The federal Election Assistance Commission is being accused of altering a report it commissioned on voter fraud to make the findings agree with the White House stand that such fraud is likely prevalent throughout the country and a risk to the integrity of elections.
But in an earlier draft of the EAC report, which was leaked to the media, the findings stated the opposite, that "there is widespread but not unanimous agreement that there is little polling place fraud, or at least much less than claimed, including voter impersonation, 'dead' voters, noncitizen voting and felon voters."
The final report eliminates the conclusion that voter fraud occurs much less often than claimed and instead says there is no consensus on the pervasiveness of voter fraud.
People for the American Way and other groups contend that the independent researchers behind the report have been muzzled by the EAC, and that the report was altered to please the White House -- which is currently under scrutiny for firing eight U.S. attorney (some of them for failing to prosecute voter fraud as vigorously as the White House wanted them to).
An email exchange published in a New York Times story today would seem to back the idea that there was partisan pressure to tailor the report findings. The email is from one of the report authors, Job Serebrov, a Republican election lawyer, to an EAC staffer:
"Tova and I worked hard to produce a correct, accurate and truthful report," Serebrov wrote. "I could care less that the results are not what the more conservative members of my party wanted. . . . Neither one of us was willing to conform results for political expediency."
Why would the EAC, or the White House, want to perpetuate the idea that voter fraud is rampant if it isn't?
Voter fraud has been touted by the White House and others as the reason to pass new laws requiring voters to produce an ID when registering and voting at the polls. Civil liberties groups and others argue that voter ID laws deter certain groups of voters from coming to the polls -- such as minority and low-income voters who are less likely to possess a driver's license or passport and who, more often than not, are registered Democrats.
In fact, a second EAC report about voter ID laws supports the conclusion that ID laws deter minority voters from going to the polls. The EAC was reluctant to release that report, however -- some say the commission suppressed it -- until pressured to do so.
On another note, one interesting section of the draft report on voter fraud appears on page 7:
Several people indicate -- including representatives from DoJ -- that for various reasons, the Department of Justice is bringing fewer voter intimidation and supression cases now and is focusing on matters such as noncitizen voting, double voting and felon voting.
Why is this significant? Democrats often accuse Republicans of voter intimidation and suppression to keep Democratic voters from turning out at the polls to vote. If the DoJ is ignoring voter intimidation and suppression cases does that mean the DoJ is cherry picking types of voter fraud cases -- ignoring certain categories of cases while focusing on others -- to further a partisan agenda?
Sources in a piece published last month by the McClatchy news service say yes:
Other former voting-rights section lawyers (at DoJ) said that during the tenure of Alex Acosta, who served as the division chief from the fall of 2003 until he was named interim U.S. attorney in Miami in the summer of 2005, the department didn't file a single suit alleging that local or state laws or election rules diluted the votes of African-Americans. In a similar time period, the Clinton administration filed six such cases.
Those kinds of cases, Rich said, are "the guts of the Voting Rights Act."
During this week's House judiciary subcommittee hearing, critics recounted lapses in the division's enforcement. A Citizens Commission on Civil Rights study found that "the enforcement record of the voting section during the Bush administration indicates this traditional priority has been downgraded significantly, if not effectively ignored."
By the way, the EAC sent out a press release this morning, presumably in response to the NY Times story about the controversy around its two reports:
Prior to the EAC's adopting a report submitted by a contractor, the EAC has the responsibility to ensure its accuracy and to verify that conclusions are supported by the underlying research.
The Commission takes input and constructive criticism from Congress and the public very seriously. We will take a hard look at the way we do business. Specifically, we will examine both the manner in which we have awarded contracts and our decision-making process regarding the release of research and reports.