Stolen Elections, Voting Dogs And Other Fantastic Fables From The GOP Voter Fraud Mythology

The GOP has cried “voter fraud” for decades — and used it as justification to target minorities at the polls.
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President Trump started talking about voter fraud after the 2016 election in the service of his ego — the most powerful force in American politics today. He argued incessantly that he had won not just the Electoral College but also the popular vote “if you deduct the millions of people who voted illegally.” He called for a “major investigation” into voting by “those who are illegal,” as well people registered in two states and dead people. His fellow Republicans weren’t buying. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) noted that fraud is usually handled at the state level. Anyway, he said, “there’s no evidence that it occurred in such a significant number that would have changed the presidential election.” So in May, Trump created his own voter fraud commission.

Republican Kris Kobach, the Kansas Secretary of State who had pushed for strict voter ID laws around the country, served as the vice chair. Vice President Mike Pence was the chair. But few state election officials wanted anything to do with it. When the commission reached out to states for sensitive voter information, Mississippi Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann, a Republican, memorably replied that “they can go jump in the Gulf of Mexico, and Mississippi is a great state to launch from.” Even Kobach’s own Kansas office refused to hand over the information the commission requested, which included partial social security numbers.

The unenthusiastic response likely reflected officials’ understanding that the fraud commission wouldn’t turn up much. Numerous studies have found that voter fraud is far from a major issue in the U.S., and in-person fraud of the sort Trump and Kobach like to talk about — things like non-citizens showing up to vote or people returning to vote multiple times under different names — is vanishingly rare. A 2007 study by NYU’s Brennan Center for Justice memorably found that an individual American is more likely to get struck by lightning than to commit in-person voter fraud.

And yet, as of last summer, 68 percent of Republicans thought millions of illegal immigrants had voted in 2016, and almost three quarters said voter fraud happens “somewhat” or “very often.” The same survey found that nearly half of Republicans believed Trump had won the popular vote.

Trump may have brought the Republican Party into a new era, but such attitudes long predate Trump. For decades, complaints about “voter fraud” have been a core component of Republican right-wing folklore — and one of their most useful election-year tools, particularly in places where winning the white vote isn’t enough to win elections.

The story begins in Chicago, where the party has long insisted the Cook County Democratic organization robbed it of the presidency in 1960, in part by casting ballots on behalf of dead people.

Cheating at elections had long been a Chicago tradition. According to Don Rose, a longtime liberal Chicago campaign consultant, the old paper ballots had offered all sorts of opportunities for trickery. But even after the city switched to voting machines there were ways to rig the system. If a voter tried to pull down one of the machine’s small levers, registering a Republican exception to a straight Democratic ticket, a strategically placed rubber band could bounce it back up again. The party bought votes with turkeys and nylon hosiery, and threatened public housing residents with eviction if they didn’t toe the line. Using laws designed to help people with disabilities, election judges “assisted” voters who were actually able-bodied. This required the presence of both a Republican and a Democratic election judge, but, Rose said, “you have to remember that in a tremendous number of precincts, usually in the black neighborhoods, the alleged Republican judges were really Democrats.” Judges could also simply call in the wrong totals. At least once, Rose said, that happened at gunpoint.

The story about dead people voting in Chicago isn’t wrong, Rose said, but it was never the most common method, making up “10 or 15 percent of the total steal.”

“Trump may have brought the Republican Party into a new era, but such attitudes long predate Trump. For decades, complaints about ‘voter fraud’ have been a core component of Republican right-wing folklore”

Be that as it may, after 1960, the state’s Republican-appointed U.S. attorney declared the presidential election had been “relatively clean.” Kennedy legitimately won huge numbers of black votes in the city, thanks to his last-minute decision to help get Martin Luther King Jr. out of a prison sentence in Atlanta. And fraud wasn’t just a Democratic thing in the state — as the old Illinois joke had it, the number of dead people voting for Democrats in Chicago was always counterbalanced by all the cows voting Republican downstate.

