Why Dissolving the Election Fraud Commission Is a True Loss for the Nation

COMMENTARY Election Integrity

Why Dissolving the Election Fraud Commission Is a True Loss for the Nation

Jan 5th, 2018 6 min read
COMMENTARY BY
Jason Snead

Senior Policy Analyst

Jason Snead is a senior policy analyst in the Edwin Meese III Center for Legal and Judicial Studies at The Heritage Foundation.
The Trump administration dissolved the Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity this week, citing lack of cooperation from multiple states. iStock

This week, the White House announced the sudden, disappointing news that the Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity was being dissolved.

Liberal advocacy groups, which for months have worked to obstruct the group’s efforts to examine the integrity and security of the ballot box, ecstatically declared victory. But their win is a loss for the nation, which remains blind to the true breadth and scope of fraud in American elections.

As if to emphasize that point, The Heritage Foundation has once again added a slew of new cases to its election fraud database.

Accounting for the new entries, the database now lists 1,107 verified instances of fraud, including 961 criminal convictions of proven fraudsters, 48 cases that ended in civil penalties, 76 cases that resulted in defendants entering diversion programs, and 22 that ended with either a judicial or official finding of fraud.

That’s quite a tally for a problem that supposedly doesn’t exist. But as alarming as that figure is, it’s only the tip of the iceberg.

Heritage’s database is not comprehensive, so for every case we identify and track through to conclusion, many more likely go undetected or hidden in court records that are not easily accessible.

That sad reality is a result of the lack of adequate safeguards in many states—policies such as voter identification and proof of citizenship requirements—that make it possible to detect fraud. Even when fraud is detected, many prosecutors opt not to pursue cases for the simple fact that their priorities lie elsewhere.

As long as these two facts are true, there’s little to deter fraudsters from undermining the core of American democracy. Simply put, they know our elections are vulnerable, and they are not above exploiting those weaknesses to advance their careers and causes.

Those weaknesses no doubt will persist now that liberal advocacy groups have pre-empted the election fraud commission’s efforts to investigate them and propose solutions.

Here are some of this week’s additions to the Heritage database.

Deszi Marquis Hayes

Deszi Marquis Hayes voted in the 2016 election—from jail. Hayes, a Florida resident, was serving a nine-month sentence following a felony traffic conviction. Nevertheless, he received and cast a mail-in ballot from the Indian River County Jail.

Florida state law does not permit convicted felons to vote, but his vote was accepted nonetheless because the process of removing him from the state’s voter rolls had not yet been completed.

Awais Jamil

Awais Jamil, a Pakistani immigrant residing in Ohio, voted in the 2016 presidential election despite not being a citizen. Jamil had initially indicated on Bureau of Motor Vehicle forms that he was not a citizen, but the state of Ohio nevertheless sent him a voter registration packet.

Jamil then falsely claimed citizenship in order to register. He pleaded guilty to a fourth-degree felony illegal-voting charge, and was sentenced to one year of probation, with an underlying 14-month prison sentence. He now faces possible deportation as a result of the felony conviction.

Brandon Dean

Brandon Dean was elected mayor of Brighton, Alabama, in 2016, but he was ordered to vacate the office after a judge determined that 46 fraudulent absentee votes had been cast for him in the election.

Of those ballots, 21 were not signed by the voter, while 22 were actually mailed to Dean’s address, rather voters’ homes. Two absentee ballots were cast by people who were actually present at City Hall on Election Day, and one person voted despite not living within Brighton city limits.

Deducting those votes dropped Dean’s tally below the threshold needed to avoid a mandatory runoff, which Brighton must now hold.

Ultimately, all three of these—and the 1,100-plus other instances of fraud in the Heritage database—speak to the need for states to adopt, and vigorously enforce, election-integrity measures designed to secure the ballot box against fraud.

One vital policy is the routine inspection of state voter rolls and the purging of inaccurate registrations. The National Voter Registration Act, commonly known as the “motor voter” law, requires states to maintain the accuracy of voter registration records—and with good reason.

Inaccuracies create avenues for fraud and abuse, and risk permitting ineligible voters and noncitizens to cast ballots.

Despite this, voter rolls are riddled with inaccuracies. A 2012 Pew study concluded that nationwide some 24 million voter registrations—nearly 1 in 8—were inaccurate, out-of-date, or duplicative. In 2017, the Public Interest Legal Foundation identified 248 counties in 24 states where the number of registered voters exceeds the number of adult residents.

The consequences of shoddy record keeping are real. The Public Interest Legal Foundation recently identified 5,556 noncitizens who had, since 2011, successfully registered to vote in the critical swing state of Virginia. Even more alarming, this same report identified 1,852 noncitizens who collectively cast 7,474 ballots in the state.

Another recent study, by the Government Accountability Institute, concluded with “high confidence” that as many as 45,000 duplicate votes were cast nationwide in last year’s presidential election. In an era of tight elections, even a handful—let alone thousands—of fraudulently cast ballots could alter the course of major races.

Given the importance of free and fair elections, it is eminently reasonable and commonsensical for states to devise procedures for identifying and purging records that are inaccurate or out-of-date.

Unfortunately, a case soon to be heard in the U.S. Supreme Court makes clear that even this is a bridge too far for some on the left.

The case, Husted v. A. Philip Randolph Institute, involves a challenge to Ohio’s procedure for removing ineligible voters, a process which requires years to complete. The state first sends notices to registered voters who have not voted in two years, seeking to confirm their residency. If voters do not return the confirmation, and fail to vote for four more years, Ohio removes them from the rolls.

The 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals struck down Ohio’s process for cleaning up its voter rolls as a violation of the National Voter Registration Act. Two Meese Center scholars called the opinion “a sad example of statutory misinterpretation (including using a canon of construction that at least one Supreme Court justice has called ‘made up’).”

Ohio appealed, and the Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in the case on Jan. 10.

At the end of the day, it is the responsibility of all the states to take seriously their role in preserving the integrity of our electoral process.

Some on the left may wish to bury their heads in the sand, dismiss the evidence, and reflexively resist election-integrity measures, but Americans should not pay them any mind.

There are far too many cases of documented, proven fraud to ignore. Election fraud is a serious problem demanding serious solutions, and it is high time we tackle it.

This piece originally appeared in The Daily Signal