Following a well-worn conservative strategy, Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, and others have been raising the specter of voter fraud in the Massachusetts special election for U.S. Senate. In fact, actual examples of voter fraud are extremely rare, and previous claims by conservatives that elections have been stolen have proved to be utterly meritless.
Media conservatives claim Dems may steal Massachusetts election
Discussing MA Senate race, Beck displays ACORN logo and warns that Democrats have "friends in low places." From the January 18 edition of Fox News' Glenn Beck:
BECK: The PPP, Public Policy Polling, has her trailing Scott Brown now by 51 to 46. That's close. Suffolk's has it at 50 to 46. It's all within the margin of error.
But that's bad news -- because with progressives, their dream of mandated health care possibly online, oh, you can imagine how ugly this thing will get if -- oh God help us all -- if it's too close to call. You see, they have friends in high places. They -- OK, no, they have friends in low places. But they've got enough, they can -- oh, you just wait.
BECK: I lived in Tampa, Florida, during the recount in 2000. I was in favor of recounting the whole state. If you're going to recount it, do the whole state.
But the Democrats thought that by cherry-picking certain areas, by manipulating the system, they'd have a better chance of winning. That, of course, backfired. And by all accounts, if the Democrats would have recounted the entire state, Gore would have pulled it out.
But the loss was their fault. They were so incompetent they didn't even know how to cheat. But don't worry -- they've gotten good at it now. [Glenn Beck 1/18/10]
Beck: "ACORN, progressives will lie, cheat, and steal anything." On the January 19 edition of his radio show, Beck said: "Well, the fat lady has not sung, and this is a very fat lady. It's ACORN, it's the Working Families Party, it is the progressive movement. They will lie, cheat, and steal their way through anything. But it looks like Brown may be a winner. If there's a big turnout today, Brown may be the winner in Massachusetts. Everyone is predicting this. I'm not going to predict anything until it's over." [Premiere Radio Networks' The Glenn Beck Program 1/19/10]
Beck suggests Democrats will steal the election if "it's within a couple of thousand votes." Also on the January 19 edition of his radio show, Beck stated:
BECK: I want to make this very clear. We were just saying this very thing off the air. I don't -- don't count your chickens before they've hatched. I don't say this thing is over until it's over. And I don't mean even tonight, I mean after the secretary of state has signed off and certified this vote. That's why it's imperative that this vote is nine points spread, because you just can't falsify nine points. If it's within a couple of thousand votes, she wins. [The Glenn Beck Program 1/19/10]
Limbaugh: Dems "hold out and see how many votes they need" then play "games with voter registrations and absentees." From the January 18 edition of Limbaugh's radio show:
LIMBAUGH: I saw this mentioned too in other polling results earlier today, and I -- there's a little blog out there, A.J. Strata, that I was checking out, and this -- I think this is a good indication. Coakley is down by 16 percent in absentee voting. Now, in many states, absentee voting pretty much tracks with day of vote -- voting. It's really not that much different in most states. Now in some states and in some precincts, some counties run by the Democrats, they'll hold out and see how many votes they need to win a certain election. And they'll make some -- play some games with voter registration and absentees. But RealClearPolitics is reporting nine percent of Massachusetts voters who voted absentee, which ended a couple of days ago, Brown is winning 58-42, or 16 percent. That's right in line with computations which indicate that Coakley could lose by as much as 10 percent, depending on who is energized to get out and vote. So if absentee voting is any indication of intensity, and it is -- by definition it is -- then by this measure, Coakley is toast. [The Rush Limbaugh Show 1/18/10]
Newsmax hypes fears of a "stolen election.' In a January 18 Newsmax.com article, managing editor David A. Patten repeatedly raised the possibility that the election between Democrat Martha Coakley and Republican Scott Brown would be "stolen" by Democrats. From the article, headlined "Republican Fears of Stolen Election Grow in Massachusetts":
"Actual vote stealing will occur" on Tuesday, [Wall Street Journal columnist John] Fund told Newsmax. But he expects it will be reduced "because ACORN is discredited and adrift and there are serious anti-fraud efforts being mounted."
"They're very much aware of how to stuff ballot boxes," [NewsBusters.org associate editor Noel] Sheppard said. "They obviously know how to play the game. They obviously stole the [Al] Franken seat several months ago."
"One of the scary things" about the election is that getting the most votes may not be enough to win the race, Sheppard said.
"I think Brown's going to have to win by a good 3 percent of the vote, or else we're getting into a Franken-type situation, and we'll be recounting votes for God knows how long. And obviously that benefits the Democrats," he told Newsmax. [Newsmax.com 1/18/10]
Extremely rare for illegal ballots to be cast
Justice Department report shows very few prosecutions for illegally casting ballots. According to a report by the Justice Department's Criminal Division, from October 2002 through September 2005, the Justice Department charged 95 people with "election fraud" and convicted 55. Among those, however, just 17 individuals were convicted for casting fraudulent ballots; cases against three other individuals were pending at the time of the report. In addition, the Justice Department convicted one election official of submitting fraudulent ballots and convicted five individuals of registration fraud, with cases against 12 individuals pending at the time of the report. Thirty-two individuals were convicted of other "election fraud" issues, including people convicted of offenses arising from "a scheme to block the phone lines used by two Manchester [New Hampshire] organizations to arrange drives to the polls during the 2002 general election" -- in other words, these convictions were connected to voter suppression efforts, not voter fraud. Several other people listed in the report were convicted of vote buying.
NYU's Brennan Center: Allegations of voter fraud "simply do not pan out." From a 2007 report by New York University's Brennan Center for Justice:
Perhaps because these stories are dramatic, voter fraud makes a popular scapegoat. In the aftermath of a close election, losing candidates are often quick to blame voter fraud for the results. Legislators cite voter fraud as justification for various new restrictions on the exercise of the franchise. And pundits trot out the same few anecdotes time and again as proof that a wave of fraud is imminent.
