There's a lot more coverage of election problems in the press today, but most of the stories focus on the wacky "conspiracy theories" being put forward by "web loggers" wearing "tin foil hats" in that "parallel dimension" called the internet. Here are a few samples:
- Latest Conspiracy Theory -- Kerry Won -- Hits the Ether - Washington Post [LINK]
- If it's too bad to be true, it may not be voter fraud; Most statistical enigmas in recent election have logical explanations, despite Web rants - SF Chronicle [LINK]
- The swift rise and fall of 'Votergate'; Web logs' fast and furious rumors of election foul play quickly dismissed - NY Times [LINK]
The NYT article even quotes Matthew Damschroder (the Republican Election Director who is presiding over all those irregularities in Franklin County, Ohio [LINK] ) who calls the reports of voting irregularities a "snowball of hearsay."
Most of the mainstream media, with the notable exceptions of Keith Olbermann at MSNBC and Randi Rhodes and the other hosts at Air America Radio, seems more interested in marginalizing the idea of vote fraud than they are in finding out whether any might actually have occurred.
Take this biting analysis from Glenn Reynolds at MSNBC, "Complaints about voter fraud have been the perennial domain of losers." [LINK]
Of course, winners don't usually contest election results, do they? So we should all wait around for George W. Bush to ask for a recount in Ohio?
Reynolds also goes out of his way to take a swipe at his MSNBC colleague Olbermann for daring to air any concerns about voting irregularities. This is one of the first signs that Olbermann could soon suffer the wolf-pack-like savaging by his colleagues that Dan Rather recently received.
Why is the mainstream media so afraid of reporting vote fraud? There is a long history of vote fraud in the U.S, much of recent, and sadly it is almost always ignored or marginalized by the press.
In their 1996 book "Dirty Little Secrets: The Persistence of Corruption in American Politics", Larry Sabato and Glenn Simpson offer a detailed history of vote fraud in the U.S. Their conclusion is that vote fraud has been with us ever since we've had elections, and that it was experiencing a resurgence in the 1990's, when the book was written. Sabato is a well-respected political science professor fom the University of Virgina who has consulted for both Democrats and Republicans.
On the subject of voting fraud, Sabato and Simpson say:
For much of the last century and a good part of this century, elections in many states and localities became contests of the voting fraud capacities of various factions and parties. The chief question on Election Day sometimes was: who could manufacture the requisite number of votes most easily and shrewdly, giving the other side insufficient time to make adjustments to its tallies and insufficient evidence to cry foul consistently.
They give quite a few examples of vote fraud in the U.S.:
- In the 1844 election, New York City's 41,000 voters managed to cast 55,000 votes, a 135% turnout.
- In 1876, Democratic Presidential candidate Samuel B. Tilden had 184 electoral votes (185 were needed then to win) with four states and 20 electoral votes still in question. Tilden had a substantial lead in Florida, but a Republican-controlled election board there began disualifying hundreds of Democratic votes for dubious reasons, giving the state instead to Rutherford B. Hayes, his Republican opponent. Congress then set up a Republican-led commission to decide the election, and they gave all the remaining electoral votes to Hayes, denying Tilden the one vote he needed to win.
- Vote selling first became popular in the late 1800's. It became so prevalent in some places that in 1910 a judge in Adams County, Ohio convicted 1,679 people, more than 25% of the voters there, of selling their votes. Inquiries showed that 85% of the couny's voters had bought or sold votes at some time in their lives.
- In 1941 a young Congressman named Lyndon Johnson was elected in a tight election that came down to the vote count forVoting Box 13 in Alice, Texas. A few days after the election the official in chage of Box 13 "found" 203 additional votes, 202 of them for Johnson. Stangely all 203 of these citizens voted in alphabetical order and used the same pen. Johnson won the election by 87 votes statewide.
