The 2012 election will be one of the hardest-fought in U.S. history. It is also likely to be one of the closest, a fact that brings concerns about voter fraud and bureaucratic incompetence in the conduct of elections front and center. If we don't take notice, we could see another debacle like the Bush-Gore Florida recount of 2000 in which courts and lawyers intervened in what should have involved only voters.
Who's Counting? will focus attention on many problems of our election system, ranging from voter fraud to a slipshod system of vote counting that noted political scientist Walter Dean Burnham calls “the most careless of the developed world.” In an effort to clean up our election laws, reduce fraud and increase public confidence in the integrity of the voting system, many states ranging from Florida to Wisconsin have recently passed laws requiring a photo ID be shown at the polls and curbing the rampant use of absentee ballots, a tool of choice by fraudsters. The response from Obama allies has been to belittle the need for such laws and attack them as akin to the second coming of a racist tide in American life. In the summer of 2011, both Bill Clinton and DNC chairman Debbie Wasserman Schultz said such laws suppressed minority voters represented a return to the era of Jim Crow.
But voter fraud is a well-documented reality in American elections. Just last year, a 2010 state representative race in Kansas City, Mo. was stolen when one candidate, J.J. Rizzo, allegedly received more than 50 votes illegally cast by citizens of Somalia. The Somalis, who didn't speak English, were coached to vote for Mr. Rizzo by an interpreter at the polling place. The margin of victory? One vote. Public confidence in the integrity of elections is at an all-time low. In the Cooperative Congressional Election Study of 2008, 62% of American voters thought that voter fraud was very common or somewhat common. Fear that elections are being stolen erodes the legitimacy of our government. That's why the vast majority of Americans support laws like Kansas's Secure and Fair Elections Act. A 2010 Rasmussen poll showed that 82% of Americans support photo ID laws.
While Americans frequently demand observers and best practices in the elections of other countries, we are often blind to the need to scrutinize our own elections. We may pay the consequences in 2012 if a close election leads us into pitched partisan battles and court fights that will dwarf the Bush-Gore recount wars.
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About the Author
Hans von Spakovsky is a Senior Legal Fellow at The Heritage Foundation and a former member of the Federal Election Commission. He has served as an election official in Georgia and Virginia and previously enforced federal voting rights laws at the U.S. Justice Department as Counsel to the Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights. He lives in Vienna, VA.