Allegations of widespread voter fraud, however, often prove greatly exaggerated. It is easy to grab headlines with a lurid claim ("Tens of thousands may be voting illegally!"); the follow-up -- when any exists -- is not usually deemed newsworthy. Yet on closer examination, many of the claims of voter fraud amount to a great deal of smoke without much fire. The allegations simply do not pan out.
Conservative strategy: baselessly claim voter fraud in close elections
2005 Senate Republican Policy Committee paper claimed, "[v]oter fraud continues to plague our nation's federal elections." The executive summary of a 2005 Senate Republican Policy Committee paper stated: "Voter fraud continues to plague our nation's federal elections, diluting and canceling out the lawful votes of the vast majority of Americans." The paper later stated: "As the November 2004 election approached, it appeared increasingly likely that widespread voter fraud in battleground states would distort the final election returns. Although voter fraud investigations continue in some cities such as Milwaukee and East St. Louis, it appears that the nation dodged a bullet so that the ultimate election results were unaffected." [footnote omitted]
Conservatives make baseless claims of voter fraud in 2009 NJ race. Several conservative media outlets claimed that New Jersey Gov. Jon Corzine was preparing to steal the 2009 re-election race that he ultimately lost to challenger Chris Christie. For instance, on November 1, 2009, Andrew Breitbart's website BigGovernment.com suggested that the Corzine re-election campaign and its allies were planning to "rig" or "steal" the election. BigGovernment.com offered no evidence to support that claim, instead offering allegations including that "state democrats are paying for robo calls supporting Independent Chris Daggett" and citing "the sudden appearance of ACORN on the scene." Similarly, on November 2, 2009, the day before the gubernatorial elections in New Jersey and Virginia, Limbaugh said to a caller: "But you mention the election fraud. I tell you what. Tomorrow's going to be a dry run for Democrat [sic] mischief and malfeasance, getting ready for 2010 and 2012. ACORN, SEIU, the New Black Panthers, they get their equivalent of the Super Bowl Tuesday."
Conservatives baselessly claim fraudulent votes in 2008 presidential election. Numerous conservative media and political figures have asserted or suggested that Democrats or progressives committed voter fraud in the 2008 presidential election, including Fund, Dick Morris, and Rick Davis -- campaign manager for Sen. John McCain's presidential campaign.
Despite court rulings, conservatives claim Franken stole Minnesota 2008 Senate election. In its decision rejecting former Sen. Norm Coleman's appeal of the decision declaring Franken the winner of the 2008 U.S. Senate race in Minnesota, the Minnesota Supreme Court stated that "[n]o claim of fraud in the election or during the recount was made by either party" and that "Coleman's counsel confirmed at oral argument that Coleman makes no claim of fraud on the part of either voters or election officials." The St. Paul Pioneer Press reported in a June 29 article (via Nexis): "Experts said the lack of crookedness in the election, as well as a commitment to the law and not politics, allowed the five state high court justices to explore the key issues in depth." The Pioneer Press added: "Rick Hasen, an election law professor at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles, said the court's ruling Tuesday was so thorough that it also ruled out the possibility that either candidate -- or their lawyers -- could be accused of stealing the election." Nevertheless, conservative media personalities including Brit Hume and Sean Hannity, Morris, Fred Barnes, Bill O'Reilly, Gateway Pundit, and Jim Quinn suggested that voting misconduct took place to help Franken get elected.
Hannity claimed there was voter fraud in 2004 presidential election. One day before the 2004 presidential election, Hannity suggested Democrats were guilty of voter fraud in Florida, Ohio, and Pennsylvania. Each of Hannity's claims each was contradicted by media reports.
Contradicting court decision, GOP leader makes claim that illegal voting in 2004 Washington gubernatorial election. On the June 7, 2006, edition of MSNBC's Hardball, Ken Mehlman, then the chairman of the Republican National Committee, asserted that illegal votes helped Democrats win the Washington state gubernatorial election. Contrary to Mehlman's suggestion that Democrat Christine Gregoire owed her victory to illegal votes, the county superior court judge in the case found that Republicans failed to prove that Gregoire received one illegal vote among those improperly cast. From the judge's oral decision:
The Court concludes, by clear and convincing evidence, that Mr. [Dino] Rossi received four votes cast illegally by felons and that Ms. [Ruth] Bennett received one vote cast by a felon. There is no evidence, however, in this record that Ms. Gregoire received any illegal votes. Indeed, there has been no evidence produced that Ms. Gregoire received any of the 2,820 votes claimed by petitioners in their closing argument.
Fund claims fraud in 2002 SD Senate election, but SD Republican attorney general disagreed. In the 2004 version of his book Stealing Elections: How Voter Fraud Threatens Democracy, Fund stated that Democrats engaged in fraudulent activities in South Dakota during the 2002 election that led to Democrat Tim Johnson's win. Fund cited a National Review article that reported that "the stories [of misconduct] are told in more than 40 affidavits collected by Republicans in the days after the election and obtained by National Review. That evidence, along with interviews with state and local officials, suggests that Johnson may have benefited from hundreds of votes that were the product of polling-place misconduct. Had those votes not been added to his total, it seems likely that the senator, who won by just 524 votes, would instead have lost, and John Thune would today be South Dakota's senator-elect." But as Josh Marshall pointed out in a December 16, 2002, blog post, South Dakota's Republican attorney general, Mark Barnett, dismissed the claims in the affidavits as involving nothing illegal. Indeed, according to a December 13, 2002, Associated Press report (retrieved from Nexis), Barnett "dismissed allegations in three affidavits" and called them "perjury or forgery ... just flat false."