The Online Left, in its customary fashion, has contrived to feign outrage over RGA Chairman Chris Christie for saying this at a Chamber of Commerce event in DC:
“Would you rather have Rick Scott in Florida overseeing the voting mechanism, or Charlie Crist? Would you rather have Scott Walker in Wisconsin overseeing the voting mechanism, or would you rather have Mary Burke? Who would you rather have in Ohio, John Kasich or Ed FitzGerald?”
Progressives claimed to be shocked, shocked by these remarks. Steven Benen of the Rachel Maddow Show Blog suggested that “Christie almost seemed to be endorsing corruption” and quoted the always credulous Norman Ornstein characterizing Christie as secretly meaning, “How can we cheat on vote counts if we don’t control the governorships?” Benen followed up with a second piece, quoting this Christie clarification
“Everybody read much too much into that,” he said. “You know who gets to appoint people, who gets to decide in part what the rules are, I’d much rather have Republican governors counting those votes when we run in 2016 as Republicans than I would have Democrats. There was no specific reference to any laws.”
Benen’s hyperventilating conclusion?
[T]aking the two sets of Christie comments together, it’s difficult to think of a charitable interpretation… Christie…wants an elections process in which Republicans control the “voting mechanisms,” Republicans appoint the elections officials, Republicans help dictate “what the rules are” when it comes to Americans casting ballots, and Republicans are “in charge of the state when the votes are being counted.”
In other words, Christie doesn’t want a non-partisan elections process. The governor and likely presidential candidate wants the exact opposite…It might very well be the most controversial thing Christie has ever said in public. That he sees this as unimportant – his intended “clarification” only added insult to injury – speaks volumes about Christie’s cynical, partisan vision of how democracy is supposed to work.
A “non-partisan elections process,” as if the Republicans Christie named were running against…well, something other than Democrats.
Racing to outdo Benen, Brian Beutler of the New Republic wailed, “Chris Christie Just Exposed His Entire Party’s Deceitful Voter Suppression Plan,” and asserted the usual Democratic shibboleth that voter fraud or other improprieties by Democrats in the voting process are impossible and inconceivable.
The most ridiculous part of this garment-rending is the implicit suggestion that Democrats don’t say exactly the same sort of thing that Christie said – that they don’t trust the other side’s conduct of elections, and want their partisans to vote to give them a greater role in protecting their side in the process. No sentient adult could claim with a straight face that Democrats never say this – indeed, the whole point of both Benen’s and Beutler’s articles is to suggest that only Democrats should be trusted to govern the elections process. Nor does one need to look hard for evidence. Consider Bill Clinton, surely still a prominent Democrat, stumping in June for the hapless Ohio Democrat Ed FitzGerald:
“Would you rather have a governor who wants to shift the tax burden onto the middle class, has aggressively pushed this voter-suppression agenda, and done a variety of other things, or one who was an FBI agent, a mayor, a county executive …?” he asked, holding up a sheet of paper as if it were a resume.
…Bemoaning the low election turnout of 2010 that saw the narrow defeat of Democratic Gov. Ted Strickland, he said the party has to make the case that midterm elections matter just as much as presidential elections.
“[Republicans] want to make every presidential election look more like the mid-term election by restricting the electorate, and if at all possible, want to restrict the midterm elections even more,” he said. He was referring to Republican-passed legislation that, among other things, has reduced early and absentee voting days.
Democrats say this kind of thing all the time on the stump. But it goes much further than rhetoric. Democratic fundraisers have not been shy about bankrolling efforts to win control of state election offices for precisely the purpose of controlling the vote counting process. Between 2006 and 2011, the Soros-funded Secretary of State Project existed for that explicit purpose:
A small tax-exempt political group with ties to wealthy liberals like billionaire financier George Soros has quietly helped elect 11 reform-minded progressive Democrats as secretaries of state to oversee the election process in battleground states and keep Republican “political operatives from deciding who can vote and how those votes are counted.”
Known as the Secretary of State Project (SOSP), the organization was formed by liberal activists in 2006 to put Democrats in charge of state election offices, where key decisions often are made in close races on which ballots are counted and which are not.
The group’s website said it wants to stop Republicans from “manipulating” election results.
“Any serious commitment to wresting control of the country from the Republican Party must include removing their political operatives from deciding who can vote and whose votes will count,” the group said on its website, accusing some Republican secretaries of state of making “partisan decisions.”
