Editorial: Focus on Real Threats, Not Phony Fraud

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

The Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity, conceived in a tweet and dedicated to the dubious proposition that voter fraud is rife in America, has been quietly disbanded by President Trump after two meetings, eight months, nine lawsuits and a rebellion by state election officials around the country who refused to cooperate with the commission’s sweeping request for unprecedented amounts of individual voter data.

About this time a year ago, after making baseless claims that he lost the popular vote in the presidential election because millions of illegal ballots were cast, Trump tweeted, “I will be asking for a major investigation into VOTER FRAUD.”

The bipartisan 11-member commission created in May to conduct that investigation went out of business in January without producing any evidence to back up Trump’s claim, almost certainly because there isn’t any.

About the only person who lamented the panel’s demise was New Hampshire Secretary of State William Gardner, who unaccountably decided to join the commission as a member and stood ready to yield to it massive amounts of voter data from the state. Gardner, a Democrat, told The Associated Press that he saw the commission as an opportunity to find out why Americans have lost confidence in the election process.

No commission was needed to answer that question, however. If confidence has been shaken, it is because conservatives have in recent years made it their mission to shake it, in the hopes of tightening restrictions on voting by groups that tend to favor Democratic candidates.

Experts generally agree that actual voter fraud is somewhat less common than people being struck by lightning, notwithstanding the quip attributed to 1950s-era Louisiana Gov. Earl Long: “When I die, I want to be buried in Louisiana, so I can stay active in politics.”

Those who want to further satisfy themselves on the subject of electoral irregularities could profitably consult The Truth About Voter Fraud, an exhaustive report compiled by the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law. In almost all cases, it says, instances of alleged voter fraud resolve themselves into clerical or typographical errors, mistakes made by voters or election officials, or false positives that result when voter lists are matched with other databases. (Among the things we were surprised to learn is just how common it is for people in any large group to share first and last names and birth dates.)

That voter fraud by individuals is rare makes sense, both because the penalties are stiff and because in order to affect the outcome of any given election, hundreds or thousands of people would have to conspire together to vote fraudulently and coordinate their efforts on a candidate’s behalf. The logistics of doing so would be overwhelming.

Perhaps Gardner’s underlying calculation in participating was that unless he went along with the charade, Republican Party officials would retaliate by threatening New Hampshire’s first-in-the-nation presidential primary, which Gardner makes it his business to zealously defend.

But meanwhile, Republicans in the Legislature of his home state are using the imaginary threat of voter fraud as an excuse for attempting to disenfranchise students from out of state who attend college in New Hampshire, unless they declare permanent residency. A bill to that effect passed the state Senate the same day the voter fraud commission was disbanded.

All this is not to suggest that threats to the integrity of American elections do not exist. The potential for foreign interference, such as Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential race, is an urgent problem that needs to be seriously addressed.

Only recently have state-level election officials across the country and the Department of Homeland Security begun to share information on election threats and cybersecurity measures, according to The New York Times. If Gardner wants to reassure Americans about electoral integrity, he ought to devote his energies to countering actual threats.