Mostly because it’s an election year, but also because GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump has floated the idea of “rigged” elections, the topic of voter fraud is in the air. As J. Christian Adams quips, nobody is suggesting (yet) that a group of partisans is sitting around at “central command [to] control the output of voting machines from outer space,” but as Adams goes on to suggest, what’s happening is much more insidious. I’d even go a step broader.
In any organized activity to accomplish something for which one ultimately can’t control the final decision — from sales (seeking a decision to purchase) to political canvassing (seeking a decision to vote in a particular way) — the underlying strategy is to develop a funnel. Some percentage of people will take the action one desires, so the idea is to increase the opportunities for that action and decrease the opportunity to turn from it.
With the metaphor of a funnel in mind, the place to begin defining electoral fraud is in the area of debate, and the broadest technique is to make it unacceptable for people to express views that might dissuade others from voting the way one wants. If it is racist to vote against Obama (in 2008) and sexist to vote against Clinton (in 2016), fewer people will do so. (To be fair and balanced, I should note that Trumpkins attempt something similar with the “you’ll be electing Hillary” barb.)
To go very broad, I’d note that conservatives and Republicans have been vilified in the news and entertainment media for decades. If we see fraud as an attempt to affect how (or whether) people vote on grounds that have nothing to do with the issues on which they believe they’re voting, this is where fraud begins — with the sense that one just does not vote for a particular party, whoever the candidate or whatever his or her beliefs.
Another broad layer of fraud in these terms might be termed “information fraud.” This we see in systemic, undisclosed bias and in the particular stories that the guardians permit through the media filter.
Taking a step toward the more targeted, we would have to include such things as voter/activist suppression, as with the targeting of Tea Party groups. On that count, one story that hasn’t sufficiently carried through the media filter is that the IRS has not yet satisfied the judiciary that it has yet stopped its targeting.
Next we get into the meat of Adams’s essay, which describes how well-funded activist groups work to keep the opportunity for direct and literal voter fraud as open as possible. One method is to block and overturn rules requiring even baseline electoral integrity protections like voter identification. Here’s a telling example:
In one lawsuit in a swing state, we discovered that non-citizens were voting illegally in Presidential elections. This is both a federal and state felony. When we asked the election supervisor for records showing referral to law enforcement officials, none existed. None existed because no referral was ever made. Never mind that dozens and dozens of aliens were participating in the election process in just one county. Imagine how many participate statewide. Yet nothing was done to prosecute the illegal voting, and word spreads through the community that illegal voting is a hobby that goes unpunished.
And, of course, when all else fails, there’s straight-up cheating, as James O’Keefe illustrates in a video in which he manages to come right up to the line of voting as the rapper Eminem. (Note, though, that the video may not convey moderate safeguards like verifying a signature.)
To be sure, the political divide of the country, with the thumb on the scales represented by the broad versions of fraud described above, means those who would cheat don’t have to steal every vote. They just have to get the results within a margin that they can erase.
The critical point in this all, though, is that a real theft of office in a given instance isn’t necessarily the worst thing that can happen. That title is reserved for citizens’ loss of confidence in the integrity of the process, and one has to wonder whether erosion of such confidence is an undesirable variable that powerful forces are attempting to avoid or is, actually, the primary objective.