Guest Blogged by Arlen Parsa with additional reporting by Brad Friedman
The New York Times reports today that a governmental report on the so-called dangers of "voter fraud" was manipulated to reflect the Bush Administration's claims rather than their own panel's findings.
The Times obtained two copies of the report on voter fraud, the first of which [PDF] concluded that fears of voter fraud were overblown and exaggerated. The second --- and official version of the report --- however steps back and promotes ambiguity about the danger (or lack of danger) that voter fraud poses to American democracy.
The Times reports:
Instead, the panel, the Election Assistance Commission, issued a report that said the pervasiveness of fraud was open to debate.
The revised version echoes complaints made by Republican politicians, who have long suggested that voter fraud is widespread and justifies the voter identification laws that have been passed in at least two dozen states.
Democrats say the threat is overstated and have opposed voter identification laws, which they say disenfranchise the poor, members of minority groups and the elderly, who are less likely to have photo IDs and are more likely to be Democrats.
Though the original report said that among experts “there is widespread but not unanimous agreement that there is little polling place fraud,” the final version of the report released to the public concluded in its executive summary that “there is a great deal of debate on the pervasiveness of fraud.”
The bi-partisan report had been buried for months by the supposedly bi-partisan U.S. Elections Assistance Commission (EAC), which has come under fire of late for partisanship and a failure to oversee the electronic voting systems and voting machine vendors they are supposed to be overseeing and testing for compliance with federal standards.
The two bi-partisan authors of the original report were bound, by contract, as reported by the Times, to keep quiet about their opinions on the final report. However, following the release of the EAC's edited final version, one of the two authors, Tova Andrea Wang, a Democracy Fellow at the The Century Foundation, telegraphed some of her opinions about it in a guest blog we ran at The BRAD BLOG titled "Where's the Voter Fraud?" Her editorial made clear that the Republican claims of a "voter fraud" epidemic in America were simply unfounded and being used as a political weapon to suppress Democratic voter turnout via the use of Draconian Photo ID restrictions at the polls.
The EAC's approach in releasing their altered final version of the report --- spreading doubt when there is really a consensus among experts --- is a technique that the White House has used in several instances when expert agreement is not politically convenient. Perhaps the most famous case of this was when the Administration trumped up scientific doubt about climate change and used it to mis-portray findings of government scientists.
According to the originally submitted draft report [PDF], marked "NOT FOR DISTRIBUTION," voter fraud at polling places, which Republicans have frequently cited as part of a massive, insidious attempt to undermine democracy, is not nearly as frequent as is claimed.
As The BRAD BLOG has previously reported, debate about the report, and its initial origins, was highly politicized by members of a White House-connected GOP front-group organization whose founder, Mark F. "Thor" Hearne, a St. Louis resident and White House operative, is closely associated with the EAC's Paul Degregorio, a fellow St. Louisan, who was chair of the federal body when the report was first commissioned.
An email obtained by the Times detailed the complaints of the lead Republican author of the report, Arkansas election attorney Job Serebrov, in response to pressure to alter the conclusions of the report's findings...