Stealing Elections, Revised and Updated: How Voter Fraud Threatens Our Democracy, by John Fund (Encounter, 175 pp., $19.95)
Last week, well before news broke today of an FBI voter-fraud investigation of the Association of Community Organizers for Reform Now (Acorn), Nevada authorities raided the group’s Las Vegas headquarters. The offices of Nevada’s secretary of state and attorney general, both Democrats, seized computers, voter-registration cards, and employee information after Acorn submitted numerous fraudulent names and addresses as part of its voter-registration drive. “Some of these [forms] were facially fraudulent; we basically had the starting lineup for the Dallas Cowboys,” Ross Miller, Nevada’s secretary of state, explained. “Tony Romo is not registered to vote in Nevada.” Acorn’s Project Vote alleges that the raid is part of a nationally orchestrated effort to suppress voter turnout. “Project Vote has been attacked all over the country because we registered at least 1.2 million voters,” theorizes Nevada Acorn’s Bonnie Smith-Greathouse. “That could sway an election.”
And that’s just the point, argues John Fund in the updated and timely reissue of his Stealing Elections: How Voter Fraud Threatens Our Democracy. Fund contends that recent changes in election laws have made it easier to “sway an election,” as Smith-Greathouse puts it—through cheating. “The United States has a haphazard, fraud-prone election system befitting a developing nation rather than the globe’s leading democracy,” Fund asserts. At times, Fund’s subject seems more fitting for a magazine exposé than for a book—until one confronts the sheer volume of examples he has compiled. Like a portrait of corruption from a century prior, Lincoln Steffens’s Shame of the Cities, Fund’s Stealing Elections adopts a muckraking style and spotlights a national problem by illuminating it on a city-by-city basis.
In the name of making every vote count, efforts to expand the electorate have resulted in tallying votes that shouldn’t be considered and negating valid votes. Over a century’s worth of reforms designed to protect the concept of “one man, one vote” have been undermined in just a few decades. Fund points out that most states now allow voters to obtain absentee ballots without establishing a need (such as status as a student, soldier, or diplomat, or showing that one would be out of state on Election Day). One state, Oregon, has eliminated polling places entirely. The raison d’être of the secret ballot—to protect the public from having votes bought or coerced—is thus discarded.
Same-day registration, which backers argue further democratizes elections, is, according to Stealing Elections, “not a reform at all but an added opportunity for mischief”—such as vote buying. The comical scheme of an Al Gore–supporting New York socialite offering free cigarettes to homeless Milwaukeeans in exchange for votes could only occur in a state with same-day registration. Voters registering multiple times under the Motor Voter law, some liberals’ hostility toward poll workers checking government-issued identifications, and lawyers invading locales with election disputes—all increase the chances that legitimate votes will wind up cast aside or canceled out by illegitimate ones.
Stealing Elections overflows with examples of electoral shenanigans. The controversial 2004 Democratic primary, for instance, in which Texas Secretary of State Henry Cuellar unseated Congressman Ciro Rodriguez, ran rife with peculiarities that affected the outcome. While Rodriguez boasted a slim 126-vote lead on election night, the recount in Zapata County turned up a missing ballot box with 304 votes, four-fifths of them for Cuellar. “Webb County reported that their recount came up with 115 more votes than they had first reported,” Fund writes. “Cuellar won every one of the newly discovered votes.” In San Antonio, an area the challenger carried decisively, election officials discovered voter-registration applications for 42 dead people.
On election night that same year, Washington State voters elected Republican Dino Rossi over Democrat Christine Gregoire. On Christmas Eve, state lawyers overturned the election after a third recount. “Nearly 2,000 more votes were counted in King County than the number of individual voters who appeared on the list of those who had cast a ballot,” Fund reports. In one Seattle precinct—where most of the voters had curiously registered just that past year—70 percent of voters listed a government administration building as their residential address. Election officials found hundreds of “lost” ballots, accepted the votes of hundreds of ineligible felons, and, in a few instances, counted the votes of those residing in graveyards. One ballot punched for Gregoire but listing Rossi in the “write-in” line was strangely added in the recount to the totals for Gregoire. Given the strange methodology employed by ballot counters, it’s not surprising that Gregoire is now Washington’s governor.
In St. Louis, dogs join the dead on the election rolls. In 2000, voters nationwide let out a collective gasp in the waning hours of Election Day. Lawyers for Jesse Jackson and Al Gore convinced judges in St. Louis to keep polls open in selected African-American neighborhoods, altering election law by extending voting hours for those most likely to support Gore. Along with the discovery of a voting machine in an abandoned lot the day after the election, and the revelation that 56,000 St. Louis voters had registered multiple times, Missouri voters also learned that “Robert Odom”—on whose behalf Gore-Lieberman lawyers had successfully sued to keep the polls open—had voted in the early afternoon, before the court order extending poll-closure times was issued. The lawsuit was clearly premeditated, as the evidence of computerized phone banks, all-too-ready with a get-out-the-vote message, made clear. The exclamation point to the Show Me State’s 2000 horror show was provided by Ritzy, the 13-year-old spaniel who had been on the voter rolls for eight years.
A common thread in many of the cases that Fund spotlights is the shadowy presence of Acorn. Two and a half years after the debacle in Seattle, Washington’s attorney general indicted seven Acorn workers for their role in what he called “the worst case of voter registration fraud” in the state’s history. In St. Louis, eight Acorn workers pled guilty to election fraud this past April. On the other side of Missouri, in 2006, four Kansas City Acorn workers were indicted after officials deemed nearly 15,000 of their 35,000 registrations phony.
In the mid-nineties, Barack Obama ran Acorn’s Project Vote campaign in Illinois. He sued the state of Illinois on the group’s behalf in 1995 to implement the Motor Voter law. “After he joined the board of the Woods Fund,” Stealing Elections notes, “Obama saw to it that substantial grants were given to Acorn.” Senator Obama has championed Acorn’s legislative priorities in Congress. His presidential campaign even donated more than $800,000 to Acorn. Obama is the oak grown from Acorn, a group so proud of its association that it boasts “Obama Organizing Fellows” and runs a “Camp Obama” training event. While Acorn boasts of its Obama association, the candidate, of course, is more reticent. That’s because he well knows that many non-dead, non-animal voters would not find a close association with such a group a desirable quality in a potential president.
“Once a community organizer, then a foundation grant-maker, and now a lobbyist for direct government funding, Barack Obama has been with Acorn throughout his career,” Fund writes. “In return, Acorn is pledging to spend $35 million this year registering voters—both real and fictive. Should Obama become president, look for Acorn to have a vastly more ambitious legislative agenda, and for Obama to be responsive.” Acorn, in other words, has a lot riding on Tony Romo voting early, often, and everywhere.