Monday, April 18, 2011

Voter Fraud
Exaggerations and Consequences

Kris Kobach has had a lot to say about voter fraud. He made voter fraud and what to do about it the central issue of his successful campaign to be elected Kansas Secretary of State, the person responsible for running elections in Kansas. On his campaign website he stated that he believes, “Voter fraud is a very real problem in Kansas.” He further elaborated that, “organizations that promote voter fraud have burrowed into every corner of our country” and that “the threat is real and time is short.” During a campaign stop with his mentor former US Attorney General John Ashcroft Kobach proclaimed that he feels voter fraud is “the civil rights issue of our time.”

One can have no doubt then that Kris Kobach believes that voter fraud is rampant in Kansas and that Topeka must take bold and decisive action to combat it. That is why he proposed and helped pass HB 2067 which requires voters to show a photo ID in order to vote and provide proof of citizenship through a passport, birth certificate or other specific legal document in order to register to vote.

This has rightly raised concerns from democrats and from various advocates for minority groups including the NAACP, the National Organization for Women, and the Kansas Equality Coalition who fear that these requirements will suppress voter turnout among groups least likely to own photo IDs: the elderly and the poor. It would also make voter registration drives all but impossible.

So the question arises: Is voter fraud so prevalent that it is worth combating in a way that risks disenfranchising voters? Or to put it more simply, does Kansas have extensive voter fraud?

During an election news conference in October Kobach though he had found definitive proof that the answer was yes. He mentioned a list compiled by KSHB-TV, a local TV news-station and the advocacy website Kansas Watchdog. The list showed that 1,966 people appeared on the social security death list as well as Kansas voter registration rolls. Kobach opined, “Every one of those 1,966 identities is an opportunity for voter fraud waiting to happen.” He then went on to highlight some follow-up work his team had done. They had found that Alfred Brewer was on the social security death list and that, “An Alfred K. Brewer voted in the 2010 primary election. Is it the same one? We are still trying to achieve confirmation of this but it certainly seems like a very real possibility.” Case closed, a documented case of someone fraudulently voting in someone else’s name! The next day a reporter for the Wichita Eagle found Alfred Brewer outside his Wichita home raking leaves. The Alfred Brewer who had died was his father. Brewer said of the incident, “I don’t think this is heaven, not when I’m raking leaves.” Brewer was the only case that Kobach highlighted of a dead man voting.

As for the previous Secretaries of State, Chris Biggs and Ron Thornburgh, both acknowledge that voter fraud really isn’t a major problem. And our Saline County Clerk Don Merriman agrees, “I think we’re chasing a problem that isn’t really there. I have been doing elections for 11 years, and been part of the process for more years, and we have had no problems. It is not running rampant in the state.”

The definitive work on voter fraud in Kansas was done by Ron Thornburgh, the Republican who served as the Kansas Secretary of State for 16 years. He compiled a report on voter fraud in 2008. The report details 30 reports of alleged voter fraud dating back to 1998, involving at least 120 ballots. The report also acknowledged that many of the reports came without reliable evidence. 13 reports alleged people voted in others’ names, but most involved family voting for other family or nursing homes voting for residents. These people broke the law, but did so mistakenly, not out of a grand conspiracy. 2 of the remaining reports alleged double voting, one of which resulted in a conviction.

In January Kobach released his own report in order to show the need for HB 2067. This investigation dated to 1997 and found 59 allegations of voter fraud involving at least 221 ballots. Why the discrepancy between the Thornburgh and Kobach reports?  Kobach’s study did cover a slightly larger period of time than Thornburgh. I also find it likely that Kobach included some clearly baseless allegations fraud as he did in the case of Alfred Brewer. Kobach also suggested that his report only captured 10% of the voter fraud that actually occurred, a number that he made up. Thus while Thornburgh stated in his study that 120 as the maximum number of fraudulent votes that could have been cast, Kobach suggests that the real extent of voter fraud is 10 times larger than 221 ballots. Amazing.

Kobach estimates that 2,210 fraudulent ballots were cast from 1997-2010, a wildly inflated number that no honest expert would agree is accurate. For the time being, let’s assume he is correct. What percentage of the votes for president and governor that were cast from 1997-2010 in the state of Kansas does Kris Kobach think were fraudulent? 




Kobach believes that 3% of 1% of the votes cast in the general elections for president and governor from 1997-2010 are fraudulent. (2,210/6,762,691 = 0.000327).   The number of votes cast for Governor and President in the state of Kansas from 1997-2010 came from a group of documents at the Secretary of State website. If I had included primary and local elections, the number would have been even smaller. 

Based on this fact, it’s hard not to come to the conclusion, as Chris Biggs and Ron Thornburgh did, that voter fraud is minimal and not a significant problem in Kansas.

Originally Posted April 18th, 2011

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