Eventually, as is the way with such organizations, the SOSP faded after some sunlight was shed on it, but in 2014, its heirs live on:
[T]he Democratic group…iVote, [is] part of a highly partisan and increasingly expensive battle over an elected position…Thirty-nine states elect their secretary of State, and because the job includes overseeing the administration of elections, Republican and Democratic PACs have emerged to fight for control of the position. In addition to iVote, a second Democratic PAC called SOS for Democracy and a Republican group named SOS for SOS have also begun raising money for secretary of State races in November.
The election-year focus on secretaries of State results from the flood of outside political spending that began in earnest in 2012 and is now flowing to races further down the ballot. It also grows out of a wave of controversial GOP-led voter identification legislation, challenged in court by Democratic groups arguing that they are intended to disenfranchise poor and minority voters.
The PACs’ effort also is part of a growing political belief that no detail is too small to be ignored in gaining an edge on an opponent. If that means trying to elect your candidate as Ohio secretary of State so that he or she can set early voting hours in Cuyahoga County, that is worth the effort.
“It is the long game. And it’s really important. These are the kind of things that we need to do instead of sitting back and playing defense,” says Jeremy Bird, former field director for the 2012 Obama campaign and now one of the organizers of iVote.
Secretaries of State “have a pivotal role to play in how elections are run,” says Rick Hasen, a law professor at the University of California-Irvine and author of Election Law Blog. “It’s very inside baseball, it’s very esoteric, but for people who are inside it makes a big difference.”
Left-wing blog DailyKos has touted these efforts and sought to enlist its readers in funding them:
Want to make sure every vote counts? Get involved in these key races for secretary of state…While their powers vary considerably from state to state, secretaries of state have a good deal of influence over how voter ID laws are carried out, who gets to vote early, what areas may or may not have enough voting machines on election day, and who gets to stay on the voter rolls….
Secretary of state races were largely ignored for years, and they still tend to attract low voter interest. However, both parties have begun to understand how important these elections are. This cycle, the Republicans have a PAC called “SOS for SoS” that will spend millions to try and win these offices in critical states. Democrats have two main committees, “SoS for Democracy” and “iVote.” Both sides understand that it is essential to get involved now in secretary of state races now, before it is far too late. As then-Florida Secretary of State Kathrine Harris proved in 2000, these races can often resonate far beyond state lines.
For progressives looking to fight back in the War on Voting, this is the central battleground.
It seems that Benen and Beutler believe that it’s entirely legitimate for Democrats to want partisan Democratic control of the voting mechanism, and to organize, campaign and fundraise to ensure partisan Democratic control of the voting mechanism, but wholly illegitimate when Republicans do the same thing. This is premised not only on the idea that Democrats are trustworthy vote-counters and Republicans are not, but also, at the level of lawmaking, on their assumption that there can be no possible legitimate policy debate over the balance between ensuring the integrity of elections by preventing illegal votes from being cast that dilute the votes of legal voters, and ensuring the right of all legal voters to vote (once).
Which is a ridiculous position, in addition to being one that is out of step with public polls that consistently show things like voter ID to be overwhelmingly popular, even among every racial and ethnic segment of the population (voter ID was endorsed by a bipartisan national commission co-chaired by Jimmy Carter in 2005, and upheld by the Supreme Court in an opinion by the liberal Justice John Paul Stevens in 2008). American history is littered with cases of widespread fraud in the elections process; within living memory, we had the notorious 1982 Illinois governor’s race (decided by 0.14 points after the Republican candidate had led by 15 points in the polls), in which a federal investigation that resulted in 63 convictions found that at least 100,000 fraudulent votes had been cast in Chicago alone, some 10 percent of the city’s entire vote. Chicago was long so notorious for voter fraud that only yesterday, President Obama – who himself won his first election in Chicago by having his opponent thrown off the ballot through a signature-challenging process – joked to a Wisconsin audience that “You can only vote once — this isn’t Chicago, now.” Going further back, biographer Robert Caro has detailed how no less a figure than Lyndon Johnson won his first Senate election in 1948 through some fairly brazen forms of fraud:
Mr. Caro confirmed the charges made at the time by Stevenson supporters that county officials had cast the votes of absent voters and had changed the numbers on the tallies. For example, he said, Jim Wells County provided an extra 200 votes for Johnson merely by changing the 7 in ”765” to a 9.
