Editorial: Two sides of vote fraud

Staff Writer
Mount Shasta Herald

As the election gets closer, both parties are accusing the other of cheating.

This shouldn’t be surprising. Close elections encourage partisans to push the envelope, and the last two presidential elections have been especially close and hard-fought, particularly in swing states like Florida, Ohio and New Mexico.

But the parties historically push the envelope in different ways. Democrats try to register everything that moves, especially in poor neighborhoods. Republicans look for ways to stop people from voting, especially in Democratic neighborhoods. Republicans scream about voter fraud, while Democrats protest vote suppression.

Republicans are pointing a finger at ACORN, a left-leaning organization, virtually unknown six weeks ago, that is suddenly being painted as a grave threat to the republic. Its community organizers - a profession ridiculed at the Republican Convention - helped poor people get mortgages, so ACORN is being blamed for the subprime meltdown.

Now ACORN - the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now - is registering thousands of new voters, with some funding from the Obama campaign. Because some of the registration forms have proved fraudulent - ACORN admits that, despite its screening procedures, some of its hundreds of paid registration gatherers probably fill out forms on their own - Republicans are screaming foul.

State officials in Nevada - considered a toss-up state - raided an ACORN office last week, seizing their computers. The investigation may require they keep the computers through Election Day, they said, an action ACORN said will cripple its get-out-the-vote operation.

The FBI has launched an investigation into registration fraud in New Mexico, which was hotly contested in 2000 and 2004. After state GOP officials complained about ACORN’s efforts four years ago, U.S. Attorney David Iglesias put together a task force to investigate. Iglesias, a Bush appointee, couldn’t come up with any cases he could prosecute successfully, so he charged no one with voter fraud. For that professional judgment, Iglesias was fired, a Justice Department probe concluded this month.

Democrats, meanwhile, have been complaining since the Florida debacle of 2000 that partisan election officials are scrubbing qualified voters off the rolls, purchasing problematic electronic voting machines and engaging in all manner of voter suppression in poor and minority precincts.

The guess here is that both sides are overstating their cases. Beyond the partisan sniping, there is little evidence that enough people are voting illegally - or being illegally prevented from voting - to change the outcome of an election. The best mechanism to keep that from happening may be the system we have now, where the strongest partisans on both sides keep a wary eye on everything their opponents are doing.

But the story of Inglesias and the other U.S. attorneys fired for refusing to prosecute partisan charges of voter fraud must also be heeded. The biggest threat to electoral integrity comes not from overzealous activists, but from the abuse of governmental authority in the electoral process.

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