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Selling Votes More Common Than Voter Impersonation Fraud, But Still Very Rare

The specter of voter fraud has been conjured by conservatives in order to justify a rash of unnecessary voter I.D. laws designed to disenfranchise Democratic constituencies (don’t take my word for it, they brag about it), but The Washington Post‘s David Fahrenthold points out that real voters selling their votes is a far more common type of voter fraud, one which is also immune to photo I.D. laws, but which is also exceedingly rare. It’s an interesting story, but it buries a fact that should be central to every discussion of voter I.D.

Based on an extensive study by the News21 investigative journalism project, Fahrenthold highlights vote-buying, of which the project found 97 cases over the past dozen years, only about 70% of which resulted in a plea or conviction. Some of the stories are interesting:

“I was in town one day at a local convenience store, and someone asked me if I wanted to make a little money on that day,” Charles Russell of Jackson, Ky., testified about how he agreed to sell his vote in a local primary election in 2010. “And I said, ‘Yeah.’ ”

Russell was eventually promised $45 and given a slip of paper with names.

…When Russell got into the voting booth, he realized he couldn’t vote for the man he was supposed to — a candidate for magistrate. Russell didn’t live in the right district.

But he pretended. So afterward, he said, he still received an envelope containing cash.

The article also describes an auction in which one voter was bid all the way up to $800 for his vote. Voter I.D. laws, of course, do nothing to prevent even this more common form of voter fraud, which is still rarer than a Pittsburgh steak. Buried in the article, however, is the fact that the project found only 7 cases of impersonation fraud that resulted in a conviction or plea, something news consumers who don’t watch MSNBC might not know about.

No discussion of voter fraud hysteria, however, would be complete without noting the way conservative liars conflate voter fraud that actually results in fraudulent votes being cast, and voter registration fraud, which does not. Progressive outlets like MSNBC have consistently reported on that distinction, It is registration fraud that Strategic Allied Consultants, a firm that the GOP recently severed ties with, is accused of, and while this would likely not have resulted in a single fraudulent vote being cast, it does fit into a pattern of Republican hypocrisy on the issue.

Republicans persecuted ACORN out of existence based on the same type of fraud, but with a key difference: while Strategic Allied Consultants was nailed by elections officials, ACORN was persecuted over registrations that they, themselves, flagged, but were legally required to submit anyway, which they received from workers who were, in most cases, summarily fired. When will we witness Congressional hearings on Strategic Allied Consultants, or on Newt Gingrich‘s Virginia ballot petition?

Voter I.D. laws do not prevent voter fraud, and they have an unquestionably discriminatory impact, but those are not even the best arguments against laws like this. The right to vote should be protected with the same philosophy we use to protect other cherished freedoms, such as speech and the right to bear arms, that impediments to them ought to be kept to an absolute minimum. We should always err on the side of protecting a citizen’s right to vote, rather than protecting politicians from that citizen’s vote.

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