But Richard Nixon wasn’t convinced: he believed fraud in Illinois and Texas had cost him the election. “We won, but they stole it from us,” he told Eisenhower speechwriter William Eswald Jr., according to historian John A. Farrell. But overturning the results in Illinois wouldn’t be enough to change the election’s outcome, and the 46,000-vote margin in Texas that delivered Kennedy and his running mate, Texas’s U.S. Senator Lyndon Johnson, to victory would be hard to overcome.

The idea that Nixon gracefully and expeditiously chose not to fight the outcome is a myth, the historian David Greenberg demonstrated back in 2000. Nixon did, however, eventually give in — but in the process, he turned the notion that the Democrats had stolen the election into an article of faith among Republicans, especially conservative ones. The effect was immediate. In 1961, the Republican National Committee launched a “ballot security program,” explained in a pamphlet published by its Women’s Division. Party workers were advised to place poll watchers outside the polls with cameras. In “areas where there is an unusual amount of fraud,” the RNC suggested bringing in “extra staff trained to give the added security and protection necessary to combat the fraud history of the area. Hire trained investigators, if necessary.”

“Operation Eagle Eye,” as the RNC anti-fraud push became known, was run by Charles Barr, an assistant to the president of Standard Oil of Illinois and a conservative activist involved in the movement to draft Barry Goldwater for the 1964 nomination. It recruited volunteer poll-watchers from Chicago’s Republican suburbs, relying on “the cooperation of business and industry in giving a day off with pay to employees who want to combat vote frauds,” according to the sympathetic Chicago Tribune. On Election Day 1962, Congressman Roman Pucinski asked a suburban doctor why he was watching polls in Pucinski’s urban district instead of back at home. The doctor said that wasn’t necessary: “Our people are honest.”

Ultimately, that year Barr reported that his workers had “discouraged or successfully challenged 50,000 illegally registered voters.” This claim was baldly fantastical. Meanwhile, in Arizona, future Supreme Court Chief Justice William Rehnquist ran Operation Eagle Eye in Phoenix’s Maricopa County. Federal judge Charles Hardy later recalled that Eagle Eye workers in Democratic-majority precincts challenged “every black or Mexican voter,” demanding that they read a passage from the Constitution. (The Supreme Court wouldn’t outlaw literacy tests until 1966.) “It was quite clear that this type of challenge was a deliberate effort to slow down the voting,” Hardy added. Republicans also distributed handbills around black and brown areas, threatening prosecution for anyone who tried to vote improperly, he said.

Republican National Committee “ballot security program” explainer pamphlet.

Barr expanded Operation Eagle Eye to help Senator Barry Goldwater’s bid for the presidency in 1964. The RNC sent 1.8 million letters to registered voters nationwide — a practice called voter caging. If a letter couldn’t be delivered for any reason, it would represent a reason to challenge the voter as illegitimate.

It also stepped up its ballot security operation, pulling in GOP leaders across the U.S. In Philadelphia that year, Eagle Eye leaders ignored complaints by local officials who noted that the city already had a well-respected bipartisan ballot-security operation. In Los Angeles, they promised to have their people at all 12,600 precincts — even though citizen challenges to voters were illegal in California. In Washington, DC, the GOP chairman hired 40 private detectives, saying they’d only challenge “the kind of guys you can buy for a buck or a bottle of booze” or “people who look like they don’t belong in the community or are not the kind of people who would register and vote.” After all, he said, the city had to avoid a “Cook County” election.

One document from state-level GOP operations obtained by the Democratic National Committee instructed workers to stall lines in Democratic precincts. In another document, a state ballot security office in Louisiana explained that “all sheriffs in the state of Louisiana, except one, are sympathetic with Senator Goldwater’s election. We should take full advantage of this situation.”

Ronald Reagan, who had just joined the conservative movement and officially jumped from the Democratic to Republican Party two years earlier, was among those helping to recruit Eagle Eye poll watchers in 1964. “Its fundamental purpose is to restore public confidence in this country’s voting processes,” he said.

