In the last two years, Colorado Secretary of State Scott Gessler has made voter fraud prevention a top priority. His efforts have included working to stop county clerks from sending absentee ballots to inactive voters, lobbying for a controversial voter ID law and leading an unprecedented effort to determine whether non-citizens are voting in the state.
Critics have questioned Gessler’s priorities, given that the number of documented incidents of voter fraud in Colorado is tiny.
Yet Gessler argued his case at committee hearings in Washington and Denver by citing statistics. There were hundreds and maybe thousands of non-citizens registered to vote in Colorado who may or may not be casting ballots, he said, as an example.
Wisconsin governor Scott Walker has also sounded alarms on voter fraud. Taking a page from Gessler, he recently cited numbers to back up his claims.
In an interview with the Weekly Standard, Walker said he thought fraud typically accounted for 2 percent of the vote in the state and likely swayed elections.
“I’ve always thought in this state, close elections, presidential elections, it means you probably have to win with at least 53 percent of the vote to account for fraud. One or two points, potentially.”
That’s enough to change the outcome of the election.
“Absolutely. I mean there’s no question why they went to court and fought [to undo] voter ID.”
Indeed, ever since judges there enjoined Wisconsin’s new controversial voter ID law in March, Walker supporters have been warning that voter fraud will make it more difficult for the governor to survive the coming June 5 recall election.
“As we’ve been telling you, the liberal power network is pulling out all the stops to RECALL Gov. Scott Walker. We’ve now received news that liberal judges have teamed up to block Wisconsin’s new Voter ID law,” wrote Walker supporters at the the Campaign to Defeat Obama in an email last month.
“This means we will not be able to fight voter fraud, and this means that our margin of victory must be much larger now — to compensate for any fraudulent ballots cast by RECALL proponents.”
The email begs the usual questions: How much voter fraud is happening in the state and would the voter ID law prevent it?
After the 2008 presidential election, Wisconsin Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen and Milwaukee County District Attorney John Chisholm formed an Election Fraud Task Force to investigate.
In February of 2011, the Department of Justice released a statement on the results of that investigation: Authorities charged 11 felons for voting, 6 people for voter registration misconduct and 2 people for voting twice.
As the Badger Herald’s Sean Kirkby reported, authorities also charged one Milwaukee County resident for acquiring a ballot in his late wife’s name in order to fulfill her “dying wish” and vote for Obama.
The investigation may seem to confer some legitimacy on the concerns about voter fraud. As Dave Weigel at Slate points out, however, the yearlong “deep-dive” investigation in Wisconsin found a mere 20 cases of fraud, so Walker’s math is way off, Weigel writes. The 20 cases don’t reach anything close to 2 percent of the 3 million votes cast in Wisconsin in 2008. They amount to 0.0007 percent of the vote.
“For fraud to equal ‘one or two points’ in that election, you’d have needed 30,000 to 60,000 phony ballots,” Weigel explains.
University of Wisconsin political science professor David Canon told Kirkby that Wisconsin’s voter ID law would have done nothing to prevent the 20 cases of fraud found by the DOJ investigators.
“[The law] would not prevent felons or non-citizens from voting,” Canon said. “The only type of fraud it will catch is impersonators.”
The DOJ and Wisconsin county authorities found no polling-place voter impersonators who committed fraud in Wisconsin in 2008.
[ Image via tychay at Flickr ]