Of all the developments in The Voting Wars since 2000, the lead story has to be the successful Republican effort to create an illusion of a voter fraud epidemic used to justify a host of laws, especially tough new state voter identification requirements, with the aim to suppress Democratic turnout and to excite the Republican base about “stolen” elections. Democrats sometimes have exaggerated the likely effects of such laws on turnout—we won’t see millions of voters disenfranchised by state voter id laws, for example. But in a very close presidential election, as we are likely to see in November, new voter id rules, voter purges in places like Colorado and Florida, cutbacks in early voting in Ohio, and other technical changes have the potential to suppress Democratic turnout enough to swing the election from Obama to Romney. How did we get here? Our story begins with what Josh has aptly referred to as “bamboozlement” by a group of political operatives, “The Fraudulent Fraud Squad.”
Chapter 2 of The Voting Wars tells the whole story, but here’s a brief sketch. The disputed 2000 election made clear to political operatives that the rules of the game could matter at the margin, and in our hyper-partisan and evenly divided country more elections would be decided at the margin. When Congress considered fixes to our election system, after 2000, a Republican insider named Thor Hearne—likely at the urging of Karl Rove—created a phony think tank, the “American Center for Voting Rights” to testify before a congressional committee and push the line that “voter fraud” was rampant. (The term “voter fraud” is actually relatively new, and more election crimes appear to be committed by election officials and party operatives than voters.)
ACVR relied upon discredited allegations of election fraud, and upon proven evidence of voter registration fraud. Some of the allegations had racial undertones, such as a focus on a false registration of “Mr. Jive F. Turkey, Sr.” and work by the NAACP. Registration fraud was a real problem thanks to ACORN’s broken business model, which used very poor people to register voters and stood ready to fire them if they did not produce enough voter registrations. While that led ACORN workers to turn in lots of “Mickey Mouse” registration cards, I’ve yet to see proof that a single fraudulent ACORN-related registration card led to an actual fraudulently cast ballot.