Unsurprisingly, the effort did less to restore confidence than it did to stoke paranoia. In Houston, the Austin American newspaper looked for the more than a thousand “fictitious” or ineligible registrations claimed by the GOP county chairman. It found nothing but some simple clerical errors. In Long Beach, California, another newspaper investigation found that seven of eight people on a list of ineligible voters “were just as eligible as can be.” In Oshkosh, Wisconsin, annoyed voters called the police on the Eagle Eyes. In Miami, a circuit court judge enjoined Citizens for Goldwater for “illegal mass challenging without cause, conducted in such a manner as to obstruct the orderly conduct of the election.”

In Chicago, where the impetus for Operation Eagle Eye had begun four years earlier, it stationed 5,000 poll watchers. But by then the Illinois election board had already cleaned up its lists, and Republicans were only able to claim 500 irregularities. There is, of course, no way to know how many Democratic voters, particularly black and brown ones, were scared off in Chicago or across the country.

Republicans reprised Operation Eagle Eye in Illinois for the 1966 midterm elections and nationally in 1968. “They aren’t going to steal Cook County,” Nixon told a journalist that year. “We have Operation Eagle Eye watching this time.” Efforts were led by J. Edgar Hoover’s former right-hand man, Lewis B. Nicols. They included sending 10,000 voter caging letters with Illinois Republican Senator Everett Dirksen’s Capitol Hill office as a return address, using the Illinois Republican Senator’s franking privileges to cover the postage.

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In 1970 the RNC retired the Eagle Eye name after a black Republican leader noted that its blatantly racist methods had hurt the party with voters of color. But the extent to which blocking voting opportunities for Democratic constituencies had become baked into conservative Republican culture became evident when Jimmy Carter proposed a package of electoral reforms in March of 1977. These included national same-day registration. As historian Greg Downs recently wrote for TPM, the entire system of voter registration had been designed, back in the nineteenth century, to dampen democratic participation by immigrants and black Southerners that threatened native-born white dominance. A century later, conservatives went to the mat to preserve it.

At first, legislators from both parties enthusiastically endorsed same-day registration. Then, conservatives convinced the Republican Party establishment that, as the conservative newspaper Human Events put it, it would represent “Euthenasia for the GOP,” because “the bulk of these extra votes would go to the Democratic Party.” It pointed to a political scientist who said national turnout would go up 10 percent under the plan, but made it clear that the wrong people would be voting: most of the increase would come from “blacks and other traditionally Democratic voter groups.” The Heritage Foundation argued the reforms would “allow eight million illegal aliens in the U.S.” to vote. Two conservative congressmen ordered fake IDs from an ad in an underground newspaper in the names of Democratic members of the House committee that would mark up Carter’s proposal. It demonstrated, Rep. Bob Dornan (R-CA) said at a press conference, “how easy it would be to register and vote under an assumed name.”

Ronald Reagan played a crucial role in stroking this panic. In 1975, Democrats proposed registration by mail. In response, he insisted this would allow a voter to “be John Doe in Berkeley, and J.F. Doe in the next county, all by saying he intends to live in both places.” He proposed, instead, “Why don’t we try reverse psychology and make it harder to vote?” In 1977 he called Carter’s reform package efforts a naked attempt to increase the power of “the bloc comprised of those who get a whole lot more from the federal government in various kinds of income distribution than they contribute to it.” He successfully intervened with RNC chairman Bill Brock to convince him to reverse his position on the plan. The RNC then passed a resolution claiming same-day registration would “endanger the integrity of the franchise and open American elections to serious threat of fraud.”

Carter’s plan went down to defeat. At a victory ceremony at the National Republican Club of Capitol Hill Club, New Right leader Paul Weyrich presented brass plaques to Senator Paul Laxalt of Nevada, Reagan’s closest ally in the Senate, and Richard Viguerie, the conservative operative and direct mail guru, inscribed “For Leadership in Preserving Free Elections.”

