City Commissioner Al Schmidt released a report today claiming widespread voting “irregularities” and potential “voter fraud,” in Philadelphia. The report is almost sure to attract at least some attention from the national GOP, which has used the specter of voting fraud as a justification for a slew of voter ID laws around the country, even though very few instances of voter fraud have been uncovered nationally. This spring, both Schmidt, a Republican, and City Commissioners Chairwoman Stephanie Singer discussed findings of voting irregularities, holding a joint press conference to announce that some machines had reported more votes than were recorded in poll logs, and promising to conduct an investigation. But today’s report was produced by solely by Schmidt and his office; minutes before his press conference, Singer told this reporter that her office had just seen the report for the first time. We’ll have more on this soon, but Schmidt essentially reported having found 7 types of voting “irregularities” in Philadelphia’s 2012 primary election. Of those, three or four — notably, “voter impersonation,” “individuals voting more than once,” might, he said, constitute fraud. It’s worth noting here that Schmidt’s investigation found very few instances of these alleged crimes. Schmidt reports one (1) case of voter impersonation, which dates back to 2007 and which has already been reported. The reports cites one (1) example of someone allegedly voting twice. The report also found 7 voters who voted in the last ten years and were subsequently rejected from the rolls because they were not U.S. citizens. It’s also worth noting that recently-passed voter ID laws wouldn’t stop most of the problems (and the most numerous) identified in the report.
What’s very hard to know from this report is whether these few instances represent a wider problem or whether, on the contrary, they confirm that any problems are small. It’s hard to say: Schmidt’s team examined fewer than 20 polling places, and only those that had shown irregularities already in the machine count versus the number of signatures in the poll log. That might suggest that these numbers show voting irregularities and potential fraud to be a very small issue. On the other hand, many of the issues Schmidt describes were unrelated to vote counts and were discovered by accident — meaning we might have no idea how widespread they are. Less difficult to see are the political ramifications: Republicans will likely flock to this report as proof of a need for “tougher” voting laws, whether or not those laws address the problems at hand.