legislators want a state official to have the specific authority to prosecute election fraud cases, it should go to the attorney general’s office.
“The AG should be in control of all the prosecutions, or the local district and county attorneys,” she said. “It’s nice to have everybody’s role stay the same as it has been traditionally.”
Kobach’s critics also contend that he’s overstated the potential for election abuses both in pushing for expanded authority for his office and successfully pursuing the photo ID and proof-of-citizenship laws in Kansas. Election fraud prosecutions have been relatively few over the past decade, and the state has about 1.7 million registered voters.
But Kobach argues that Kansas appears to have few cases because election irregularities aren’t pursued aggressively. He said his office has found at least 30 cases from the 2012 election in which the name and birthdate of someone who voted in Kansas matched the name and birthdate of someone who voted in another state, suggesting illegal, double voting.
Nationwide, voter fraud is an exceedingly rare occurrence, and Americans are more likely to be struck by lightning than to commit voter fraud. When Kobach ran on a platform to fight voter fraud in 2010, investigations found that Kobach’s claims were vastly overstated. Over the course of a five-year period, there had only been seven cases of alleged voter fraud at the local, state, and federal law, and just one of those incidents had been prosecuted. When Kobach floated this bill to assume prosecutorial power last year, a Democratic state representative who questioned Kobach’s slate of potential voter fraud cases found that most of them concerned snow birds who live half the year in Kansas and half elsewhere and may end up registering in two places with no ill intent. ”I can’t wait for him to drag some snowbird off to jail,” Rep. Ann Mah said. Nonetheless, Kobach has continued to tout strict voter ID laws and greater state resources pumped into combating this alleged problem.
Moving prosecutions to Kobach’s office could lead to politicized criminal charges. A former advisor to Mitt Romney, Kobach been a leader in the anti-immigrant movement, and is known for having helped to draft Arizona’s controversial and partially invalidated immigration law, SB 1070, and as a top proponent of strict voter ID laws that disproportionately disfranchise minorities. Kobach was previously counsel for the Immigration Reform Law Institute, the legal arm of an organization labeled a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center. This year, with more conservative Republicans replacing moderates in the state legislature, the bill seems poised to pass if the houses can reconcile the two versions, as expected, and gain Gov. Sam Brownback’s (R) signature.
In a National Review article Friday, voter fraud conspiracy theorist John Fund again attempted to mislead readers into thinking strict photo ID laws are necessary to prevent election stealing. But, in so doing, he inadvertently shows why these voter suppression laws are not needed.
Well, lightning is suddenly all over Cincinnati, Ohio. The Hamilton County Board of Elections is investigating 19 possible cases of alleged voter fraud that occurred when Ohio was a focal point of the 2012 presidential election. A total of 19 voters and nine witnesses are part of the probe.
Democrat Melowese Richardson has been an official poll worker for the last quarter century and registered thousands of people to vote last year. She candidly admitted to Cincinnati’s Channel 9 this week that she voted twice in the last election.
According to the Hamilton County Board of Elections, 564,429 voters are registered in jurisdiction. Even if every single one of those 19 alleged cases proved true, that would represent less than 0.0034 percent of the county’s voters.
In Richardson’s case, she told the television station that she had not intended to commit vote fraud and merely showed up to vote in-person as she was unsure her absentee ballot would arrive in time to be counted. The story notes that the elections board’s report “states poll workers should have updated the signature poll book by flagging ‘absentee voter’ next to the names of those who appeared on the list.”
Regardless of Richardson’s intent, however, the National Review’s bait and switch is obvious. Requiring voters to show photo identification at the polls would do absolutely nothing to prevent double voting like this — intentional or inadvertent. Richardson truthfully identified herself at the polls and voted in her own name. Fund attempts to lump all types of voter fraud in together, but does not identify a single one of the 19 alleged cases in which a voter committed in-person impersonation of another voter.
Furthermore, these cases show that the existing laws successfully catch those who vote twice. While she could not comment on the ongoing investigation, Hamilton County Deputy Director of Elections Sally J. Krisel told ThinkProgress that “Ohio has very clear laws about checking,” so if a voter is found to have cast an absentee ballot and attempts to vote in person, only one vote is counted. And, based on the Channel 9 report, the 19 questioned voters have been subpoenaed — meaning they will be prosecuted if they indeed committed voter fraud.
Fund snidely concludes: “But, of course, as you know there is no voter fraud. Pay no attention to that lightning coming out of Ohio.” While voter fraud does rarely exist, fighting these sorts of “lightning” with strict photo ID laws that disenfranchise legitimate voters is like banning orange juice to prevent jaywalking.
