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May 23, 2013 2:23 p.m.

As you know, TPM has aggressively covered the ‘voter fraud’ and vote suppression beat for years. Actually, the first time I dedicated a big part of the site to one such story was in 2002 – as part of Tim Johnson’s senate reelection campaign in South Dakota. (There was a Deputy Campaign Manager or Spokesman on the campaign by the name of Dan Pfeiffer.) So more than ten years. I want to flag something that came out of Ohio today. It’s a big deal though I doubt it will get much notice. And special thanks to longtime TPM Reader EH for flagging it to my attention.

One of the big threads of the 2012 national election was the big efforts by Republican legislatures, governors and secretaries of state to push voter suppression efforts – whether it was voter ID or curtailing early voting or whatever else. Even if you’re on the other side of this argument – though it’s hard to consider it much of an argument – Republicans were in control in a lot of critical swing states and went for the rafters in their fight against ‘vote fraud’. And at the center of that was Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted.

Well, back in January Husted directed all County Boards of Elections to investigate all claims of vote fraud. And here’s what they found. I’m going to quote at length from Robert Higgs column in the Plain Dealer because it really puts it all pretty clearly …

In January, Husted directed the 88 county boards of election to investigate all claims of voter fraud. The county boards and Husted’s staff found 625 cases of irregularity.

Of those cases, names of 115 people were referred by the county boards of elections to their local prosecutors.

Husted’s staff referred another 20 cases to the Ohio attorney general for possible prosecution. They involve people who appear to have voted in two states during the presidential election.

“No amount of fraud is acceptable. And if you cheat, you will be caught and you will be held accountable,” Husted said.

Husted directed that the county boards investigate claims of election misconduct as a result of political hyperbole about voter suppression and voter fraud before the election.

“In the aftermath of an election, time after time, things calm down. These things go away and no one revisits them until the next major election. What I wanted to do was get the facts,” he said.

“Frankly, it concerns me with some of the hyperbole surrounding these issues that some of those unsubstantiated claims, left unchecked, would become conventional wisdom.”

A few things to note. Even one of the GOP’s point men on the vote fraud front is now trying to push back against the ‘hyperbole’ tied to the subject. And even with an especial emphasis on finding every instance of potential fraud, they appear to have come up with 135 – and most of those were apparently caught by the simple non-voter ID methods all good canvassers use. So guilt notwithstanding, those instances had no actual effect on the race in question.

As Husted put it, “Voter fraud does exist, but it is not an epidemic. To put this into context, … that’s 135 referrals out of more than 5.6 million votes cast.”

The numbers speak for themselves. If anything I would say Husted still somewhat exaggerates the scale of the problem. But the guy deserves credit for putting this all out there.

Two points I’d make.

The first is that what really turns elections is organized vote fraud and organized voting fraud almost always requires the involvement of election administrators. This is why voter ID is itself such a fraud in my mind because it provides zero protection against the kinds of fraud that are real dangers to elections.

Second, there are clearly people who will vote in two states or try to vote absentee and then vote on election day. No sane person has ever denied this. But there are very, very, very few of them. The issue with election policy is always balancing the costs with the benefits. There’s no free lunch.

You can take your voting list and purge everyone on the list who you can’t verify is living at exactly the same address as listed or everyone who has the same name as someone who once committed a felony. And you may upend two or three people who were going to vote in the name of some dead person. But you’ll probably knock tens of thousands of legitimate voters off the rolls. This is a documented fact. And conveniently, the great majority of those people will be poorer and minority voters who just happen to be Democrats.

Back in the early aughts it was a big, big thing for Dems talking about hacking Diebold voter machines. And there were lots of scary stories about how easily this could be done. There was also no evidence that it actually had been done. To be clear, I’m not saying it wasn’t a good idea to make these machines more secure, only that evidence trumps paranoia. Always.

If we wanted to we could have a national voter ID system, with some equivalent of a Social Security number that would make it totally clear when you moved from one state to another, would reconcile when someone died and should be removed from the voting rolls, which could ensure that everyone was issued a free voter ID card, etc. But the truth is that there is zero will to spend either the money to make this possible or to federalize the process of voting. The whole idea of a national ID would kill the approach in its tracks.

All of which brings you back to one central point: if you care about the integrity of elections and people actually being able to vote, the supposed cures for vote fraud are vastly more destructive than the problem. All evidence suggests that vote fraud is a minuscule, minuscule problem. Voter ID and most of the other nostrums are solutions looking for a problem. The people who support these policies are either ignorant of the facts or actually want to cull a certain subsection of the population from democratic participation. There are simply no two ways about it.

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