Three years later, Weyrich made the dubious nature of the New Right’s definition of “free elections” more explicit. Speaking at an Evangelical gathering in 1980 alongside Reagan, he warned Christians against the “good government syndrome.”

“I don’t want everyone to vote,” he said. “Elections are not won by a majority of the people… As a matter of fact, our leverage in the election quite candidly goes up as the voting population goes down. We have no responsibility, moral or otherwise, to turn out our opposition. It’s important to turn out those who are with us.”

Then, in New Jersey in 1981, Republican efforts to limit the franchise by playing the “fraud” card went too far.

In the lead-up to the New Jersey gubernatorial election that year, a GOP caging operation sent 200,000 letters to registered Democrats in mostly black and Latino neighborhoods in New Jersey. Partly because they used outdated lists, 45,000 of the letters were returned as undeliverable, allowing the GOP to try to scrub them off the rolls. Echoing Operation Eagle Eye efforts in the early 1960s, on Election Day the party sent off-duty police officers wearing National Ballot Security Task Force armbands to those same neighborhoods. Some carried guns. Anyone who didn’t like the ballot security measures, said Philip Kaltenbacher, head of the state Republican Party, “obviously must be supportive of election fraud.”

The DNC and the New Jersey Democratic Party sued, and finally, as part of a settlement designed to stanch voter intimidation, the RNC entered a consent decree agreeing not to run any ballot-security efforts specifically targeting districts for their racial makeup.

“A 2007 study by NYU’s Brennan Center for Justice memorably found that an individual American is more likely to get struck by lightning than to commit in-person voter fraud.”

They didn’t stick to it. In the run-up to the 1986 election, the RNC sent caging letters to voters in Louisiana and Illinois and then turned over the names of more than 60,000 of them to the FBI for investigation for voter fraud. Talking to reporters, RNC chairman Frank J. Fahrenkopf Jr. acknowledged that these actions had given the impression that members of his staff were “violating the law” and “violating the rights of voters,” but they had had no choice, he claimed: Republicans had to step in to stop the election from being “desecrated” by fraud. Besides, he said, being approached by an FBI agent wasn’t “intimidating.”

Then there was an incident in 1990, when Harvey Gantt, the black mayor of Charlotte, challenged North Carolina’s Republican U.S. Senator, the one-time segregationist Jesse Helms. That was the election of Helms’s infamous “Hands” ad, which showed the hands of a white man opening a rejection letter with a voiceover commiserating that “you needed that job and you were best qualified. But they had to give it to a minority because of a racial quota.” The state Republican Party sent 125,000 postcards to recipients in Democratic areas who turned out to be 97 percent black, falsely claiming that a voter who had moved within 30 days of the election couldn’t vote, and noting that giving false information to an election official was punishable by up to five years in jail.

Both the 1986 and 1990 incidents led to new consent decrees. Neither dampened Republican enthusiasm to use fraud allegations as a political tool. In fact, by this time, it had become one of the conservative movement’s go-to responses to all kinds of perceived threats. In particular, it was a way to fight back against new Democratic efforts to appeal to the large swaths of people who didn’t make it to the polls each year.

So too were ongoing Republican efforts to fight the liberalization of voter registration. In 1988, Kentucky’s Mitch McConnell — having been first elected to the Senate in a close vote in 1984argued in the American Bar Association Journal against a bill that would require mail-in registration systems nationwide. Liberal registration systems might be fine in places like North Dakota and Minnesota, he wrote, but “for other states like mine, and regions where one party dominates and people are poor, election fraud is a constant curse.”

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In 1991, McConnell called the National Voter Registration Act — or the Motor Voter Act, allowing mail-in registration, as well as registration at motor vehicle departments and public assistance offices — “a solution in search of a problem.” Taking a page from Reagan and Weyrich, McConnell wrote that “relatively low voter turnout is a sign of a content democracy,” an observation that was, he argued, “heresy to some, blasphemy to others, and worst of all, politically incorrect. Motor Voter could “foster election fraud and thus debase the entire political process,” he wrote. And anyway, “We should ask ourselves: How easy should voting be? Is it too much to ask that people have a passing interest in the political process, 10, 20, or 30 days prior to an election and that they go down to the courthouse, or the library, to register?

