A lot of reporters believe it is their job to give “both sides” of every story. This is often done by quoting people who disagree with each other. While this may give the appearance of “balance,” it’s often irresponsible, as it gives the inaccurate impression that the two sides have equal credibility, which they often do not. Take, for example, an April 28th story in the Star Tribune of Minneapolis.
The subject was an effort by some state legislators to require Minnesota voters to present an official identification document (one with their picture on it) in order to vote. Since the Governor of Minnesota has promised to veto any such “Voter ID” law, state Republicans have promised to try and amend the state constitution to require it.
In this context, the Star Trib reported, “Supporters say requiring identification is needed to head off voter fraud, which critics say is virtually nonexistent in Minnesota.” There you have it: “critics say” something is virtually nonexistent. Is this just another “side” to the story? Or are there perhaps some facts here to help readers evaluate the claims? Well, yes, there are facts.
Early last year a non-profit called Citizens for Election Integrity Minnesota teamed up with the Minnesota Unitarian Universalist Social Justice Alliance to conduct a survey of Minnesota’s County Attorneys. (1) They asked the CA’s about ineligible voters and voter fraud to find out from the people who enforce these laws just how big the problem is. Not too big, they found out. They released their report in November of 2010.
Possible forms of voter fraud include felon voting, people voting twice, underage voting, voting in the wrong place, manipulating the vote of a vulnerable person, and voter impersonation. As the report points out on page 1, “the only type of election fraud a photo identification requirement would prevent is voter impersonation.” Just think about it: Photos have nothing to do with age or address or frequency of voting, or free will/coercion. And no official ID mentions criminal status. All a photo ID does is tell you if the person voting looks like the person whose name is on the rolls, and is not just impersonating that voter.
So, looking back at the last major election in 2008, how many convictions for voter impersonation do we find? None. That is: Zero. Only a tiny number were even investigated. Says the report:
“In fact, less than one half of one percent of all investigations focused on voter impersonation. Another way of evaluating the survey results is to review the total number of investigations of voter impersonation (7) and compare it to the total number of 2008 voters (2,921,498), which allows us to see that the total percent of all voters who were investigated for voter impersonation was two ten-thousandths of one percent (0.0002%). There was not one single conviction of voter impersonation.” [Emphasis in original.]
Their findings mirror the findings of people who have studied voter fraud on the national level.
A Minnesota publication called “The Legal Ledger” published a story on the subject on October 29, 2010. (2) They pointed to research done by Lorraine Minnite, a professor at Columbia University and the author of The Myth of Voter Fraud. Minnite found that “there were just 26 federal convictions for voter fraud in the entire United States between 2002 and 2005.”
The Ledger also looked at the 2008 election cycle in Minnesota, and found that “the number of successful prosecutions remains minuscule. In Hennepin County, for instance [MN’s largest county], indictments were recently handed down on 47 individuals for purportedly voting illegally. But that’s out of roughly 450 names that [the conservative group] Minnesota Majority had identified in the state’s most populous county as fraudulent voters. And even if all 47 cases ultimately result in convictions (hardly a given), it would mean that 0.00009 percent of ballots were illegally cast in the 2008 election in Hennepin County.” That’s nine one-hundred-thousandths of one percent, for those who are keeping score.
Professor Minnite, who has been studying the role of fraud in U.S. elections, explained to Salon.com back in 2008 her theory of what is actually going on here. (3) Salon summarized it as follows:
“Rather than protecting the election process from voter fraud—a problem that barely exists—Minnite says the true aim of Republican efforts appears to be voter suppression across the partisan divide. According to Minnite, investigating voter fraud has become a Republican cottage industry over the last 20 years because it justifies questioning the eligibility of thousands of would-be voters—often targeting poor and minority citizens in urban areas that lean Democratic. Playing the role of vigilant watchdog gives GOP bureaucrats a pretext for obstructing the path of marginalized and first-time voters headed for the polls.”
If and when you read a report on voter fraud in Minnesota that claims to offer “both sides,” take a moment to look up the facts. There are such things, and sometimes they tell us that one side is right and the other side is wrong. Maybe the side that’s wrong just made an honest mistake. Or maybe Professor Minnite has a better explanation.
|Free Speech Zone
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Jeff Nygaard is a writer and activist in Minneapolis, Minnesota who publishes a free email newsletter called Nygaard Notes. A version of this article originally appeared in Nygaard Notes Number 479, May 9, 2011. www.nygaardnotes.org
1. November 2010: “Facts About Ineligible Voting and Voter Fraud in Minnesota”. Accessed May 12, 2011 at http://ceimn.org/
2. “Conservatives planning extraordinary efforts to combat voter fraud in Minnesota, but is it a problem?” by Paul Demko. The Legal Ledger (St. Paul, MN), October 29, 2010 Friday Accessed May 9, 2010 on the Lexis/Nexis newspaper database.
3. “Behind the GOP’s voter fraud hysteria,” by Andrew Burmon. Salon.com Accessed May 12, 2011 at http://www.salon.com/news/feature/2008/10/15/voter_suppression/