And in “1984, Brooklyn’s Democratic district attorney, Elizabeth Holtzman, released a state grand-jury report on a successful 14-year conspiracy that cast thousands of fraudulent votes in local, state, and congressional elections….The grand jury recommended voter ID, a basic election-integrity measure that New York has steadfastly refused to implement.”
Every year, year in and year out, there are documented cases of fraud and corruption in the election process. The 2005 Baker-Carter Report noted “that the U.S. Department of Justice had conducted more than 180 investigations into election fraud since 2002. Federal prosecutors had charged 89 individuals and convicted 52 for election-fraud offenses, including falsifying voter-registration information and vote buying.”
Now, fraud on the scale of the 1982 Chicago case is not something we’re likely to see again, at least not on a regular basis. As Jim Geraghty notes, there’s an element of defeatism bordering on paranoia that surfaces among conservatives this time every year, convinced that Democrats are just going to steal the election anyway no matter what we do and no matter how many votes it takes, and that’s just not borne out by the facts. The reality is that election fraud matters only on the margins. But the margins do matter. Florida 2000 is the most famous case – the presidency turned on a 537-vote margin of victory, and Bush won the Election Day count, the automatic recount, and the legal challenges in the trial court, the intermediate appellate court and the U.S. Supreme Court, but not without the Florida Supreme Court trying to rewrite the state’s election laws to give Al Gore a shot at yet another different count, an experience that left many Republicans deeply suspicious of efforts to just keep counting the votes until a different result turned up. And that’s more or less what happened in the recounts in the 2004 Washington governor’s race and the 2008 Minnesota Senate race. You want consequential? Had [mc_name name=’Sen. Al Franken (D-MN)’ chamber=’senate’ mcid=’F000457′ ] not won that Senate race, there would never have been a 60th vote in the Senate to pass Obamacare.
One of the most comprehensive studies of the 2000 presidential election, “Democracy Held Hostage,” was conducted by the Miami Herald — it found that 400 votes were cast illegally in heavily Democratic Broward County when poll workers allowed voters to vote who were not on the precinct voting rolls. And another 452 were cast illegally by felons in Broward. In Volusia County — which supported Gore — 277 voters voted who were not registered, including 73 voters at predominately black Bethune-Cookman University, which voted heavily for Gore.
The Herald review of votes in 22 counties (with 2.3 million ballots) found that 1,241 ballots were cast illegally by felons who had not received clemency. Of these voters, 75% were registered Democrats. And the Herald study counted only those who had been sentenced to prison for more than a year.
The Washington race was an agony of recounts – there were three counts, and only when Democrat Christine Gregoire pulled ahead of Republican Dino Rossi after a bunch of extra ballots turned up in Democrat-controlled King County (Seattle) did they stop the count. Gregoire won by 129 votes, and subsequent investigation revealed that more convicted felons voted in that race than the margin of victory.
The 2008 Franken-Coleman race in Minnesota, again, saw the Republican Election Day leader lose to the recount-winning Democrat, and by a margin of 312 votes – but “a conservative watchdog group matched criminal records with the voting rolls and discovered that 1,099 felons had illegally cast ballots. State law mandates prosecutions in such cases; 177 have been convicted so far, with 66 more awaiting trial [as of 2012].” As Byron York noted, “that’s a total of 243 people either convicted of voter fraud or awaiting trial in an election that was decided by 312 votes.”
Then there’s the 2010 Connecticut governor’s race:
In the close governor’s race in Connecticut in 2010, a mysterious shortage of ballots in Bridgeport kept the polls open an extra two hours as allegedly blank ballots were photocopied and handed out in the heavily Democratic city. Dannel Malloy defeated Republican Tom Foley by nearly 7,000 votes statewide — but by almost 14,000 votes in Bridgeport.
Even aside from endless controversies over chicanery with poll-closing times and recount mechanisms, there’s plenty more evidence out there showing that the opportunity exists to game the system (both legally and illegally), and that people have a sufficient incentive to do so that some get caught every year – the prosecutions alone (which almost always end in convictions) illustrate that this is more than just partisan propaganda:
–Also in 2013, a former Hamilton County, Ohio poll worker and Obama supporter pleaded guilty to “four counts of illegal voting – including voting three times for a relative who has been in a coma since 2003.” She “admitted she voted illegally in the 2008, 2011 and 2012 elections.” She was recently honored by Al Sharpton at a “voting rights” rally.
