Rove on Voter Fraud

Start your day with TPM.
Sign up for the Morning Memo newsletter

We already know that Karl Rove passed along complaints to Alberto Gonzales about certain U.S. attorneys’ performance on voter fraud prosecutions. And in the case of New Mexico’s David Iglesias, that complaint likely contributed to his firing.

But it’s clear this is something of an obsession to Rove.

One year ago, April 7, 2006, he gave a speech to the Republican National Lawyers Association, in which he covered a number of topics of interest to his audience (i.e. tort reform), but one topic seemed to hold the audience’s attention in particular: voter fraud. To quote an audience member: “The Democrats seem to want to make this year an election about integrity, and we know that their party rests on the base of election fraud.”

Rove had clearly spent a lot of time on it — rattling off statistics and referring to problem counties in far-flung states with familiarity. He also showed no shyness at over-hyping the issue: “We are, in some parts of the country, I’m afraid to say, beginning to look like we have elections like those run in countries where they guys in charge are, you know, colonels in mirrored sunglasses.”

Now, two of the fired U.S. attorneys — John McKay of Seattle and David Iglesias of New Mexico — provoked anger among the Republican leadership in their respective states by not prosecuting instances of voter fraud. Both have said they didn’t prosecute after prolonged investigations because, in McKay’s words, there “was no evidence.”

Tellingly, both Washington and New Mexico get a special mention in Rove’s remarks.

Excerpts from the speech (some of which were featured in a McClatchy piece last month), and the question and answer session that followed, are below.

From the April 7, 2006 speech:

I want to thank you for your work on clean elections. I know a lot of you spent time in the 2004 election, the 2002, election, the 2000 election in your communities or in strange counties in Florida, helping make it certain that we had the fair and legitimate outcome of the election. We have, as you know, an enormous and growing problem with elections in certain parts of America today. We are, in some parts of the country, I’m afraid to say, beginning to look like we have elections like those run in countries where they guys in charge are, you know, colonels in mirrored sunglasses. I mean, it’s a real problem, and I appreciate that all that you’re doing in those hot spots around the country to ensure that the ballot — the integrity of the ballot is protected, because it’s important to our democracy….

From the following question and answer session:

QUESTION: In 2008, what states do you think are going to be the swing states?…

ROVE: You know, I think in 2008, there will be a number of states which will be competitive that are familiar states: Pennsylvania, Michigan, Ohio, maybe not Florida, Colorado, Arkansas, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Nevada, Iowa, New Mexico.

But I think we’re also going to see, depending on who the candidates are, some other states come into play. And that’s the interesting thing about elections — is that who would have forecast before the 2000 election that West Virginia would be a swing state?

Think about it. In 1996, Bob Dole lost the state by 16 points. In 2000, we won the state by six. That means a 22-point shift.

That means that 40 percent of the people who voted for Clinton/Gore in 1996 voted for Bush/Cheney in 2000, a pretty remarkable shift in four short years.

So a lot in American politics is up for grabs. There are very few states like the District of Columbia or Texas where it can be reliably forecast that they’re out of play for the 2008 election.

I intend to observe it with a great deal of interest….

QUESTION: The Democrats seem to want to make this year an election about integrity, and we know that their party rests on the base of election fraud. And we know that, in some states, some of our folks are pushing for election measures like voter ID.

But have you thought about using the bully pulpit of the White House to talk about election reform and an election integrity agenda that would put the Democrats back on the defensive?

ROVE: Yes, it’s an interesting idea. We’ve got a few more things to do before the political silly season gets going, really hot and heavy. But yes, this is a real problem. What is it — five wards in the city of Milwaukee have more voters than adults?

With all due respect to the City of Brotherly Love, Norcross Roanblank’s (ph) home turf, I do not believe that 100 percent of the living adults in this city of Philadelphia are registered, which is what election statistics would lead you to believe.

I mean, there are parts of Texas where we haven’t been able to pull that thing off.


And we’ve been after it for a great many years.

So I mean, this is a growing problem.

