In Hot Political Climate, Election Experts Want ‘Voter Fraud’ Watchdogs To Be Clear On Rules

September 20, 2010 5:56 a.m.

As Tea Party groups take up the torch of voter fraud ahead of the midterm elections, a new poll shows that campaigns in prior elections to exaggerate the voter fraud issue have had an effect on public opinion. Meanwhile, advocates for low-income and minority voters are voicing concerns that the individuals planning to show up at polling stations to keep an eye out for those they think are illegitimate voters might be unclear on election law.

While the much-maligned ACORN no longer exists, a recent Public Policy Poll finds that one in five Americans thinks that it “will steal the election to keep Democrats in control of Congress this fall,” concerns which Steve Benen dubbed “zombie fears.”Events like the voter fraud panel at LibertyXPO can contribute to the perception that voter fraud is a major problem, say experts. That event was hosted by one self-described ACORN whistle-blower (who was reportedly fired from the organization for running up personal expenses on her company credit card) and featured concerns from one audience member who thought her mailman was stealing her ballots.

Such fears have consequences. A recent report issued by Demos and Common Cause found that several states make it much too easy for a voter to challenge the rights of another voter at a polling place, and there’s a lack of clarity about how poll workers should handle such situations. Many states have “potentially burdensome voter identification laws” and poll workers can often be unaware of or confused about the state laws for voter identification.

“We just want to make sure that everyone is clear on the rules — that voters know their rights, that these groups know what they are and aren’t allowed to do,” Tova Wang, Senior Democracy Fellow at Demos, said last week in a conference call with reporters.

“I think there are legitimate concerns that given the environment and given the rhetoric that we have seen over the last year and the mistrust not only of government but the mistrust of each other — could lead to groups challenging people at the polls who they contend shouldn’t be voting,” Wang said.

The report identifies Arizona, Louisiana and Nevada as states with some of the most onerous voter identification laws.

Arizona “is a state which as we all know has a significant Hispanic population, and the laws in Arizona are particularly burdensome to vote there,” said Bob Edgar, president of Common Cause. He said he would be concerned if any group was using voter identification laws to suppress voter turnout.

“There are a lot of really good people in the Tea Party who are angry for a variety of reasons,” Edgar said. “Obviously there are fringe people, there are racists, there are other kinds of groups there. What we would be concerned about is any group — whether it’s the Tea Party, whether it’s the Democratic Party, whether it’s the Republican Party, whether it’s the Independent Party or some cult group out using tactics that are abusive.”

Wang also expressed concern that feats over voter fraud could lead to policies which prevent legitimate voters from casting ballots.

“Every single election there are these allegations of voter fraud that turn out to be mostly untrue and every year we find that there might be a very small handful of voter fraud cases but nothing on the order of what is alleged,” Wang said. “Perennially, this is used to enact policies or advocate for policies which would disenfranchise voters — voters of low income and voters of color.”

“Given the political climate this year — I’m not a political strategist and I can’t read those tea leaves but I do know the voting process and I see what’s gone on here in the last year and a half,” Wang said.

The Demos and Common cause report, “Voting In 2010: Ten Swing States,” is embedded below, followed by an ad by a Tea Party group on the issue of voter fraud.
Voting in 2010: Ten Swing States

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