The Success of the Voter Fraud Myth

The Editorial Board

How does a lie come to be widely taken as the truth?

The answer is disturbingly simple: Repeat it over and over again. When faced 
with facts that contradict the lie, repeat it louder.

This, in a nutshell, is the story of claims of voting fraud in America — and 
particularly of voter impersonation fraud, the only kind that voter ID laws can 
possibly prevent.

Last week, a Washington Post-ABC News poll found that nearly half of registered 
American voters believe that voter fraud occurs “somewhat” or “very” often. 
That astonishing number includes two-thirds of people who say they’re voting 
for Donald Trump and a little more than one-quarter of Hillary Clinton 
supporters. Another 26 percent of American voters said that fraud “rarely” 
occurs, but even that characterization is off the mark. Just 1 percent of 
respondents gave the answer that comes closest to reflecting reality: “Never.”

As study after study has shown, there is virtually no voter fraud anywhere in 
the country. The most comprehensive investigation to date found that out of one 
billion votes cast in all American elections between 2000 and 2014, there were 
31 possible cases of impersonation fraud. Other violations — like absentee 
ballot fraud, multiple voting and registration fraud — are also exceedingly 
rare. So why do so many people continue to believe this falsehood?

Credit for this mass deception goes to Republican lawmakers, who have for years 
pushed a fake story about voter fraud, and thus the necessity of voter ID laws, 
in an effort to reduce voting among specific groups of Democratic-leaning 
voters. Those groups — mainly minorities, the poor and students — are less 
likely to have the required forms of identification.

Behind closed doors, some Republicans freely admit that stoking false fears of 
electoral fraud is part of their political strategy. In a recently disclosed 
email from 2011, a Republican lobbyist in Wisconsin wrote to colleagues about a 
very close election for a seat on the State Supreme Court. “Do we need to start 
messaging ‘widespread reports of election fraud’ so we are positively set up 
for the recount regardless of the final number?” he wrote. “I obviously think 
we should.”

Sometimes they acknowledge it publicly. In 2012, a former Florida Republican 
Party chairman, Jim Greer, told The Palm Beach Post that voter ID laws and 
cutbacks in early voting are “done for one reason and one reason only” — to 
suppress Democratic turnout. Consultants, Mr. Greer said, “never came in to see 
me and tell me we had a fraud issue. It’s all a marketing ploy.”

The ploy works. During the 2012 election, voter ID laws in Kansas and Tennessee 
reduced turnout by about 2 percent, or about 122,000 votes, according to a 2014 
analysis by the Government Accountability Office. Turnout fell the most among 
young people, African-Americans and newly registered voters. Another study 
analyzing elections from 2006 through 2014 found that voting by eligible 
minority citizens decreased significantly in states with voter ID laws and 
“that the racial turnout gap doubles or triples in states” with those laws.

There are plenty of shortcomings in the American voting system, but most are a 
result of outdated machines, insufficient resources or human error — not 
intentional fraud. All of these are made only worse by shutting down polling 
places or eliminating early voting hours, measures frequently supported by 
Republican legislators.

Those efforts are especially galling in a nation where, on a good day, only 60 
percent of eligible voters show up to the polls. The truth is that those who 
created the specter of voter fraud don’t care about the integrity of the voting 
system; they want to undermine the rights of legitimate voters because that 
helps them win elections.

The scary thing is how many Americans have bought into this charade. It 
shouldn’t be surprising that the Republican Party’s standard-bearer, Donald 
Trump, has elevated the lie about voting fraud and “rigged elections” to a 
centerpiece of his campaign.

It's better to burn out than fade away.

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