The spectacle in Washington state; the attempts, in the aftermath of the 2000 election to disqualify military voters in Florida, or to, in one instance, disqualify every absentee voter in Seminole county — I mean, these are pretty extraordinary measures that should give us all pause.

The efforts in St. Louis to keep the polls opened — open in selected precincts — I mean, I would love to have that happen as long, as I could pick the precincts.

This is a real problem. And it is not going away.

I mean, Bernalillo County, New Mexico will have a problem after the next election, just like it has had after the last two elections.

I mean, I remember election night, 2000, when they said, oops, we just made a little mistake; we failed to count 55,000 ballots in Bernalillo; we’ll be back to you tomorrow.

That is a problem. And I don’t care whether you’re a Republican or a Democrat, a vegetarian or a beef-eater, this is an issue that ought to concern you because, at the heart of it, our democracy depends upon the integrity of the ballot place. And if you cannot…

I have to admit, too — look, I’m not a lawyer. So all I’ve got to rely on is common sense. But what is the matter? I go to the grocery store and I want to cash a check to pay for my groceries, I’ve got to show a little bit of ID.

Why should it not be reasonable and responsible to say that when people show up at the voting place, they ought to be able to prove who they are by showing some form of ID?

We can make arrangements for those who don’t have driver’s licenses. We can have provisional ballots, so that if there is a question that arises, we have a way to check that ballot. But it is fundamentally fair and appropriate to say, if you’re going to show up and claim to be somebody, you better be able to prove it, when it comes to the most sacred thing we have been a democracy, which is our right of expression at the ballot.

And if not, let’s just not kid ourselves, that elections will not be about the true expression of the people in electing their government, it will be a question of who can stuff it the best and most. And that is not healthy.

QUESTION: I’ve been reading some articles about different states, notably in the west, going to mail-in ballots and maybe even toying with the idea of online ballots. Are you concerned about this, in the sense of a mass potential, obviously, for voter fraud that this might have in the West?

ROVE: Yes. And I’m really worried about online voting, because we do not know all the ways that one can jimmy the system. All we know is that there are many ways to jimmy the system.

I’m also concerned about the increasing problems with mail-in ballots. Having last night cast my mail-in ballot for the April 11 run-off in Texas, in which there was one race left in Kerr County to settle — but I am worried about it because the mail-in ballots, particularly in the Northwest, strike me as problematic.

I remember in 2000, that we had reports of people — you know, the practice in Oregon is everybody gets their ballot mailed to them and then you fill it out.

And one of the practices is that people will go to political rallies and turn in their ballots. And we received reports in the 2000 election — which, remember we lost Oregon by 5000 votes — we got reports of people showing up at Republican rallies and passing around the holder to get your ballot, and then people not being able to recognize who those people were and not certain that all those ballots got turned in.

On Election Day, I remember, in the city of Portland, Multnomah County — I’m going to mispronounce the name — but there were four of voting places in the city, for those of you who don’t get the ballots, well, we had to put out 100 lawyers that day in Portland, because we had people showing up with library cards, voting at multiple places.

I mean, why was it that those young people showed up at all four places, showing their library card from one library in the Portland area? I mean, there’s a problem with this.

And I know we need to make arrangements for those people who don’t live in the community in which they are registered to vote or for people who are going to be away for Election Day or who are ill or for whom it’s a real difficulty to get to the polls. But we need to have procedures in place that allow us to monitor it.

And in the city of Portland, we could not monitor. If somebody showed up at one of those four voting locations, we couldn’t monitor whether they had already cast their mail-in ballot or not. And we lost the state by 5,000 votes.

I mean, come on. What kind of confidence can you have in that system? So yes, we’ve got to do more about it.

Latest Muckraker
Masthead Masthead
Founder & Editor-in-Chief:
Executive Editor:
Managing Editor:
Associate Editor:
Editor at Large:
General Counsel:
Head of Product:
Director of Technology:
Associate Publisher:
Front End Developer:
Senior Designer: