When media outlets report on potential criminal activity, it is usually useful for them to be aware of what the elements of those alleged crimes entail. For example, most reporters are generally pretty good at differentiating between, say, murder and armed robbery. But for some in the media -- especially the usual suspects at Fox News -- just about everything looks like it fits under the umbrella of voter fraud.
New York University's Brennan Center for Justice defines voter fraud as follows:
"Voter fraud" is fraud by voters.
More precisely, "voter fraud" occurs when individuals cast ballots despite knowing that they are ineligible to vote, in an attempt to defraud the election system.
Seems pretty simple, right? And yet, here's how Fox News anchor Martha MacCallum began a report this morning: "There may have been some serious voter fraud in the Democratic primary back in 2008." The caption throughout the ensuing segment claimed: "Indiana district accused of 2008 Dem Primary Voter Fraud."
And yet, this segment mentioned absolutely no cases of actual voter fraud whatsoever. There are no allegations of fraudulently cast ballots. In fact, the alleged crimes mentioned in the report occurred long before any votes were ever cast.
Earlier this month, Indiana media outlets reported that dozens of signatures of St. Joseph County residents, submitted by the campaigns of Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton to get their candidates on the 2008 primary ballot, had been forged. The county prosecutor has announced an investigation and the county Democratic chairman has resigned in the wake of the report.
The alleged crimes are serious and should be investigated and any perpetrators punished. But the alleged crimes are not voter fraud, no matter how much Fox wants them to be.
Right-wing media often trump up allegations of voter fraud, undermining public confidence in the integrity of the vote and suggesting a need for harsh requirements for voting, such as demanding voters produce government-issued ID at the polls. In some cases, they cite entirely baseless claims or pure speculation. In other cases, what they point to is actually voter registration fraud.
Voter registration fraud is not when someone submits a false registration form for Mickey Mouse; voter fraud is when Mickey Mouse actually shows up. Instances of actual voter fraud are very rare; according to the Justice Department, they prosecuted only 17 individuals for casting fraudulent ballots from October 2002 through September 2005. Indeed, even advocates for harsh voting requirements acknowledge there is no "massive fraud in American elections."
Here's a prediction. Fox viewers will spend the next 13 months being bombarded by similar claims of voter fraud. The network will work them into a frenzy by pushing the idea that the 2012 elections will be stolen. And like clockwork, the story will quickly fall apart and be revealed as nothing more than a transparent sham.
It's already begun. Fox has since aired two more segments, all pointing to the same supposed Indiana "voter fraud." They are even using the story to push their voter fraud hotline: