Angling for an Invisible Epidemic of Voter Fraud

At least it will be short? “Former U.S. Senate candidate Sharron Angle will not run for elected office this year, and will instead produce a documentary on voter fraud and election tampering.”  [LVSun]  Yes, the “epidemic” is pretty silent, mostly because it’s a contrived issue in support of suppressing the vote among ethnic minorities, young voters, senior citizens, and women.  In case anyone might notice the facts don’t provide evidence of Angle’s assertion, she’s ready for that:

The progressives in the media would like us to believe that voter fraud or election tampering either do not exist or represent such a small portion of our election process we should just sweep them under the run,” she said. But speaking to voters across the country, she said many people believe their votes don’t matter.” [LVSun]

This is what happens in the Echo Chamber, speaking only to like minded individuals who all buy into the same anti-government conspiracy theories will inevitably lead one to selective exclusion of evidence unsupportive of reality.  What comes back with the echo are illogical expressions such as the following:

“Simply because there are statistically few prosecutable cases is hardly an argument that nothing much is going on. When I was a youth, I constantly heard that shop-lifting was a serious problem, and that it was responsible for the increased price of merchandise at retail stores. Only a small number of shop-lifters were actually caught, so is that reason to assume the problem was being purposefully exaggerated?”  [ReAm]

Arguments by analogy always break down at some point, and this one breaks down faster than most.  First, it doesn’t serve to diminish the problem if the retailers on the shoplifting side of the analogy don’t hand the shoplifters over to the police.  The prosecution rates depend on how many miscreants are reported to the appropriate authorities, then on how many of the cases are prosecutable.  More than 10 million individuals have been caught shoplifting in the past five years [NASP], and among these a retailer may be satisfied if their security personnel retrieve inexpensive items and admonish the light fingered thief.  Less leniency is shown toward those 3% of shoplifters who are categorized as “professionals.” The more expensive the item (and often the younger the shoplifter) the more likely the prosecution.  Secondly, shoplifting runs the gamut from misdemeanor to felony.  So, no the problem of shoplifting  is not being purposely “exaggerated,” or “disparaged,” — it is serious, it is prosecuted when the situation is appropriate, and it isn’t analogous to vote fraud.

Vote fraud is a felony. It is always a felony. There is no differentiation between a vote in a “little election” and a vote in a “big election.”   The Brennan Center, which studies voting in America reported the following conclusions from its research:

“* Fraud by individual voters is both irrational and extremely rare.
* Many vivid anecdotes of purported voter fraud have been proven false or do not demonstrate fraud.
* Voter fraud is often conflated with other forms of election misconduct.
* Raising the unsubstantiated specter of mass voter fraud suits a particular policy agenda.
* Claims of voter fraud should be carefully tested before they become the basis for action.”

The conclusions were supported by information from national and state sources and studies, yielding the following:

“There is no documented wave or trend of individuals voting multiple times, voting as someone else, or voting despite knowing that they are ineligible. Indeed, evidence from the microscopically scrutinized 2004 gubernatorial election in Washington State actually reveals just the opposite: though voter fraud does happen, it happens approximately 0.0009% of the time. The similarly closely-analyzed 2004 election in Ohio revealed a voter fraud rate of 0.00004%.”  [Brennan](emphasis added)

Conflating potential problems with actual incidences of voter fraud is misleading and serves to promote vote suppression without actually improving voting integrity.   Indeed, an organization or party might seek to have the Prematurely Resurrected vote — but, that would require having someone assume the identity of the dearly departed, and then vote in the face of a possible $10,000 fine and 5 years in jail.  Since, unlike shoplifting, prosecution is assured and the charges will always be for a major  felony, voter impersonation is extremely rare.

How rarely voter fraud is attempted is demonstrated as follows: “A report by the public-integrity section of the Justice Department found that from October 2002 to September 2005, the department charged 95 people with “election fraud”; 55 were convicted. Among those, fewer than 20 people were convicted of casting fraudulent ballots.” [MJ]

A study from Barnard College came to similar conclusions: “The statistics bear me out. From 2002 to 2005 only one person was found guilty of registration fraud. Twenty people were found guilty of voting while ineligible and five people were found guilty of voting more than once. That’s 26 criminal voters — voters who vote twice, impersonate other people, vote without being a resident — the voters that Republicans warn about.”

Given the miniscule numbers of actual cases of voter fraud there is cause for concern about the willingness of courts to uphold vote-suppression statutues with insufficient attention to the actual evidence at hand. “The case for voter fraud—individuals impersonating others at the polls—is largely built on hype and the type of hearsay that should not be permitted in court for the purposes of denying individuals the right to vote. Unfortunately, in four cases so far the courts have been unwilling to police the evidence, take seriously the fundamental nature of voting rights, and protect franchise rights.”  [Schultz, HamlineU, pdf]

Let’s proceed from the Bush Department of Justice’s report which concluded that between 2002 and 2005 there were 55 convictions for election fraud, a category broader than voter fraud.  For the sake of a simple comparison, what would happen if we sought the percentage of improper votes and frauds in terms of the 2004 presidential election?

According to the FEC 62,040,610 ballots were cast for George W. Bush, and 59,028,444 were cast for John Kerry. (pdf) That’s a total of 121,069,054 votes cast for the candidates from the two major parties.  Now, divide 55 by 121,069,054 and the result is 4.5428e-7  which means move the decimal point seven places to the left.  In other words, 0.0000004528, or expressed as 0.00004528%, if all the cases of election fraud happened in one major election. Your odds of being struck by lightning are 1:600,000, which come in at 1.666e-6 [Newton]; or, 0.000001666 – as a percentage? 0.0001666%. The Brennan Center is correct — there is a greater probability of being hit by lightning than ever actually experiencing  voter fraud in the United States.

Tips for Watching:

1. How many times are actual prosecutable instances of voter fraud cited in Angle’s presentation?

2. How many times are allegations of voter fraud cited and presented as if these were actual cases?

3. How are the allegations substantiated?  If the allegations come from two or more sources, are the sources citing each other as evidence of authenticity?

4. How is election or voter fraud defined? Are instances of registration fraud conflated with allegations of voting fraud?

5. How is the issue of vote suppression handled in the presentation? Are instances of fliers distributed in ethnic minority neighborhoods with inaccurate voting information included in the category of voting or election fraud?  Are instances of unsubstantiated challenges included in the category of voter or election fraud?  Are instances of phone bank jamming to prevent GOTV activities included as voter fraud or election fraud?

6. Does the presentation eschew illogical propaganda techniques such as appeals to emotion, or appeals to oversimplification, arguments by analogy?

Here’s guessing that if letter grades in each of the categories of viewing tips were given, the final product of Mrs. Angle’s flight into the conspiracy driven right wing world will not pass muster on even the most lenient curve.

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