An earlier version of this story incorrectly listed the number of actual voters in Hamilton County in the November elections.
After sending poll-watchers to record any suspicious activity at polling locations on Election Day, Tea Party group True the Vote is apparently having some trouble proving their allegedly widespread reports of voter fraud in the presidential election. According to their newsletter, the organization is “still collecting reports of election fraud and process failure” and is waiting for local election officials to respond to their requests for data. While they wait, True the Vote is switching gears to attack a 30-year-old agreement by the Republican and Democratic National Committees meant to stop the Republican Party from caging African American voters.
In a post-election webinar, Catherine Engelbrecht, founder of True the Vote, reported a meeting with RNC chair Reince Priebus in which he explained the RNC could not directly do anything to combat voter fraud because of this agreement. In 1982, the RNC and the New Jersey Republican State Committee agreed not to pursue “ballot security activities” in minority districts, or to target suspected voter fraud based on racial or ethnic criteria. This agreement was necessary because the RNC was caught compiling lists of mostly Black and Latino voters to challenge at the polls and hiring armed guards to police polling places. The consent decree has been employed many times since to protect minority votes. But True the Vote claims the consent decree “robs” poll watchers of their power:
First, the decree effectively robs poll watchers (and the ballot stakeholders that put them there) of their most important function: spotting and neutralizing attempted voter fraud.Indeed, poll watchers will mostly make note of procedural errors that could have negative impacts on voters. However, poll watchers also improve overall faith in the system when electors know that ALL of the rules are being enforced…The RNC is effectively jammed: choosing between developing a system that the federal court and the DNC agree would be flawless or spending time and energy on developing issue ideas or get out the vote efforts. Time and money being finite, the RNC picks GOTV over “Ballot Security.” [...] However, in this Decree comes opportunity. The RNC, DNC and federal courts have basically created a void where true, disinterested election integrity and ballot security can be created. The answer is in YOU. Should citizens fight to have the Decree overturned? No – such action only legitimizes the agreement. Federal law, the National Voter Registration Act of 1993 in particular, empowers you to fight for clean registrations and fair elections in your own communities. Take this whole episode for what it is: an example of how the established political parties and governing interests jockey to consolidate power.
True the Vote is encouraging its volunteers to circumvent the consent decree while distancing itself from the legally-handicapped GOP. Yet the group had no problem coordinating with the GOP during the election, even providing poll watchers for Republican candidates. This coordination could prove complicated not only for True the Vote, which is currently under criminal investigation, but for the RNC. Brentin Mock at Colorlines notes that the RNC could have violated the consent decree through the actions of True the Vote and Tea Party surrogates. A Pittsburgh Tea Party group working for the local Republican Party actively trained poll watchers to target African American neighborhoods as “historical places of fraud” — closely resembling True the Vote language on minority communities. The RNC has not disavowed these surrogates.
Meanwhile, party members not constrained by the decree seem to be jumping at the chance to accuse minorities of voter fraud. Since the election, state-level GOP members have complained that the turnout of “people of color” and “dozens of black people” alone is cause for suspicion.
On Thursday, the head of the Maine Republican Party found himself on the wrong side of controversy after he questioned the legitimacy of “dozens” of black people voting at the polls on Election Day. “Nobody in town knows anyone who’s black,” Charlie Webster — who has since apologized for his comments — declared.
Such faulty logic is more widespread throughout the Republican party, it seems. Racial justice news site ColorLines published a video the day after the election of a self-identified Republican poll worker in Colorado who can be heard phoning in his concerns that “a very high concentration of people of color” were turning out in his precinct, and that such turnout was suspicious because he normally sees fewer minorities “at the mall”:
“Yeah, a very high concentration of people of color. It’s not a problem, but, you know, when I go to the mall I see, you know this amount. Well I’m seeing at least double or triple that amount here. So what I’m saying is, it looks to me like this voting location was selected as the place they told everyone to come.”
As with Webster, the poll worker, identified by Color Lines as Dayton Conway, offers no evidence of any foul play at all other than his gut feeling that there were more minorities at his polling location than he normally sees at the mall. Conway perhaps failed to note that his polling location — the Arapahoe County CentrePoint Plaza in Aurora, Colorado — was one of 32 designated voting centers where voters who are registered anywhere in Arapahoe County could cast their ballots, meaning the turnout there might not be reflective of the precinct’s actual demographics.
Sadly, Conway’s instinctual suspicion of minority voters is something of a trend for Republicans this year. After the election, Rep. Paul Ryan blamed “urban voters” for costing him the vice presidency, while Mitt Romney argued that Obama won reelection by doling out “gifts” like health care, affordable education and food to minority groups and the impoverished.