In the past few months, a former police chief in Pennsylvania pleaded guilty to voter fraud in a town-council election. That fraud had flipped the outcome of a primary election….A Mississippi grand jury indicted seven individuals for voter fraud in the 2013 Hattiesburg mayoral contest, which featured voting by ineligible felons and impersonation fraud. A woman in Polk County, Tenn., was indicted on a charge of vote-buying—a practice that the local district attorney said had too long “been accepted as part of life” there.
–This Pocket Full of Liberty post from February rounds up other examples, including a Milwaukee man prosecuted for voting five times, 12 indictments of Georgia Democrats for absentee ballot fraud, a dozen arrests in New Jersey, and more than 80 referrals for prosecutions in Iowa.
-Soren Dayton has covered a number of these cases here at RedState, including multiple indictments and guilty pleas in a voter fraud scandal involving Democrats in Troy, New York in 2009, eight arrests by the FBI for absentee ballot fraud in Florida in 2011, a series of voter fraud convictions in Alabama, a 65-count indictment in Indiana, and these two classics (click through for the links):
My favorite example is the 2003 East Chicago (Indiana) Democratic mayoral primary. There were 32 convictions. The election results were also thrown out by the Indiana Supreme Court. Note that that last link is to a story in the Chicago Tribune, my home-town paper, that discusses the conviction of the “reform” candidate in that election, with the splendid sentence, “On Thursday, a federal judge sentenced former Mayor George Pabey to five years in prison, the third consecutive East Chicago mayor to come to grief in a federal courtroom.” This case galvanized support for a voter ID law in Indiana that was eventually argued in the US Supreme Court, where the opinion upholding the law was written by former Justice Stevens. Some noted at the time that Justice Stevens, who was normally a reliable liberal vote, grew up in Chicago.
Then there’s another favorite case, that of Ophelia Ford. Mrs. Ford is the sister of former Democratic Congressman Harold Ford, Sr., sister of former State Rep. John Form, now serving time in federal prison for bribery, and the aunt of former Democratic Congressman Harold Ford, Jr….In this case, Mrs. Ford, a Democrat, defeated an incumbent Republican by 13 votes. The local newspaper, the Commercial Appeal, smelled something and dug. In the end, the State Senate vacated the election on a vote of 26-6, and three people plead guilty to felonies. In that case, the judge noted that the guilty plea actually prevented a full record of the fraud from being documented. But the guilty pleas did involve both dead and moved people voting.
-East St. Louis has had repeated issues with voter fraud, justifying its entry on this lengthy list:
Nonaresa Montgomery was found guilty by a jury late today of perjury in a trial in St. Louis Circuit Court in the St. Louis vote fraud trial…Montgomery, a paid worker who ran Operation Big Vote during the run-up to 2001 mayoral primary, …part of a national campaign — promoted by Democrats — to register more black voters and get them to vote in the November elections.
Montgomery is accused of hiring about 30 workers to do fraudulent voter-registration canvassing. They were supposed to have canvassed black neighborhoods and recorded names of potential voters to be contacted later to vote in the Nov. 7 election. And they were paid by the number of cards they filled out. Instead of knocking on doors, however, they sat down at a fast-food restaurant and wrote out names and information from an outdated voter list.
-In a 2013 New York City investigation, “undercover agents claimed at 63 polling places to be individuals who were in fact dead, had moved out of town, or who were in jail. In 61 instances, or 97 percent of the time, they were allowed to vote.”
-A recent academic study found some evidence that significant numbers of non-citizens may have voted in recent elections, although the study’s methodology suggests its findings should not be treated as conclusive.
–A 2014 analysis by the Providence Journal found that “20 of Rhode Island’s 39 municipalities, from the largest city to the smallest town, had more registered voters than it had citizens old enough to vote.”
-The new state elections director of New Mexico shocked observers in 2007 when he “recounted several conversations he’d had over the years with people who told him they’d used other people’s identities to cast multiple votes.”
