Remember ACORN?

Last time I talked about issue framing. There can be no greater issue that is subject to framing than the issue of voting itself. The right is constantly on the lookout for voter fraud. The left is constantly on the lookout for voter suppression. Today I thought we would take a quick trip down amnesia lane to recall the case of ACORN in the 2008 election.

ACORN was a popular interest/community group that was given the task of registering people to vote. They brought in numerous workers and those workers were given bonuses based on the number of people they registered. As you might suspect, some of those workers got a little creative and started registering people that didn’t exist.

Conservatives everywhere got the vapors. This kind of rampant fraud was an affront on the system. Kris Kringle was given a voter registration. Thousands of dead people were suddenly registered. It was pure madness. It was enough to make ACORN go away forever. You would have thought they were Wells Fargo or something.

I bring this up to remind you that there is a difference between registration fraud and voter fraud. Voter fraud exists when someone tries to vote who is not eligible to vote. This can happen when people try to vote in more than one state, vote more than once in their own state, vote as someone else, or vote when they are not eligible to vote. That’s it.

I guarantee you that someone will post something on your wall within the next week about widespread voter fraud. I guarantee it. I see it at least once a week. I can try to snooze those folks, but there are just too many of them to snooze. Usually those articles will be accompanied by a snarky comment to the effect of, “gee, I thought this didn’t happen.”

Invariably, you will notice that hardly any of these articles describe actual voter fraud. They might describe registration fraud or not even fraud at all. If I get twenty ballots in the mail it is most certainly a waste of paper, but it isn’t voter fraud. It isn’t voter fraud until I send in more than one ballot. Even then, there are safeguards in place that prevent more than one of those ballots from being counted. In order for me to be prosecuted they would have to prove it was my intent to perpetrate a fraud.

Imagine the insanity of it all. If I am caught in the act of voter fraud then I could get up to five years in prison and a 10,000 dollar fine. Why in the hell would I do that to get one extra vote counted? It doesn’t make any sense. So, these stories people post have numbers that sound scary, but since they are mostly registration fraud they are nearly meaningless.

Various sites have studied voter fraud, but consider the following, “Existing research and evidence shows that voter impersonation is extremely rare. Over a recent 14-year period, there were only 31 documented cases of voter impersonation.” There are usually between 100 million to 140 million votes cast every four years. The midterm elections have between 80 and 120 million votes casts. Let’s take the low end for each cycle. That’s 300 million votes for the presidential elections (probably closer to 400 million) and 320 million votes for the off year elections. That’s probably also closer to 400 million. That’s .000005 percent of total ballots cast on the low end.

The conservative response to this widespread problem is create more voter identification laws, purge voter rolls, and limit the number of polling places people could go to. In this election cycle, the goal has to been to limit vote by mail. It has even gotten to the point where the president has said that absentee voting is okay, but voting by mail is not. They are the exact same thing.

Governor Abbot has decided to limit the drop off places to one per county in the state of Texas. There are over four million residents in Harris County. They now have one drop off spot. Obviously, by doing this we are carefully limiting the the approximately eight or nine nationwide cases of fraud we will see in every four year election cycle. That’s what I call bang for your buck. Maybe now it will only be five cases of fraud. Maybe they can limit it to two or three. That’s exciting stuff.

Meanwhile, nationwide you have some people that can’t drop off their mail in ballot. You have others that will wait in line for six or seven hours to vote. Still others won’t be able to vote because they were purged from the voter roll without their knowledge. Others can’t register because they don’t have a driver’s license and don’t have a passport, birth certificate, social security card, and/or letter of authenticity from the Duke of York. This effects in multitude of thousands every election cycle.

So, we are putting in measures that prevent a handful of cases of fraud by keeping thousands from voting. Of course, it gets better. Let’s consider who is inconvenienced. I have never waited longer than five minutes to vote on election day. I have my license, so no one has ever tried to prevent me from voting. That’s because I look like I might vote for their guy. I’m the core demographic.

Move into the city or in the poorer areas of town and it is an entirely different picture. These anti-fraud mechanisms seem to affect poorer people and people of color with more regularity. There seem to be fewer polling places. There are fewer DMVs for them to register to vote. They seem to have weird hours. They are more likely to work jobs that don’t allow them to take time off to vote. Now, why would someone enact something that would seemingly affect one group of people disproportionately? Gee, I wonder.

Occasionally, you see the truth ooze out. Occasionally, you see someone admit in a fit of honesty that they do better when the voter turnout is lower. On rare occasions you might even see someone put these two things together. Most of the time you don’t. Most of the time you see them fervently defending anti-fraud measures because they are so worried about fraud. They won’t admit that the measures are specifically designed to depress voter turnout. They are specifically designed to depress the vote from communities that typically vote for their opponent. So, the next time you see a meme or an article highlighting fraud, make sure you take a closer look. What kind of fraud are they talking about?

Author: sbarzilla

I have written three books about baseball including The Hall of Fame Index. I also write for You can follow me on twitter @sbarzilla.

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