Voting experts say that — because the penalties are so high and the payoff is so low — instances of real, intentional voter fraud are exceedingly rare. We agree that, when those few instances occur, the penalty should be severe enough to serve as a future deterrent against others taking such actions. But we don’t think the results of Iowa Secretary of State Matt Schulz’s nearly 18-month and $150,000 investigation have proven that such cases are widespread enough to warrant his near obsession with ferreting out voter fraud. The Des Moines Register reports that, so far, the secretary of state’s partnership with the Division of Criminal Investigation has led to criminal charges in 16 cases. And of those 16 cases, five have resulted in guilty pleas, five have been dismissed and none have yet to go to trial.
Schultz seems to think the results prove all that money, time and effort is being well spent. The investigation, after all, has found evidence — however small, however infrequent, however unintentional — of voter fraud. And those precious few cases, to Schultz and his supporters, justify the significant expense and unintended consequences of adding more scrutiny at the polls and calling for ID verification of voters.
But we have to agree with Schultz’s many critics who point out not only are those five guilty pleas statistically insignificant compared with the hundreds of thousands of Iowans who vote without incident, but the specific cases also seem more the result of misunderstandings rather than any actual “fraud.”