A few weeks ago, Virginia House Republicans held a press call in which they succeeded in getting newspapers to report on a two-week old incident where a single individual in Harrisonburg, Virginia is alleged to have submitted voter registrations on behalf of people who are in fact dead. The State Police and FBI are investigating and, if the alleged activity is proven, the individual responsible should be prosecuted and punished under existing laws.
There is no evidence or allegation that this single student’s alleged activity was part of any larger effort or scheme to cast votes illegally on behalf of any candidate or any particular political party. According to the JMU student paper the Breeze, the student has spoken with the County registrar and investigators. Rather than speculate about the student’s motives, we could wait for the complete investigation, which would provide actual evidence and facts.
Instead, Republican leaders organized the call to highlight the most sensational aspects and then conclude that Virginians should believe that this isolated incident is indicative of a widespread problem with voter fraud. Taking cues from their presidential nominee, perhaps, they were undeterred by the absence of actual evidence of any widespread fraud or evidence that their recent legislative proposals, which have made voting more difficult, have done anything to prevent fraud.
In fact, the evidence we do have would indicate that the individual under scrutiny wasn’t terribly sophisticated. He used the last known address of one of the deceased, which caused a congratulatory letter to be sent to his family. He turned in a total of nineteen alleged fraudulent applications over nine months. Were he intending to influence the outcome of an election, he was either working an extremely long con or severely underestimated the number of votes that would be required to alter the outcome. He hadn’t applied for any absentee ballots and, even if he had, newly registered voters who register by mail are required to provide ID with their initial absentee ballot.
On social media, I asked for anyone to explain to me how the alleged activity could result in fraudulent votes. A few folks sent me fewer than five examples with the stories of fraud from other states. And these were several years old.
So, voter fraud does sometimes happen. It’s just that it’s incredibly difficult to execute, even more difficult to get away with, and extremely rare.
That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try and prevent all voter fraud. We should. It undermines confidence in an already suspect system in which the outcome is often predetermined by political gerrymandering and the absence of any campaign finance restrictions, which works to the tremendous advantage of incumbents.
So why don’t we do more? We have to be careful that the remedy isn’t worse than the ailment. If we restricted the right to vote to only white male landholders who could produce a deed to their property and a family bible dating back to the 18th century, we wouldn’t have any voter fraud. We wouldn’t have a representative democracy either, at least not the way we define it today.
The so-called remedies proposed would make it too difficult for many poor, elderly, and foreign born citizens to cast ballots, effectively disenfranchising them. As long as those are the only folks affected, Virginia house Republicans seem comfortable seeking greater and greater restrictions.
Some of the folks I have heard from are upset that I called the accusations of fraud disingenuous. If we were really genuinely concerned with ascertaining the true identity of voters rather than making voting more difficult, why not accept an expired driver’s license from an elderly voter who doesn’t use it for driving any longer? Or give the elections officer the option to do so?
We have evidence given under oath that current Virginia House Republicans have deliberately drawn legislative districts to pack minority democrats into as few districts as mathematically possible. Why wouldn’t we be suspicious of their real motives in crying Widespread Voter Fraud as well?
Delegate Simon represents the 53rd District in the Virginia House of Delegates. He may be emailed at DelMSimon@house.virginia.gov