Rep. Spencer Bachus of Alabama was more explicit, alleging that the Motor Voter bill would register “millions of welfare recipients, illegal aliens, and taxpayer funded entitlement recipients.”

In 1992, George H.W. Bush vetoed Motor Voter, calling it an “open invitation to fraud and corruption.” But it passed the next year, essentially on a party line vote, and Bill Clinton signed it into law.

Ultimately, as Tova Andrea Wang writes in her book “The Politics of Voter Suppression,” Motor Voter was responsible for tens of millions of new voter registrations. But its roll-out wasn’t smooth. Many states resisted implementing parts of it, particularly the part about letting people sign up to vote at the offices where they received government benefits. In 1994, McConnell pushed to remove WIC offices from the list of places where voter registration must be offered. This had nothing to do with his original opposition to Motor Voter, he insisted. He was just concerned that “WIC workers will have to spend valuable time and money on an activity that is totally unrelated to the mission of the WIC program.”

“We have no responsibility, moral or otherwise, to turn out our opposition.” —Paul Weyrich

Also in 1994, a political operative named Karl Rove — who had been a grade-school Nixon fan back during the 1960 fraud allegations — picked up the tactic of crying foul while managing a campaign for Alabama chief justice. The day after the election, it looked like Rove’s candidate, Perry O. Hooper, had lost by 304 votes. But, one of the campaign’s staffers recalled to journalist Joshua Green, Rove said there was still hope. They just had to cast the Democrats as “liars, cheaters, stealers, immoral — all of that.” As vote recounts and court challenges dragged on, Hooper told the media that they’d “endured lies in this campaign, but I’ll be damned if I will accept outright thievery.” Business leaders took out newspaper ads on his behalf reading “They steal elections they don’t like.” It took nearly a year of tenacious fighting in the court of public opinion, as well as the actual courts, but Hooper ultimately ended up as chief judge.

In the late ‘90s, Republicans also took advantage of an election that really was stolen. A well-organized effort by one candidate’s campaign involving the fraudulent use of absentee ballots tainted a 1997 Miami mayoral election. But the GOP-controlled Florida legislature focused its response on a different issue: felons who had voted. In a system dating to the Jim Crow era, Florida bars felons from voting unless they have their vote restored by a panel made up of the governor and his cabinet. In this Miami election, 105 people had voted even though they had felonies on their records, according to a tally by the Miami Herald.

Between 1999 and 2000, the Jeb Bush administration carried out a voter purge with a sloppy vengeance. It contracted with a private company, DBT, to produce “scrub lists” of ineligible voters. In her recounting of this episode, the New Yorker’s Jane Mayer notes that DBT received an award for “innovative excellence” in 1999 by a conservative group called the Voting Integrity Project, which had been pushing states to purge their rolls. DBT’s lists ended up including almost 1 percent of Florida’s electorate and nearly 3 percent of its black voters. But they were enormously messy. Writing for Harper’s Magazine in 2002, journalist Greg Palast found voters were identified as candidates for the purge just because “their name, gender, birthdate and race matched — or nearly matched — one of the tens of millions of ex-felons in the United States.” DBT proposed refining its lists using address histories or financial records, but the state declined to take it up on the offer.

Similar purges went down across the country. A report drawn up by the House Judiciary Committee’s Democratic staff after the 2000 election found that “voters in the majority of states reported being improperly excluded or purged from voting rolls.”

One particularly egregious case was in majority-black St. Louis Missouri, as Lorraine C. Minnite, Rutgers University political scientist, recounts in “The Myth of Voter Fraud.” Between 1994 and 2000, the Missouri election board used mail canvasses to prepare a list of 50,000 names that it purged from the rolls — a number equal to 40 percent of the total votes cast in 1996 — without trying to notifying inactive voters. Officials in the Gore-Lieberman campaign saw the move as a GOP tactic to reduce Democratic turnout. At a campaign event in 2000, Democratic congressional candidate William Lacy Clay Jr. told the crowd not to “let anyone turn you away from the polls.”

