Perhaps history will record 2012 as the year of the great voter fraud flap, when state legislatures across the country chose to tackle an imaginary problem while ignoring what appears to be a real and growing threat to fair elections.

Legislators in 37 states have been swept up in the voter ID mania, most passing stricter laws requiring voters to produce ID cards before voting.

The Maine Legislature considered such a bill early this year, but no photo ID law resulted.

Republicans nationwide have been hot on the idea, strongly believing that voter fraud is a significant factor in elections and that it strongly favors Democrats.

Pennsylvania House Majority Leader Mike Turzai was unwise enough to honestly explain the strategy in June.

In a laundry list of accomplishments, Truzai told Republican State Committee members, “Voter ID, which is going to allow Gov. Romney to win the state of Pennsylvania, [is] done.”

According to videotape of Turzai’s speech, the assembled Republicans erupted in applause.

Perhaps Turzai actually believes there is enough voter ID fraud in his state to swing an election. More likely he knows that one in five people in Philadelphia, which votes reliably Democratic, lack the required ID, as do 760,000 residents statewide, mostly the poor, the elderly and minorities.

The state’s attorney general recently testified that Pennsylvania has never prosecuted a case of voter fraud and is unaware of any current reports of voter fraud.

Meanwhile, a new nationwide analysis released last week of more than 2,000 reported cases of voter fraud over the past 12 years found only 10 cases of actual fraud.

That’s because this type of fraud is risky and tough to carry out on a meaningful scale.

It requires finding a large number of people willing to engage in a conspiracy and then making sure they all remain silent afterward. As any criminal knows, the larger a conspiracy the more likely it will be detected.

Other types of fraud, like tampering with voting machines and absentee ballots, are much easier to pull off without detection.

And we have actual examples of that, and within the past two weeks.

A district attorney in Massachusetts’ Hampden County is currently investigating whether a Republican candidate for state representative organized an absentee ballot scheme involving “hundreds of voters,” reported on Aug. 14.

Election officials became suspicious when Republican requests for absentee ballots in one suburb jumped from an expected 50 to 450. A friend of the winning candidate is suspected of changing party affiliations of hundreds of people and then voting them for the winner, John Villamaino III.

In Miami on Aug. 10, Sergio Robaina was accused with acting as a ballot broker, or “boletero,” in Spanish, who may have used 164 absentee ballots to influence two political races.

The investigation now involves a county commissioner and the uncle of Hialeah, Fla.’s former mayor.

With the popularity of absentee voting growing, this form of fraud is likely to grow, yet neither political party has lifted a finger to restrict absentee balloting or even investigate the potential for fraud.

Voters like the convenience of absentee voting, and neither party sees an advantage in tightening those laws.

And that shows this debate, like so many others, has been more about party politics than preserving fair elections.

Sun Journal, Lewiston (Aug. 19)