–A 2011 report by the Milwaukee Police Department noted why voter fraud is so hard to detect and prosecute:
Although investigators found an “illegal organized attempt to influence the outcome of an election in the state of Wisconsin,” nothing was done to prosecute the various Democrat and liberal staffers who committed the vote fraud [because b]ased on the investigation to date, the task force has found widespread record keeping failures and separate areas of voter fraud. These findings impact each other. Simply put: it is hard to prove a bank embezzlement if the bank cannot tell how much money was there in the first place. Without accurate records, the task force will have difficulty proving criminal conduct beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law.
-A 2014 North Carolina investigation of the voter rolls found that:
765 voters with an exact match of first and last name, DOB and last four digits of SSN were registered in N.C. and another state and voted in N.C. and the other state in the 2012 general election.
35,750 voters with the same first and last name and DOB were registered in N.C. and another state and voted in both states in the 2012 general election.
155,692 voters with the same first and last name, DOB and last four digits of SSN were registered in N.C. and another state – and the latest date of registration or voter activity did not take place within N.C.
I could go on and on, but you get the point.
I recently analyzed close statewide elections from 1998 to 2013 (elections for Senate and Governor as well as the statewide contests in the Presidential races) and found that, while Democrats and Republicans were split 50/50 in winning races decided by 1-4 points, Democrats won 20 out of 27 races decided by less than 1 point. Election fraud, even in combination with manipulation of the recount process and other elements of control of the voting mechanisms, is not necessarily the only possible explanation for this disparity; it could be partly the disparity in operational competence at getting the vote out, or it could be a statistical fluke. But certainly the pattern is one that justifiably raises concerns among Republicans about getting a fair shake at the margins of vote-counting.
There’s a structural irony here. Democrats often argue that they need more federal involvement in elections because they mistrust the states. But Republicans tend to seek state supervision of local handling of elections because of the fact that, in almost every state, Democrats tend to depend on winning big margins in areas (usually urban areas) where a lot of Democratic voters are packed together, and consequently the local officials are not just Democrats, but the kind of Democrat who has never had to answer to a Republican voter for anything. And there is a long history, going back to the early 19th Century, of urban Democratic political machines being the worst offenders in any review of electoral shenanigans. Thus, even in deep-red states, the real issue is not Republican monopoly of control over elections, but having Republicans somewhere in the process who can act as a check on local Democrats.
And the hyperbole over voter ID and other election-law issues obscures the fact that the burden they impose is quite minimal and unlikely to keep very many people from the polls, as even President Obama conceded in an interview last week on Al Sharpton’s radio show:
“Most of these laws are not preventing the overwhelming majority of folks who don’t vote from voting,” Obama said during an interview with Rev. Al Sharpton. “Most people do have an ID. Most people do have a driver’s license. Most people can get to the polls. It may not be as convenient’ it may be a little more difficult.”
…”The bottom line is, if less than half of our folks vote, these laws aren’t preventing the other half from not voting,” Obama said. “The reason we don’t vote is because people have been fed this notion that somehow it’s not going to make a difference. And it makes a huge difference.”
This is why Obama’s own Justice Department is reduced to arguing that eliminating same-day registration causes black voters to stay home because they “tend to be . . . less-educated voters, tend to be voters who are less attuned to public affairs” and early voting is “well situated for less sophisticated voters, and therefore, it’s less likely to imagine that these voters would — can figure out or would avail themselves of other forms of registering and voting.”
None of this is to say that these issues are all one-sided in favor of the Republican arguments. There are many aspects of voting law, election law and election practice that involve weighing competing concerns about integrity versus access, about low-tech human error versus less transparent and more tamper-prone machine counting, about voter convenience versus taxpayer expense (where I live in New York City, we have vast numbers of polling places and a cop or more at every one, but you couldn’t possibly afford to run the system like that if we had early voting, much less weeks of it; and every day of early voting multiplies the expense and burden of any system to supervise the integrity of the vote). And there’s a fair argument that Republicans around the country have been too easily satisfied with pushing voter ID laws as a solution to in-person voter fraud, without giving adequate attention to the integrity of mail-in or absentee ballots, which present a greater risk of fraud and tend to result in more prosecutions.
But then, Republicans and conservatives aren’t the ones whose arguments depend on the assumption that the other side has no legitimate case to make and no legitimate role in these debates. Make no mistake: that is the assumption at the core of the hysteria directed at Chris Christie for daring to say what Democrats say and do constantly.