Voter Fraud is Real: Why the Voting Rights Act Should Be Used to Fight Election Fraud
by Horace Cooper Estimated Reading Time about 6 minutes
Election fraud in America is no laughing matter. Florida election officials have discovered that the state’s voter polls have 53,000 dead voters still registered to vote.1 That’s a whole city of dead voters still “eligible” to vote – more than the entire population of Pensacola, Florida!
Unfortunately, in some U.S. cities voter fraud has been so common and so pervasive for so long that it’s more likely to be a punch line than a felony.
In Chicago, for example, when a couple announces the birth of a new baby boy, their friends are all-too-likely to joke: “Is he registered to vote? …Twice?”
Then there’s that infamous old adage: “Vote early and vote often” – a funny but revealing quip widely attributed to the Chicago gangster Al Capone, a man who epitomized political corruption, and boasted an illegal empire built on graft and intimidation.
And by now, of course, it is practically axiomatic that Mayor Richard Daley and Chicago’s Democratic political machine stole the 1960 presidential election for JFK.
It’s safe to say that when it comes to elections, Chicago has a reputation, a history, or, if we’re honest about it – a problem.
Voter scams and scandals are notorious in Chicago and across much of Illinois, including outdated voter registrations being voted by precinct captains; fake registrations with made-up names; “ghost” voting by the dearly departed; elderly voters having their ballots cast by care-workers; and ineligible felons and illegal aliens casting illegal ballots. And Chicago’s problem isn’t just distant history.
The Illinois Attorney General’s Office recently prosecuted and convicted two Cook County election workers for election fraud for violating voter privacy by “supervising” voters as they completed ballots. In 2002, dozens of Chicago’s senior citizens applied for absentee ballots, only to discover that the man who was helping them to apply had already filled in the ballots. As the Chicago Sun-Times reported, when the seniors asked him what he was doing, he answered: “Don’t worry, you’re voting Democratic.”2
Then there’s Chicago’s interstate rival, Milwaukee, Wisconsin. The Milwaukee Police Department was directed to investigate voter fraud that occurred during the 2004 presidential election. In 2008, the MPD task force issued a troubling and extensive report.
According to the study, 16 workers from the John Kerry campaign committed felonies that went unprosecuted by Wisconsin authorities. The task force identified a single property where 128 different people were registered to vote, and each one was signed up for the 2004 election. The report cited cases of double-voting, “ghost” voting by dead people, and uncounted absentee ballots that were discovered only after the election was over and the winner declared. The task force questioned the voter registration practices of a number of homeless shelters, and found homeless individuals registered in multiple locations. With no photo ID required to vote in Wisconsin at the time, anyone could have cast multiple ballots simply by knowing the homeless man’s name. As the MPD investigation observed, “vote portability and the abject poverty that defines homelessness, make these unfortunate individuals vulnerable to become the tools of voter fraud by those who would exploit the homeless.”3
And let’s not forget Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, where, during the 2008 presidential election, the New Black Panthers were famously permitted to stand guard in front of the city’s precinct polling locations, armed with nightsticks. That was the same election year that CNN reported that 1,500 of Philadelphia’s ballots were sent to the U.S. Attorney’s Office to be investigated, with another 8,000 considered “suspect.” Then, in 2010, Fox News reported that Bucks County was investigating 500 allegedly fraudulent ballots involving a door-to-door canvassing scheme and forged absentee ballot signatures. And we can add to the list reports of voters receiving letters from the Pennsylvania Voters Assistance Office – an office that doesn’t exist.
But this is nothing new for the City of Brotherly Love. Philadelphia, like Chicago, is no newcomer to election fraud, as the Philadelphia Inquirer reminds us: “In the 1960s, a Democratic ward leader took shoe boxes full of quarters to the polls in poor neighborhoods – ‘to pay off voters,’ a veteran election lawyer recalls. In 1993, a judge overturned a pivotal State Senate race because of hundreds of bogus absentee ballots.”4
And because history so often seems ready to repeat itself, dozens of polling places in Philadelphia’s primary elections last year mysteriously recorded more votes in some races than the number of voters who had signed in to vote. Indeed, Philadelphia commissioners are currently investigating 83 of the city’s voting districts where more votes were cast in the municipal primary than the number of people who actually voted.5 As the press explained, “Until they understand what happened, the commissioners say, they cannot rule out the possibility of deliberate, illegal efforts to run up votes for favored candidates, with the perpetrators losing count as they tried to cover their tracks.”6
The unfortunate reality is that in places like Chicago, Milwaukee, Philadelphia, and many other cities across the country, election fraud has been woven into the political fabric of the community, tainting elections, skewing results, disenfranchising legal voters, and compounding voter cynicism for far too long. Voters deserve better.
In 1965, Congress passed the Voting Rights Act of 1965 with overwhelming majorities in both houses in order to honor America’s commitment to count every eligible vote and ensure the franchise to our citizens. As he signed the landmark legislation, President Johnson explained: “Every American citizen must have an equal right to vote. Yet the harsh fact is that in many places in this country, men and women are kept from voting simply because they are Negroes.”