The head of the Republican Party in Maine thinks there might have been voter fraud in his state because “nobody in town knows anyone who’s black,” but black voters came in to vote on election day.
GOP state chairman Charlie Webster aims to find those who committed the alleged fraud fraud by sending thank you cards to voters, and seeing if they are returned to sender.
In an interview with an NBC affiliate, Webster said he was astounded by the “dozens, dozens of black people” who voted, and thought it was odd because he personally doesn’t know anyone who knows a black person in town:
In some parts of rural Maine, there were dozens, dozens of black people who came in and voted on Election Day. Everybody has a right to vote, but nobody in town knows anyone who’s black. How did that happen? I don’t know. We’re going to find out….
I’m not politically correct and maybe I shouldn’t have said these voters were black, but anyone who suggests I have a bias toward any race or group, frankly, that’s sleazy.
Webster isn’t alone in using race to explain away Republicans’ losses this election season. Vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan claimed that Obama won because of the “urban vote.” His running mate, former presidential nominee Mitt Romney, also said yesterday that Obama won re-election because of the “gifts” he gave black people, Latinos, and women.
On top of that, Webster’s methodology is, to say the least, flawed. Not knowing any black people isn’t evidence that they don’t exist, and having a piece of mail bounce back is not proof that voters intentionally lied about their address. Indeed, even though Maine has one of the smallest black populations in the country (just 1.3 percent of the state is black), it’s much more likely to find a black Mainer than an instance of voter fraud in the US. Voter fraud is less common than being struck by lightning, of which there’s just a 0.000001 percent chance.
Talking Points Memo spoke with Webster today, and he defended his earlier comments and assuring them that he is not racist because, “I know black people”:
“I regret saying the word black because it wasn’t like I was singling out black,” Webster said. “The reason I said it, ‘cause I don’t know where you live, but where I come from in rural Maine, it’s a small percentage of the population. I think we’re the whitest state in the country. So if you go to the polls and see people who are black, it’s unusual. And when you see a lot of people who are black, like six or eight or ten people, you think, ‘Wow, where do they live?’ That was my point.”[...]
“There’s nothing about me that would be discriminatory. I know black people. I play basketball every Sunday with a black guy. He’s a great friend of mine. Nobody would ever accuse me of suggesting anything,” he said. “What I do suggest is that same-day voter registration without voter ID is pretty hard to police, and it’s odd that hundreds of people in a small town would show up.”
Webster came out with a full apology Thursday night. In a written statement, he tried to separate his theories about voter fraud from his perception of race in Maine: “”It was my intention to talk not about race, but about perceived voting irregularities,” he wrote. “However, my comments were made without proof of wrongdoing and they had the unintended consequence of casting aspersions on an entire group of Americans. For that, I am truly sorry.”
Over the past two years, state legislators affiliated with the controversial American Legislative Exchange Council mounted a furious push to enact strict vote-suppressing voter ID laws. But while advocates claimed these laws are necessary to prevent voter impersonation fraud, two arrests Tuesday demonstrate that the opposite is true.
Talking Points Memo reports two Republican voters attempted to “test” whether they could commit voter fraud in New Mexico and Nevada. Neither state requires identification to vote, but both discovered that that does not equate to voter fraud being legal — or easily committed.
In Nevada, 56-year-old Roxanne Rubin, a Republican, was arrested on Nov. 2 for allegedly trying to vote twice, the Las Vegas Review-Journal reported. The newspaper quoted a report by an investigator with the Nevada Secretary of State’s Office that said Rubin “was unhappy with the process; specifically in that her identification was not checked.” … She was arrested at the Riviera Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas and charged with a category “D” felony.
On Tuesday in New Mexico, a Republican poll watcher was taken into police custody after also apparently trying to test the system. According to the Las Cruces Sun-News, the man voted, then obtained a second provisional ballot and announced he was simply “testing the system to see if people could get away with voting twice.”
There are many reasons why in person voter fraud — the “problem” these voter ID laws purport to solve — is virtually non-existent. Most people accept the principle of “one person, one vote” and don’t try to cheat the system because doing so is morally wrong. Others recognize that doing so is illegal and do not want to risk being charged with a category “D” felony. And with more than 121 million votes cast in Tuesday’s presidential election, voting twice would be a hugely inefficient way to influence the election.
While polls initially showed statewide support a voter ID measure in Minnesota, once voters learned that such a measure was unnecessary (no one has ever been convicted of voter impersonation in the state’s history), would create hurdles that could keep citizens from voting, and would potentially cost the state millions, it failed with nearly 54 percent of voters refusing to back the effort.