Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Shark Attacks and Voter Fraud

Have you heard the one about voter fraud in Florida? This past March, the executive director of the ACLU of Florida claimed that although the state needed to pass its voter id law to prevent voter fraud, there were “probably a larger number of shark attacks in Florida than there are cases of voter fraud.” PolitiFact (our fav!) compiled a chart using data from the Florida Department of State, which monitors elections, and the Florida Museum of Natural History in Gainesville, which monitors shark attacks.
Over the last four years, there have been 49 instances of voter fraud and 72 instances of shark attack (specifically, shark-on-human violence). Note: voter fraud here includes cases “deemed legally sufficient for an investigation by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement,” but none of them is presupposed proven; also, some "cases" may represent multiple counts of voter fraud, and the number of cases does not include cases investigated by local supervisors and state attorneys.
So, in short, we can’t draw a clear conclusion from these numbers. But wait a minute—this is ludicrous, isn’t it? I mean, who even cares about the shark attack analogy (apologies to those attacked)? Look again at that number of instances of voter fraud in Florida over the past 4 years. 49? In 2010, there were nearly 8 million voting-age, registered voters in Florida and 5.5 of them voted in the 2010 election. In that same year, there were 10 instances of voter fraud “deemed legally sufficient for an investigation by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.”
But let’s not pick on Florida. Other states are passing voter id laws, which supporters claim are necessary to thwart voter fraud. PolitiFact has another great article on a News21 “analysis of 2,068 cases alleging election fraud.”
News21’s nationwide investigation took 7 months and the results were released this August. The investigators “sent records requests to elections officers in all 50 states seeking every case of fraudulent elections activity, including registration fraud, absentee ballot fraud, voter impersonation fraud and casting an ineligible vote” for the past 12 years.
It’s important to note here that the investigators asked for and received information about several types of fraudulent activities but then narrowed their focus to the fraud “that voter ID laws are intended to prevent. The News21 team defined that type of fraud as that involving individuals who vote in person on Election Day by impersonating another registered voter.” They then went on to compare that particular type of fraud to the remaining types. “After compiling all the information into an election fraud database, News21 found that 207 cases of other types of election fraud existed for every case of voter impersonation.” Wait…what?
Of course, the News21 analysis has been challenged: “by stating that voter impersonation is the only type of election fraud that voter ID laws could prevent, the News21 report was result-driven, attempting to prove that voter ID is not necessary.” Perhaps that’s true to some extent, but “News21 defends its work as ‘substantially complete’ as the largest collection of election fraud cases gathered by anyone in the country.” News21 analysis itself
In any case, it does bring up a great point about fraudulent activity regarding elections. If we’re so concerned with it, shouldn’t we be targeting those instances of fraud that are, in fact, so much easier to accomplish?

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