The Voting Rights Act was needed, as Johnson admonished, because of the schemes and contrivances used to disqualify and suppress the votes and voice of black Americans.
The Negro citizen may go to register only to be told that the day is wrong, or the hour is late, or the official in charge is late, or the official in charge is absent. And if he persists and he manages to present himself to register, he may be disqualified because he did not spell out his middle name or because he abbreviated a word on his application. And if he manages to fill out an application he is given a test. The register is the sole judge of whether he passes his test. He may be asked to recite the entire constitution, or explain the most complex provisions of state laws. And even a college degree cannot be used to prove that he can read and write.
But vote suppression wears any number of disguises. Today, election fraudsters share the same goal as those who denied black Americans their political voice in the early 20th century – to substitute their own preferred candidates and policy initiatives for those of the electorate.
The Voting Rights Act empowers the U.S. Department of Justice to combat disenfranchisement and vote suppression, and that authority should be used today to fight election fraud, particularly in places like Chicago and Philadelphia, where the citizens have long suffered the fraudsters’ crooked schemes.
On the heels of the ACORN scandal, instead of digging in deeper to ferret out more evidence of electioneering fraud, too many at the Justice Department have turned a blind eye and by doing so they are failing to carry out the mission that Congress gave the Department when it adopted the VRA.
Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act authorizes the Justice Department to sue in federal court in order to challenge election practices that it has determined are racially discriminatory. The Justice Department also routinely works with states and municipalities to help them better understand the Voting Rights Act and avoid discrimination in voting, and may even send federal observers to monitor elections to ensure their fairness.
Rather than stymie the legitimate and constitutional efforts of states to stop voter fraud, the Justice Department should use that same authority today to take a lead role in combating the equally invidious practices of modern election fraud. It should work proactively with cities and states commonly known to be hotbeds of “election irregularities,” and help them to root out political corruption that local election and law enforcement officials are likely to ignore.
Furthermore, Section 8 of the Voting Rights Act provides for the appointment of federal observers within political subdivisions in order to monitor elections in precincts where the Attorney General or the federal courts believe observers to be necessary for a fair election. In some instances, for example, there are concerns about racial discrimination in the voting process. In other cases, federal monitoring helps ensure compliance with bilingual election procedures; or the Department may have information indicating potential violations of other federal voting laws, and one or more DOJ attorneys may be assigned to monitor the election and maintain contact with state and local officials.
Today a vigilant Justice Department would monitor news reports and other sources to determine where and when to interject itself in order to limit the modern versions of voter fraud. Make no mistake, denying an American the right to vote by “harvesting ballots,” hiring felons, using “ghosts” or any other type of voter fraud is just as unacceptable today as it was prior to passage of the Voting Rights Act.
Section 2 lawsuits and Section 8 monitoring programs under the Voting Rights Act would go a long way toward fighting today’s election fraud schemes; schemes that often target the same black voters once deprived under Jim Crow. They would signal a concerted federal and state effort to ensure election fairness and count every vote. Moreover, they would make it clear to would be election law scofflaws, this behavior will not be tolerated and offenders will be accountable.
It is tragic that Attorney General Holder and the Obama Administration’s Justice Department apparently continue to place party politics ahead of the integrity of the country’s elections by turning a blind eye to voter fraud in states such as Illinois, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania, while persistently obstructing state and local efforts to combat corruption in places such as Georgia, South Carolina, and Texas.
Election fraud is another name for disenfranchisement – and it’s a felony, not a punch line. Regrettably, the Justice Department seems to be in on the joke.
Horace Cooper is an adjunct fellow of the National Center for Public Policy Research. He taught constitutional law at George Mason University in Virginia, was senior counsel to U.S. House Majority Leader Dick Armey and is a founding member of the black conservative leadership group Project 21.
1 J. Christian Adams, “53,000 Dead Voters Found in Florida,” PJ Media, May 16, 2012, available online at http://pjmedia.com/jchristianadams/2012/05/16/53000-dead-voters-found-in-florida/ as of June 11, 2012.
2 Jonathan Strong, “Cook County: Voting Fraud Could Pose Threat in Illinois Senate Race,” The Daily Caller, October 22, 2010, available online at http://dailycaller.com/2010/10/22/cook-county-voting-fraud-could-pose-threat-in-illinois-senate-race/#ixzz1xVoKt7B2 as of June 11, 2012.
3 Special Investigations Unit, Milwaukee Police Department, “Report of the Investigation into the November 2, 2004 General Election in the City of Milwaukee,” undated, available online at http://media2.620wtmj.com/breakingnews/ElectionResults_2004_VoterFraudInvestigation_MPD-SIU-A2474926.pdf as of June 11, 2012.
4 Bob Warner, “Vote Fraud Targeted by New Pa. Law No Longer Common,” The Philadelphia Inquirer, October 22, 2010, available online at http://articles.philly.com/2012-05-04/news/31556815_1_vote-fraud-absentee-voting-voting-machines as of June 11, 2012.