On Election Day that year, St. Louis was a mess. The state was electing a president, a governor, a congressional representative and a senator. One of the Senate candidates, Democrat Mel Carnahan, enjoyed widespread support — but died three weeks before Election Day. His opponent, Republican incumbent John Ashcroft, looked like he might eke out a victory. And in St. Louis, one of the state’s largest cities and a Democratic stronghold, voters couldn’t cast their ballots.

“The RNC sent 1.8 million letters to registered voters nationwide — a practice called voter caging. If a letter couldn’t be delivered for any reason, it would represent a reason to challenge the voter as illegitimate.”

Rejected would-be voters stood in long lines at the precincts to talk to their election judge. When those judges couldn’t get through to elections officials to figure out people’s registration status, they sent them downtown to the election board office. Hundreds of people filled the board’s lobby, which, by early evening, “was shoulder to shoulder with people who wanted to vote,” according to the Associated Press. In response to complaints by Democrats, a circuit court judge kept polls open late, though the ruling was quickly overturned by a three-judge appeals panel, and only about 100 extra people actually got a chance to vote.

To Republicans, the whole situation smelled like a conspiracy “to create bedlam so that election fraud could be perpetrated,” as Missouri Secretary of State Matt Blunt, who was elected that year, put it — not the result of years of voter-roll purges. When it became clear that Republican Sen. John Ashcroft had lost his reelection race to the deceased Mel Carnahan (whose wife would take the seat in his place), the Republican occupant of the state’s other Senate seat, Christopher “Kit” Bond, threw a fit. As Joshua A. Douglas, a University of Kentucky law professor, tells the story, Bond took the stage at an Election Night rally, pounding the podium and screaming “this is an outrage!” He blamed Ashcroft’s loss on votes cast by dead people and dogs. Specifically, Bond spoke frequently of a Springer Spaniel named Ritzy Mekler. As it turned out, someone had indeed registered Ritzy, but the dog never cast a vote. Later investigations found only six definitively illegitimate votes out of the more than 2 million cast in all of Missouri that year.

But the post-election chaos in Florida that year was, of course, of a whole different order, and would refocus the GOP for more than a decade on the potency of a handful of votes. The networks called the state for Democrat Al Gore, only to be forced to reverse themselves. Gore offered and then withdrew a concession. With Karl Rove as chief strategist, George W. Bush’s campaign fought in court and on the streets through the weeks of recounts and hanging chad scrutiny until the Supreme Court finally ruled in its favor. Given the astoundingly slim final official margin of 537 votes, it was easy for observers to rightfully attribute the outcome to any number of efforts to skew the vote or accidents of history: If Republicans hadn’t convinced state officials to count overseas absentee ballots that didn’t comply with state laws, or if the state hadn’t disenfranchised thousands of people falsely judged to be felons, or if Ralph Nader hadn’t run, or if Palm Beach County hadn’t used weirdly designed ballots, everything might have been different.

But for Republicans, one clear lesson from 2000 was that any move to keep potential Democratic voters away from the polls might win them an election.

In 2002, Mitch McConnell and Missouri’s Kit Bond — once again talking of voting dogs — inserted a requirement into the Help America Vote Act requiring ID for people registering to vote. Civil rights groups including the NAACP, the National Urban League, and the National Council of La Raza called the measure “an exercise in intimidation,” but Democrats ultimately decided it wasn’t worth creating a huge stink to fight the provision.

Ultimately, the federal ID requirement wasn’t terribly onerous, but Minnite writes that it was significant; it “embedded a party tactic into federal law and signaled approval for a new partisan movement in the states to encumber voters with unnecessary identification requirements.”

