O’Keefe claimed to be Eminem and the Detroit mayor, and poll workers offered him a ballot.
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Three federal courts have thrown out voter-ID laws in North Carolina, Texas, and Wisconsin in recent days. Left-wing judges accepted spurious evidence that such laws were racially discriminatory, and they also insisted there is little voter fraud to worry about. Last April, United States District Judge Lynn Adelman of Wisconsin claimed that “virtually no voter impersonation occurs” in Wisconsin and that “no evidence suggests that voter-impersonation fraud will become a problem at any time in the foreseeable future.”
Despite such sweeping statements, polls show that the general public is worried about fraud and bureaucratic incompetence in voting. According to a Pew Research Center survey, only 31 percent of Americans were confident that “the votes across the country were accurately counted” in the 2012 election. Small wonder. A separate Pew survey in 2012 found that one out of eight voter registrations is inaccurate, out-of-date, or a duplicate. Some 2.8 million people are registered in two or more states, and 1.8 million registered voters are dead.
Guerilla filmmaker James O’Keefe is famous for having busted institutions ranging from the fraudulent voter-registration group ACORN to NPR. His Project Veritas team has also piled up an impressive array of videos documenting that the Pew survey numbers on voter registration could easily be translated into fraudulent votes with very little chance of detection. In New Hampshire, he found it was easy to vote using the name of a dead person. In North Carolina, political operatives encouraged his undercover associates to vote even if they were non-citizens.
In 2014, political scientists Jesse Richman and David Earnest, writing in the Washington Post, summarized their finding, based on their examination of thousands of voter interviews from the Cooperative Congressional Election Study: “Our best guess, based upon extrapolations from the portion of the sample with a verified vote, is that 6.4 percent of non-citizens voted in 2008, and 2.2 percent of non-citizens voted in 2010.
Last week in Michigan, O’Keefe struck again, testing the state’s voter-ID law, which allows non-ID holders to vote if they merely fill out an affidavit claiming they are who they say they are. Such affidavits are almost never checked. Using this ruse, O’Keefe told different poll workers he was Detroit mayor Mike Duggan, Wayne State University Law School dean Jocelyn Benson, and columnist Nancy Kaffer of the Detroit Free Press— all whom strongly oppose voter-ID laws. In each case, poll workers offered him primary ballots for the person he was claiming to be. He was also offered the ballot of legendary Michigan rapper Eminem, whose real name is Marshall Bruce Mathers III.
In all but one sting, the poll workers offered him a ballot, though he never actually accepted a ballot or cast an illegal vote.
The one exception was O’Keefe’s effort, in Birmingham, Mich., to be offered the ballot of Brian Dickerson of the Detroit Free Press. The veteran poll worker he met there was a personal acquaintance of Henderson’s and became suspicious. Henderson then wrote a column dismissing O’Keefe’s ploy, saying, “What’s dubious is his assertion that the crime would have gone unnoticed or unpunished.”
Oh, really? Even with a voter-ID requirement, O’Keefe’s team received multiple offers of ballots that belonged to real voters. In states without an ID law, his team hasn’t even faced an affadavit requirement.
Nor is his experience unusual. In 2013, New York City’s Department of Investigation detailed how its undercover agents claimed at 63 polling places to be individuals who were dead, who had moved out of town, or who were in jail. In a story titled, “The Dead Can Vote in NYC,” the New York Post reported that in 61 instances, or 97 percent of the time, the undercover agents were allowed to vote. (To avoid skewing results, they voted only for nonexistent write-in candidates.) One of their two failures occurred when a poll worker discovered that the impersonator was trying to vote in the name of her own son.
How did the city’s Board of Elections respond? Did it immediately probe and reform its sloppy procedures? Not at all. It instead demanded that the investigators be prosecuted.
The reaction of government officials in Detroit was similar. When O’Keefe went to the office of Detroit mayor Duggan to obtain a comment about the ease with which a stranger had been offered the mayor’s ballot, Detroit’s chief attorney, Melvin “Butch” Hollowell, confronted O’Keefe. Rather than show concern about the potential fraud, Hollowell reprimanded O’Keefe: “So you know that you’re an accessory to a crime?” He wouldn’t let O’Keefe take any notes of their meeting and treated him like a suspect.
Dickerson, the anti-voter ID columnist for the Detroit Free Press, ignored the O’Keefe videos that showed the filmmaker being offered ballots. O’Keefe’s investigation, Dickerson said, was nothing more than a “social-media circus.” He concluded that “although [O’Keefe] and others have been advocating for tougher voter-I.D. laws for years on the grounds that fraud is rampant, none has identified a single instance in which a U.S. election turned on counterfeit votes.”
But there certainly are examples of elections being overturned for reasons of fraud, including mayoral elections in Miami and East Chicago, Ind. We’ve also seen clear evidence of fraud in more important races. In 2008, illegal felon voters appear to have swung the outcome of the critical 2008 Minnesota Senate election. The day after the election, GOP senator Norm Coleman had a 725-vote lead, but a series of recounts over the next six months reversed that result and gave Democrat Al Franken a 312-vote victory.
The outcome had a significant impact because it gave Democrats the critical 60th Senate vote they needed to block GOP filibusters. Franken’s vote proved crucial in the passage of Obamacare in the Senate.
After Franken was sworn in, a conservative group called Minnesota Majority looked into claims of voter fraud. Comparing criminal records with voting rolls, the group identified 1,099 felons — all ineligible to vote — who had voted in the Franken–Coleman race. Prosecutors were ultimately able to convict only those who were dumb enough to admit they had knowingly broken the law, but that added up to 177 fraudulent voters. Nine out of ten suspect felon voters contacted by a Minneapolis TV station said they had voted for Franken.
Minnesota Majority also found all sorts of other irregularities that cast further doubt on the Al Franken victory results. It’s noteworthy that evidence of fraud and irregularities in Minnesota had to be gathered by a private group.
The fact is that prosecutions for voter fraud are rare in part because the crime is so hard to catch, the level of proof required is high, the priority in filing such cases is low, and district attorneys are reluctant to pursue cases that will anger half of the ruling political class.
Former Democratic senator Chris Dodd, the co-author of our last bipartisan federal election bill, in 2002, said that the goal of our laws should be to “make it easy to vote and hard to cheat.” Indeed, there is no reason why we can’t pursue both goals.
Our elections aren’t “rigged,” as Donald Trump says in his more hyperbolic moments. But there is plenty to worry about. Flagrantly slipshod voter-registration systems that can be gamed by groups like ACORN; millions of inactive or suspect names on our voter rolls, as found by Pew Research; and videos such as those James O’Keefe keeps churning out — this should be enough to convince us of the need for vigilance.
— John Fund is NRO’s national-affairs correspondent.