Remember a couple of years back when the firings of US attorneys was a big news story? This was part of the politicization of the Justice Department that put Alberto Gonzales in the spotlight. While much was made of the attorney general, considerably less ink was spilled discussing the root cause of the firings. What started it all was a favorite Republican issue: voter fraud. These attorneys were instructed to prosecute cases of voter fraud the Republican leadership was sure had occurred in 2004. The trouble was that the investigations went nowhere. The attorneys found little evidence of real voter fraud and what they could find was not worth prosecuting. Most of these attorneys were Republican appointees described as “loyal Bushies.” That did not stop 9 of them from being fired because they failed to provide the outcome the Republican leadership desired.
Now McCain is behind in the polls and again the spectre of voter fraud appears. This time an organization called ACORN, which tries to get low-income Americans to vote, is being vilified by the right. If the howlings of maddened Drudge-readers were to be believed, vicious gangs of ACORN thugs are roaming the ghettos forcing people to register to vote over and over again. And it’s all part of a huge conspiracy to defraud (great white hope) John McCain and install (black Muslim terrorist) Barack Obama as president.
As usual this is not the real story. What the Republicans are on about is voter registration fraud and it does indeed happen sometimes. However, it has little to no effect on the actual elections; bogus registrations mean nothing if no one shows up to cast the fraudulent votes. The real story is voter suppression, which is an organized attempt to prevent people from voting. This kind of chicanery has been going on for a long time and historically speaking both parties have practiced it. For the last couple of decades though it has been the shadow component of the Republican voter fraud strategy. They shout accusations of voter fraud at the Democrats while working to suppress the vote in areas likely to vote for their opponents. Urban areas full of minorities, for example.
There’s a good article on Slate on the topic here.
And there’s a good post on ACORN here.
Re the effects of fraudulent voter registrations even when there are no actual votes cast: It can have a propaganda effect: “See? My guy is ahead by 300,000 in new voter registrations in a state we only lost by 100,000 in 2004.” And revelations of fraud (major, minor, imaginary) can kill enthusiasm for one side or the other.
Remember, the appearance can be more important than the actuality in politics.