Also in 2002, John Ashcroft — having bounced back from losing to a dead man to become Bush’s attorney general — declared fighting voter fraud a top priority for the Department of Justice. Working with Ashcroft, and then with his successor Alberto Gonzales, Karl Rove pushed for more prosecutions of voter fraud.

In the next presidential election year, 2004, talk of voter fraud was everywhere. Conservative activists targeted the community group ACORN in multiple states where it was registering voters. (In several cases, the organization’s employees turned out to have forged the registration forms — but not in the hope of casting illegitimate votes. Instead, they were trying to hit a quota set by the organization that required volunteers to collect a certain number of registrations.) In Washington State, after a super-close gubernatorial election, Republican Dino Rossi refused to concede until nearly six months after his opponent was sworn in, claiming there was illegal voting. And back in Florida, the Bush campaign got caught with caging lists made up of mostly African-American voters that it planned to use to challenge people at the polls.

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Following the election, the Bush administration carefully picked a series of administration officials who would work on voting-related issues. Already, Bush had appointed a Georgia-based activist, Hans von Spakovsky, to the DOJ’s Civil Rights Division. Von Spakovsky was, notably, a board member of the Voting Integrity Project, the same group that helped push Florida’s voter-roll purge half a decade earlier. Now DOJ official Bradley Schlozman, who had previously said he wanted to replace the “mold spores,” “commies” and “crazy libs” in the division’s Voting Section, flouted federal rules to hire more conservatives.

Meanwhile, Rove was convinced that some U.S. attorneys weren’t doing enough to make hay over voter fraud charges. Between 2005 and 2006, the administration fired nine U.S. attorneys. It would become one of the major scandals of the Bush presidency.

One of the fired attorneys, David C. Iglesias of New Mexico, later explained that he’d been asked to resign after declining to file corruption charges against local Democrats. Another, John McKay of Washington, said he suspected his firing had to do with his decision not to call a grand jury to investigate voter fraud in the governor’s race in 2004, which Rossi lost by just a few hundred votes. The Washington Post reported that five of the 12 U.S. attorneys the administration dismissed or considered for dismissal in 2006 oversaw districts that Rove and his deputies saw as trouble spots for voter fraud,” including New Mexico, Nevada, Washington State, Kansas City and Milwaukee. Gonzales and the Justice Department later acknowledged that they had fired U.S. Attorney Bud Cummings in Arkansas to make way for Tim Griffin, a former Rove aid who had been involved with the caging in Florida in 2004. Griffin ended up stepping down from the post in 2007 after the scandal broke, and Gonzales lost his own job later that summer.

“This past January, a judge allowed the 1982 consent decree that banned the RNC from racially motivated voter security operations to expire.”

Today, though, Griffin is happily serving as lieutenant governor of Arkansas. Gonzales avoided criminal charges and now serves as dean of Belmont University in Tennessee. Hans von Spakovsky and one of the conservative activists Bradley Schlozman had hired as a DOJ attorney, J. Christian Adams, reprised their Bush-era roles by becoming members of Trump’s voter fraud commission last year. Few of the other people responsible for spreading the voter fraud myth faced any consequences at all.

Meanwhile, the myth itself is doing just great.

In January of this year, Trump disbanded the commission, which had accomplished exactly nothing. But whatever President Trump’s eventual fate, it’s unlikely his party will back away from talk of voter fraud — particularly as the percentage of white Americans continues to decline. This past January, a judge allowed the 1982 consent decree that banned the RNC from racially motivated voter security operations to expire. In June, the Supreme Court ruled that Ohio could purge occasional voters from its voter rolls if they don’t return a mailed address-confirmation form.

And, for all the talk about securing the vote, this July, when Democrats proposed giving $380 million to the states to upgrade voting systems that might be vulnerable to real dirty tricks, Republicans voted it down.


Rick Perlstein is a historian and journalist who lives in Chicago. His most recent book is “The Invisible Bridge: The Fall of Nixon and the Rise of Reagan.”

Livia Gershon is a freelance journalist based in New Hampshire. She has written for the Guardian, the Boston Globe, HuffPost, and some other places.

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