Voter Fraud Accusations a GOP Red Herring
One of the tactics Republicans favor for deflecting attention from their voter suppression efforts is launching unmerited accusations of fraud on the part of pro-Democratic groups and individuals. For a glimpse of how this works, check out "Despite Dearth Of Evidence, Right Wing Voter Fraud Fear Machine Carries On" by Ryan J. Reilly and Rachel Slajda at Talking Points Memo. The authors recount the smears against ACORN and the phony charge that the New Black Panthers were intimidating voters, and then explain how these incidents are being regurgitated in the latest fear-mongering campaign:
The most prominent example, of course, is the aforementioned New Black Panthers case. After the Obama administration decided only to act against one member, ordering him away from polling places in Philadelphia until 2012, Adams and other Bush appointees cried foul. They allege that Obama's DOJ, under Attorney General Eric Holder, is purposely dropping cases against black defendants, and got the conservative-dominated Commission on Civil Rights to investigate it. Gail Heriot, who sits on the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, expressed concern in one meeting that the New Black Panther who held a nightstick at the polling place could "just hop on a bus" and intimidate other voters on election day this year.
That case has gotten new life in the headlines as the election nears. Last week, the former head of the voting rights division, Chris Coates, defied the DOJ and testified before the commission. Before that, the DOJ's inspector general announced he would investigate allegations that the department is handling cases based on race.
Other cases trumpeted by the right have similar racial undertones. In Harris County, Texas, a tea party offshoot called True The Vote and the Republican registrar of voters have accused a low-income voter registration program of falsifying thousands of applications in an effort to conduct "an organized and systematic attack." True The Vote says they found the alleged fraud by scouring voter registration records in districts with a high number of households with six or more registered voters -- which also happened to be the predominantly poor, black voting districts. True The Vote is now advocating for proof of citizenship to be required at the polls. And the Tea Party Nation has told its members to "steal their good idea."
Slajda and Reilly also report that a former ACORN employer, now a "whistle-blower," Anita MonCrief, is whipping up tea party participants to take up the GOP voter fraud crusade, urging them to monitor welfare offices and bus stops etc., where she claims liberals are ripping off votes. "I called it 'Operation Darkie Shield,'" she reportedly said at one recent conference.
In Wisconsin, the authors note, someone put up billboards "featuring dark-skinned, jailed figures who admit to voter fraud to warn Milwaukee residents of jail time if they vote illegally." GOP candidate for Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker has said "As governor, I will sign into law a bill to require a photo ID to vote."
So, for Democrats, it comes down to teaching poll watchers the true rules and procedures, so they won't be hustled by suppression or fraud scams. "We just want to make sure that everyone is clear on the rules -- that voters know their rights, that these groups know what they are and aren't allowed to do," said Tova Wang, Senior Democracy Fellow at Demos.
"Every single election there are these allegations of voter fraud that turn out to be mostly untrue and every year we find that there might be a very small handful of voter fraud cases but nothing on the order of what is alleged," Wang said.
The fear-mongering about fraud and the attack against ACORN has worked depressingly well for Republicans. They succeeded in destroying one of the most successful organizations dedicated to registering poor and minority voters. James O'Keefe has since been discredited, but right-wing voter suppression operatives are still at work, as they have been for decades, making false accusations and looking for new ways to suppress progressive voters. Democrats have gotten smarter about challenging their campaigns, but enhanced vigilance is needed.