The DoJ’s Favorite Crime

What’s the deal with voter fraud?

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A ballot box

On Tuesday, the White House revealed that President Bush had met with Attorney General Alberto Gonzales back in October to discuss the lackluster performance of U.S. attorneys on voter-fraud cases. The Department of Justice fired seven prosecutors on Dec. 7. What’s so important about voter fraud?

It could theoretically cost a party or candidate an election. The term voter fraud refers to cases of voting illegally or conspiring to promote illegal voting by others. For example, it’s against the law to knowingly vote twice in the same election or to vote with the knowledge that you aren’t eligible. But states rarely prosecute these crimes, because most individual cases boil down to administrative error, voter mistakes, or small-scale fraud.

In government, attitudes toward voter fraud break down along partisan lines. Liberals tend to promote looser restrictions on voting so as to encourage voter participation among traditionally disenfranchised groups. They argue that voter-fraud claims are blown out of proportion to exclude poor people and minorities who are likely to vote Democratic. Conservatives take a tougher line on voter fraud to ensure that ballots cast by illegal immigrants and other ineligible voters are not counted. That’s why Republicans in the Arizona, Texas, Georgia, Indiana, Missouri, Wisconsin, South Dakota, and Ohio state legislatures have all proposed voter ID laws in the last few years.

The Bush administration has made a point of cracking down on voter fraud. In 2002, then-Attorney General John Ashcroft created the Ballot Access and Voting Integrity Initiative, which aimed to deter, investigate, and prosecute cases of voter fraud more vigorously. The initiative called for U.S. attorneys to attend annual voting-integrity seminars at which they received training on how to handle these violations.

Grumblings about voter fraud arose during the 2004 elections in states such as New Mexico and Washington. The U.S. attorneys who pursued those leads and chose not to prosecute the cases were dismissed last year.

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