To paraphrase Mark Twain's famous remark in 1897, reports of 953 "dead people" having voted in recent South Carolina elections appear to be greatly exaggerated. Who could have guessed it?
Following quickly on the heels of Rightwing hoaxster James O'Keefe's successful felonious conspiracy to commit voter fraud during the New Hampshire primary this year, by receiving ballots in the name of very recently deceased voters (resulting in a Republican call for his "arrest and prosecution" in the Granite State) and the U.S. Dept. of Justice's rejection of a new South Carolina law attempting to keep registered voters from voting at the polling place unless they are able to present a state-issued Photo ID, on the basis that the state's own evidence reveals the law to be both illegal and discriminatory, the SC Attorney General pushed back by claiming that a state DMV analysis had discovered some 953 votes had been cast by "dead people" in recent elections there.
Funny thing though. Upon closer examination, as is almost always the case in these matters, those 953 "dead voters" may not be so "dead" after all. That, according to SC State Election Commission (SEC) Executive Director Marci Andino who both testified [PDF] and released a statement on the matter last week.
According to both her statement and testimony to the SC House Election Laws Subcommittee, Andino, the state's chief election official, said:
- One was an absentee ballot cast by a voter who then died before election day;
- Another was the result of an error by a poll worker who mistakenly marked the voter as Samuel Ferguson, Jr. when the voter was in fact Samuel Ferguson, III;
- Two were the result of stray marks on the voter registration list detected by the scanner - again, a clerical error;
- The final two were the result of poll managers incorrectly marking the name of the voter in question instead of the voter listed either above or below on the list.
Zounds! Who could have guessed that Republican claims of hordes of zombies voting in South Carolina's elections --- as first publicized in a short, evidence-free AP article trumpeted at Fox "News" --- were, um, "greatly exaggerated"?!
And that's not the only specious claim by the AG's office that Andino dismantled during her testimony last week...
After a DMV analysis, according to the AG, found that some 37,000 "deceased" voters remained on the voter rolls in SC, Andino says her office was "compelled to find out if any" of them "had requested absentee ballots for the [January 21, statewide GOP] primary."
"This research found 10 voters in 8 different counties applied for absentee ballots," she explains. "The SEC immediately asked local election officials to provide us with copies of the voter registration and absentee applications signed by these voters. In every case, the signatures on these forms were matched, and each of these ten voters was confirmed to be alive."
As usual, most of these hyberbolic claims from Republicans turn out to be little more than clerical book-keeping errors. Even in the case of fake journalist O'Keefe, the federal criminal who had to create phony instances of voter fraud on camera in order to prove, somehow, that it could exist, one of those on his list of supposedly "dead voters" for whom his fellow conspirators attempted to vote was, in fact, very much alive.
Andino's testimony was made available last Wednesday, January 25th. Fox "News" initially ran AP's short story on "953 dead voters" on January 21st, the day of the South Carolina Primary, based on a letter from the AG dated two days earlier on January 19th. Today is January 30th, some nine days after Fox first publicized the misleading, or at least, evidence-free, claim by the State Attorney General's office. The fake "news" organization has yet to run a follow-up story with the information from Andino, the state's chief election official, disputing what appears to be the so-far baseless claim had previously trumpeted.
What a shocker.
One other point that's important to emphasize here. Absentee ballot voter fraud does occur. It's fairly infrequent, but it does occur and can even affect the results of an election in some rare cases where an election is particularly close or the number of votes cast is particularly small.
That said, however, polling place Photo ID restrictions --- of the type SC is trying to implement and that Republicans across the country have been arguing in favor of, supposedly to combat "voter fraud" --- do absolutely zero in protecting against absentee ballot fraud, which is far and away the most frequent type of actual voter fraud committed.
Nor do such laws do anything to combat the far more pervasive concerns of insider election fraud, in which election officials and other insiders are able to game the results of elections, either by "stuffing" the ballot box internally or manipulating the electronic results before they are reported to the public with little more than a few keystrokes.
Polling place Photo ID restrictions are meant to do nothing more than suppress the votes of legal voters who don't happen to have the narrow type of state-issued Photo ID required under these laws. Not coincidentally, those lacking such ID tend to be minorities, students and the elderly --- all of whom tend to vote Democratic and all of whom will be disproportionately disenfranchised by such laws.
In the case of South Carolina, for instance, the state's own data turned in to the U.S. Dept. of Justice found that some 299,333 currently registered voters in the Palmetto State lack the type of ID that would be required under the state's attempted new law. The DoJ found, as stated in their rejection of the law [PDF], that, according to that same state-supplied database, "minority registered voters were nearly 20% more likely to lack DMV-issued ID than white registered voters, and thus to be effectively disenfranchised."
Meanwhile, the state's current Voter ID requirements are already among the most restrictive in the nation, even before the new law would be implemented. According to current law in South Carolina, voters must present one of three forms of ID when voting at the polling place on Election Day: 1) a SC drivers license, 2) a SC DMV-issued ID card, or 3) a SC voter registration card.
The new law would take away the option of presenting the state-issued voter registration card --- the one mailed to each voter before an election --- as ID for voting on Election Day.
Despite the lack of existing evidence of actual "voter fraud" in the state --- they failed to offer any evidence of fraud that would have been prevented by the proposed new law when they offered their data to the DoJ --- the state plans to appeal the DoJ's rejection of the law to a federal court this week. The lawsuit will reportedly cost the cash-starved state more than $1 million, including the $520/hour rate for the former George W. Bush Administration attorney they've hired to argue for it on their behalf.
The Bush Administration's own DoJ, however, was similarly unable to provide any examples of polling place impersonation of the type that might be prevented by the law that SC is still fighting to implement before the 2012 Presidential Election.
Andino opened her testimony last week before the state legislature's committee by confirming that her office, the State Election Commission, is "studiously neutral" on the controversial polling place Photo ID restriction law that Republicans in the state are still attempting to implement, despite the DoJ's having found that it was discriminatory and illegal under the Voting Rights Act.
Nonetheless, she noted in the conclusion to her remarks: "Just as one instance of voter fraud is one too many, a single voter denied his or her right to vote because of a clerical error or the vagaries of data analysis is one too many as well."
When Twain told a reporter that reports of his death (just like reports of "953 dead voters" in South Carolina) had been "greatly exaggerated" after his obituary had prematurely run in the New York Journal, it wouldn't be the first time questions about his death had been inaccurately reported. Nor will it be the first time Republicans attempt to claim an epidemic of "voter fraud" using dubious data, dutifully reoprted by an incurious media.
In 1907, a few years after the 1897 claim that Twain had died, reports surfaced that the writer had "lost at sea". Upon hearing of the rumors, Twain vowed to the New York Times: "I will make an exhaustive investigation of this report that I have been lost at sea. If there is any foundation for the report, I will at once apprise the anxious public."
He went on to add: "I sincerely hope that there is no foundation for the report, and I also hope that judgment will be suspended until I ascertain the true state of affairs."
Good advice. Advice that Republicans in the state of South Carolina --- and their partners in crime at Fox "News" and other outlets who put the matter of winning elections at any cost above the Constitutional promise of "one man, one vote" in our democratic society --- clearly continue to ignore.