August 26, 2019
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Looking for voter fraud in all the wrong places

Emily Wagster Pettus | AP
Emily Wagster Pettus | AP
An old newspaper ad taped to the wall at the office of WMGO Radio 1370 in Canton, Mississippi, warns against illegal voting, Dec. 7, 2018. Jerry Lousteau, the owner and news director of the station, says he has been reporting about election problems in the city of nearly 13,000 residents since the 1990s. Six people were arrested Dec. 6 and one was arrested Dec. 7 on voter fraud charges connected to the 2017 Canton city elections.

President Donald Trump’s voter fraud commission was launched in 2017 on the false premise that massive voter fraud by non-citizens prevented Trump from winning the popular vote in 2016.

Since there is no evidence that this type of fraud was or is going on in any significant way, the Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity was doomed from the start. And in January, after a short and ignoble life characterized by ineptitude and infighting, it disbanded without having uncovered any fraud other than its own existence.

Maybe the commission, led by Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, might have survived if it hadn’t been looking for fraud in all the wrong places. Instead of California and other Democratic states, they might have found what they were looking for right at home in Trump country.

If the allegations are true, there was some blatant election fraud going on in Bladen County, North Carolina, and Canton, Mississippi. But it had nothing to do with immigrants, in the country illegally or otherwise. In both places, campaigns and candidates are the alleged fraudsters.

In North Carolina’s 9th Congressional District, a campaign consultant working for Republican candidate Mark Harris is accused of paying people to collect absentee ballots. Both collecting ballots from a third party and paying people to do so are illegal in that state. All the more worrisome is that some of those ballots never made it to elections headquarters to be counted. The allegations are so serious that Harris hasn’t been confirmed the winner and the election might have to be held again.

And in Mississippi, seven Canton city officials — including the former police and fire chiefs — were arrested last week for a variety of election offenses, including bribing voters with money, Walmart gift cards and beer. (I hope it was at least a 12-pack of a nice pale ale.)

If I were a fraud commissioner, these stories would certainly perk up my ears. As they say, when you see smoke, there’s probably a fire burning somewhere. Absentee or mail-in ballots offer all sorts of opportunities for misuse, and vote buying is about as old as democracy itself.

But even if the president’s voter fraud commission still existed, it’s not clear that it would have been able to shift gears. Its mission was pretty narrowly defined as looking for voters engaged in wrongdoing, not campaigns. This is ridiculous when you think about it. Campaigns and candidates have much more to gain from engaging in fraud than voters do. Why would I risk jail time for some politician I don’t even know?

And even these small cases of election fraud are peanuts next to the much larger threat to elections integrity posed by widespread voter suppression tactics that have been endorsed by people such as the aforementioned leader of the failed voter fraud commission. And did I mention Kobach just lost his bid for Kansas governor? Must have been all those non-citizens voting in Kansas on Nov. 6.

Mariel Garza is an editorial writer and columnist for the Los Angeles Times.

 



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