Forget overt fraud. The way to tip the scales in a hard-fought election is to give Democratic Party turnout machines as much time as possible to corral the votes of the reluctant and the unmotivated.
Thirty-seven states and the District of Columbia currently have early voting, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. The issue has become the latest flash point in a battle pitting advocates of voting access against opponents of voter fraud. A federal judge ruled in May that Ohio violated the Voting Rights Act and the 14th Amendment when it moved to cut the early-voting period from five weeks to four.
“They’re in denial that fraud exists … I think it is widespread enough to affect election results.”
True the Vote spokesman Logan Churchwell, whose organization supports the right of states to set their own voting schedules, said Republicans and Democrats generally line up on opposite sides of the issue due to the different ways they traditionally approach elections. Democrats, he said, rely on intensive efforts to identify supporters and get them to the polls by any means necessary — even if it means driving them.
“When your model relies on that, you need all the time you can get,” he said. “If you have enough time, you can get people to the polls. It’s not about ideas. It’s about moving bodies.”
But the irony is that early voting may not even achieve the high-minded aims that its supporters tout — increasing voter turnout. The Government Accountability Office reported in June that a review of 20 academic studies indicated that seven found no statistically significant difference, while another eight determined that turnout actually decreased as a result of early voting. Five other studies produced mixed results, according to the GAO.
In aggregate, turnout ranged from a 3.8-percent decrease to a 3.1-point increase. One study found no statistically significant difference in the impact on white and black voters; among Latinos, turnout decreased.
The author of two of the studies suggested that the counterintuitive results may indicate that early in-person voting may decrease civic energy and media coverage traditionally associated with Election Day, according to the GAO summary. Bob Popper, director of the Election Integrity Project at Judicial Watch, speculated that extra days of voting might promote procrastination.
“It gives people a false sense that they can put it off … I’m just guessing,” he said.
‘More Heat Than Light’
But that has not stopped leftist voting-rights advocates from defending early voting — and suing to stop states from reducing the number of early-voting days.
“This discussion, in general, can generate more heat than light,” Popper said.
Chris Arterton, a George Washington University political scientist, said he has not studied the issue in detail but agreed that get-out-the-vote operations traditionally have been more important to Democratic campaigns.
“My hypothesis is it’s related to the prospects, on average, that Democratic campaigns are used to organization … They seem to have on-the-ground apparatus that reminds people about voting,” he said.
“If that’s a tenth accurate, that’s tens of thousands of illegal votes.”
Popper said judges increasingly have taken the position that turnout rates do not matter as long as it can be shown that minorities are more likely to take advantage of early voting that whites. That creates a “perverse legal argument,” he said.
Churchwell, of True the Vote, argued that there is nothing in the Voting Rights Act that requires a state to hold early voting.
[lz_table title=”Early Voting Turnout Impact” source=”Government Accountability Office”]Review of 20 studies:
7 studies,statistically insignificant
8 studies,turnout decreased
5 studies,mixed results
“Every state has a right to have early voting or not,” he said. “New York, for instance, doesn’t have it — Hillary Clinton’s home state.”
Joseph Vanderhulst, an attorney with the Public Interest Legal Foundation, argued that early voting and other reforms designed to make voting easier are “fraught with security concerns.” Adding more polling locations might stretch thin the supply of trained poll workers, he said. Allowing voters to register on Election Day or cast ballots without showing identification may increase convenience — but also increases the risk of fraud, he said.
[lz_table title=”Non-Citizen Voting” source=”Electoral Studies”]Voter registration by non-citizens
Self-reported or verified,19.8%,15.6%
Self-reported & verified,3.3%,N/A
|Voter turnout by non-citizens
Self-reported or verified,11.3%,3.5%
Self-reported & verified,1.5%,2.2%
Vanderhulst said opponents of those security safeguards downplay the risk.
“They’re in denial that fraud exists,” he said. “I think it is widespread enough to affect election results.”
Authorities in May, for instance, indicted an Ohio woman on charges that she created phony voter registration documents for 35 people. It is one of a number of voter-fraud prosecutions in the Buckeye State.
Popper pointed to research by Old Dominion political science professor Jesse Richman estimating that 25 percent of non-citizens may have been registered to vote in 2008 and 2010, and that 6.4 percent of non-citizens in 2008 and 2.2. percent in 2010 cast ballots.
“If that’s a tenth accurate, that’s tens of thousands of illegal votes,” Popper said.
Popper argued that certain measures designed to reinforce voter confidence in the integrity of elections are legitimate even if they cannot be linked to specific instances of fraud. He pointed to a case he had when he worked for the Justice Department. A poll worker not only wore a T-shirt of a candidate he supported but asked voters if they had cast a ballot for him.
“That guy’s actions were not only outrageous, they were wrong under state law,” he said.
But it was impossible to determine if that poll worker actually had changed anybody’s minds, Popper said. The same goes for people who make threats outside of polling places.
“But it absolutely can’t accompany elections,” he said. “It makes you look like a banana republic.”
Vanderhulst said the message of the federal judge’s ruling in the Ohio case “if you move the yardstick” by instituting early voting is that “if you want to move it back again, you can’t.”
No one has yet challenged a state that never instituted early voting. But the logic would apply, Vanderhulst said.
“That may be the other shoe that drops,” he said. “They haven’t gone down that road yet.”