The Breakfast Table

Voter Fraud Is a Made-Up Problem

With respect to Dahlia’s question as to whether there should be adverse action taken against people hired or promoted to management positions under the politicized hiring regime at Justice, my short answer is no. That kind of retribution is repeating the wrongs committed by the Bush administration. That said, I repeat what I said in my first post: The incoming division leadership must carefully examine the impact of existing career management on the morale of section staff and decide whether repair of that morale requires a change in section management. In addition, the expectation of vigorous enforcement of civil rights laws and of the priorities set by the new administration must be clear to all staff.

Emily asked about the criminal investigation of alleged voting fraud by ACORN shortly before the election. Last month, I wrote a letter to Attorney General Mukasey, along with other alumni of the Civil Rights Division—Brian Landsberg, whom I mentioned earlier; Steve Pollak, assistant attorney general for civil rights from 1967-69; Jim Turner, who served as the career deputy assistant attorney general from 1969-94, and two longtime career civision managers, Paul Hancock and Sandra Coleman. We wrote:

As you are aware, activities by the Department before and on Election Day have been limited primarily to the important role of the Civil Rights Division in placing federal observers to monitor elections pursuant to provisions of the Voting Rights Act. The activity is designed to protect minority voters from racial discrimination or intimidation. On the other hand, the Department has long recognized that initiating federal criminal investigations into allegations of election fraud in the immediate pre-election period can have a serious chilling effect on voters, especially minority voters who have experienced a long history of discrimination and intimidation at elections.  This is recognized by the Criminal Division in policies set forth in its manual addressing federal prosecutions of election offenses. …Allegations of voter registration fraud should not be taken lightly. But, it is because of the long recognized sensitivity to the role of federal law enforcement officials in elections that we have concern about press reports, apparently leaked to the press by FBI officials, that the Department recently opened a nationwide criminal investigation into the allegations of fraud in the voter registration efforts of a national community organization that was engaged in registering low income voters who are predominantly minority. It would seem that this is the kind of investigation that longtime Department policy dictates should not be initiated until after an election. We understand there may be exceptions to this policy, but it is not clear that this particular investigation should be one of those exceptions.

We have not received a response to this letter. The only point I would add is that, in my mind, there is little or no evidence of systematic vote fraud in this country. Those concerned with voter fraud point only to anecdotal cases, most of them never prosecuted. The so-called Help America Vote Act, passed in 2002 in response to the 2000 election, includes several provisions designed to address the specter of voter fraud that do not help Americans vote but rather make it harder for them to do so. That’s why many-voting rights specialists are advocating for new legislation to eliminate unnecessary barriers to voting and particularly voter registration.

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