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...
He added: “Neither one of us was willing to conform results for political expediency.”
For contractual reasons, neither Ms. Wang nor Mr. Serebrov were at liberty to comment on their original report and the discrepancies with the final, edited version.
The EAC, created by the Help America Vote Act (HAVA) of 2002, is set to be made permanent in Election Reform legislation (HR811) currently being fast-tracked through Congress by New Jersey Democrat Rep. Rush Holt. The bill mandates permanent funding for the EAC, which was originally set to expire in 2005. Critics of the Holt legislation have cited HR811's granting of permanent status to the Executive-appointed commission as one of several serious concerns about the bill.
Further, familiar names in the phony GOP "voter fraud" game reared their heads in the EAC's report. From the original draft:
Regular readers of The BRAD BLOG will recognize the reference to the self-proclaimed "non-partisan" American Center for Voting Rights or ACVR. The tax-exempt 501(c)3 conservative front-group which was established as little more than a well-funded mechanism to disenfranchise minority, Democratic-leaning voters. (The BRAD BLOG's extensive past coverage of ACVR can be found here.)
The ACVR counsel cited in the report, Jason Torchinsky --- one of more than twenty-five elections experts interviewed for the report --- was the only one who believed polling place voter fraud was one of the greatest problems in the US elections system currently. In the final draft of the report, however, Torchinsky's views are given the same weight as the other 24 experts interviewed.
Torchinsky, it turns out, worked for Bush-Cheney'04 Inc as a consultant on election law. Prior to that, Torchinsky worked at the Department of Justice as Special Assistant to the Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division. The Assistant Attorney General at that time was Alberto Gonzales. Torchinsky has also worked for the Republican National Committee, Bill Frist's 2000 Senate campaign, and Bob Dole's 1996 presidential run.
According to a report at TPM Muckraker, Torchinsky (a member of the arch-conservative Federalist Society) was also behind a partisan effort to save former Senator Rick Santorum's Pennsylvania seat in the 2006 election cycle.
Torchinsky, along with ACVR co-founders Mark F. "Thor" Hearne, the Bush/Cheney '04 Inc. national general counsel, and Jim Dyke, the RNC Communications Director (who later went to work for Dick Cheney in the White House, and now works as a director for Rudy Guilliani's Presidential Campaign), have been using the guise of "non-partisan" tax-exempt 501(c)3 status to illegally push their partisan agenda in Congress, in state houses around the country, and now at the U.S. EAC.
Other distinctions between the draft and the original report, as detailed by the Times:
The original report said most experts believe that “false registration forms have not resulted in polling place fraud,” but the final report cites “registration drives by nongovernmental groups as a source of fraud.”
The New York Times reports today on Democratic reaction to the politically-convenient discrepancies between the draft report and the final version, saying that "Several Democrats said they believed that politics were behind the commission’s decision to rewrite the report." The Times continued:
Representative Maurice D. Hinchey, another New York Democrat, who requested the draft report from Ms. Davidson during a subcommittee hearing last month, agreed.
“By attempting to sweep this draft report under the rug, the E.A.C. is throwing out important work, wasting taxpayer dollars and creating a cloud of suspicion as to why it is acting this way,” he said.
The Bush Administration's Election Assistance Commission paid the study's authors over $100,000, according to the Times.
The BRAD BLOG has received further statements from Democratic Congress members expressing concerns about the EAC report, which we will carry in an article later today. (UPDATE: That report now posted here...)
Over the past several years, allegations of "voter fraud," as we've reported on many occassions, have been used as excuses to pass restrictive, disenfranchising ID laws. More recently, as we've reported, and the Times noted, claims of "voter fraud" have been used as a justification for firing several US Attorneys.