Faye Cochran is convinced voter fraud is rampant in Alabama, and she has her reasons. Cochran is the chairwoman of the Board of Registrars in Hale County, where two years ago, a trio of Hale County residents pleaded guilty to misdemeanor charges in a voter fraud investigation. Cochran believes similar cases of fraud are happening across Alabama. And she thinks Alabama’s new voter ID law, which would require a photo ID at the polls beginning in 2014, will help bring that fraud to an end. “You have to prove who you are to get a Social Security check,” she said. “You have to prove who you are to check a book out of the library. You should have to prove who you are to vote.” Voter ID is fast becoming a hot topic in this presidential election year. Just last week, in a speech at the NAACP’s national convention in Houston, Attorney General Eric Holder compared photo ID requirements to the poll taxes Southern states once imposed to keep black voters away from the polls. At the same time, Texas officials were in a federal courtroom arguing that the Lone Star State’s photo ID requirement was needed to prevent fraud at the ballot box. But it’s not at all clear, some experts say, that there’s really that much fraud to prevent — or that photo ID is the best way to do it.
The Hale County voter fraud case seems to be just one of a handful that have been prosecuted in Alabama in the past two decades. Six people entered guilty pleas in a similar investigation in Greene County in the 1990s. The Justice Department monitored elections in Bullock, Lowndes and Perry counties in 2008, and some residents told news outlets they’d been approached to sell their votes. None of them named names. Cochran, too, is reluctant to make specific allegations against people who haven’t already been convicted.
In addition to her work at the Board of Registrars, she heads a group called the Democracy Defense League, which is devoted to rooting out voter fraud statewide. Cochran claims the group has members in counties across the state, some of whom have spotted corruption in their local elections. At press time, however, she hadn’t provided specific examples of allegations in any of the counties. For the past four years, the Alabama Secretary of State’s office has operated a task force dedicated to fielding complaints of voter fraud. According to Julie Sinclair, elections attorney for the office, most of the election complaints the office receives are actually complaints about access to the polls. “People complain about long lines at the polls or about wheelchair access,” she said. Fewer than 10 complaints per year allege voter fraud, she said.