Vote fraud isn't just a quaint old phenomenon in the U.S. Here are a few incidents from the 1990's:
- In a special election in Philadelphia's Senatorial District 2 in 1993, Republican Bruce Marks received 564 more in-person votes than his opponent William Stinson. However a vast majority of the absentee ballots went for Stinson, giving him a victory by 351 votes. A subsequent inquiry found that Stinson campaign staffers and local election board officials conspired to systematically collect, distribute and in some cases help voters fill out absentee ballots that favored Stinson. A judge overturned the election, Stinson was indicted (but not convicted), and some of his staffers went to jail.
- In California in 1996 it was estimated that up to 24% of all voter registrations were phony or obsolete. One cause is the practice of paying third-party firms per registration to sign up new voters. Many times these firms sign up already registered voters with new addresses, duplicating these voters in the rolls. Paid solicitors added over 4,000 fraudulent voter registrations in L. A. County in 1992 alone. California also does not have a good procedure for removing dead voters or voters who leave the state from their lists. It's unclear how many people try to commit fraud by capitalizing on these registration problems. In one case in 1994 a woman entered a polling place in Kern county and asked for a ballot under the name of a woman who happened to be in a voting booth at that moment. When the legitimate voter stepped out and objected the impersonator fled.
- In 1992 in Harris County, Texas 6,707 ineligible voters cast ballots, exploiting a law there that allows voters to sign a sworn statement of eligibility if they are not on the rolls. It took seven months for elections officials to completely evaluate these ineligible ballots, long after the election results had been certified.
- Texas allows early voting using mail-in ballots. There is a space for a signatue on the ballot and on the envelope that the ballot is mailed in. Texas law allows you to mark anything in this signature space, even an "X". Even so in a 1994 election in Galveston county a watchdog group found over 200 instances where the full signature on the envelope was very different from the full signature on the ballot inside. In that election a number of races had been decided by less than 200 votes.
So vote fraud was still alive and well in the 1990's and even experiencing a "resurgence", accoring to Sabato and Simpson. (They also state that nowhere in the U.S. is vote fraud more bold, traditional, and institutionalized than in George W. Bush's own home state of Texas.)
About vote fraud, Sabato and Simpson conclude:
Contrary to the belief of some that voter fraud is a thing of the past existing today only in isolated pockets, if at all, the evidence...strongly suggests a persistent pattern of criminal fraud that is well organizedand a continuing part of the political culture in some areas. The fact that fraud is generally not recognized as a serious problem by press, public, and law enforcement creates the perfect environment for it to flourish.
They draw special attention to "the absence of the press" and attribute this to a few causes:
- a general belief that vote fraud is no longer a serious problem in the U.S.;
- the tendency of the press to treat vote fraud incidents as isolated problems not worthy of broader interest;
- "...Another indication of a disease some reporters have contracted from extended contact with political professionals: a blase attitude about some unsavory aspects of the electoral sausage-making process."
Are we to believe that all vote fraud magically ceased in 2000 and 2004, just because many counties switched to electronic voting machines with no paper trail? Common sense says that fraud is more likely now than it used to be.
Take this statement by an Alabama attorney who was working on vote fraud investigations in 1994:
"Basically what happens is that you're not going to second-guess elections in the absence of any proof. And then what you do is make sure the people who control the proof are in the inner circle of your party. And therefore as the process unwinds in the wee hours of the [election] night, based on the information that's available from the media outlets, the inner circle comes up with what [votes] they need. Who's going to rat on them?"
Electronic voting machines without auditable results make this kind of vote count adjustment much easier than it used to be. Fraud is much more likely to happen when vote counts can be changed with no paper trail. The easier it is to change these results without fear of discovery, the more likely it is that the results will be changed.
Vote fraud almost certainly did occur in the 2004 election. The only question is, on what scale? Were there just a few small, isolated incidents as the press currently tells us? Or was there fraud on a larger state or national scale?
It seems clear to me that no mainstream reporter is going to do any hard-core investigating of this year's vote counting problems. Only if third-party candidates, bloggers, or private citizens find enough irregularites or evidence of fraud with the press take notice. Bloggers are doing a public service by keeping skepticism alive and forcing the mainstream media to take notice.