Cleta Mitchell wrong again

Melanie Sloan Contributor
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The late Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan (D-NY) once famously observed that people are entitled to their own opinions, but not their own facts. It is a maxim to which Republican partisan Cleta Mitchell clearly does not subscribe. In her largely fictitious “Setting the record straight on voter ID laws,” Ms. Mitchell goes to great lengths to twist the truth in the vain hope of highlighting a problem that doesn’t exist: mass voter fraud from double voting and false registration.

Nationwide there is a concerted effort on the part of some, mostly Republican, state policymakers to suppress voter turnout by enacting restrictive photo ID requirements at the polls on the false premise that voter fraud (double voting, false registration) is rampant. Of course, valid claims of voter fraud must be addressed and perpetrators held accountable. But the mass voter fraud Ms. Mitchell and her cohorts complain of simply can’t be found.

To buttress her call for new voter ID laws, Ms. Mitchell refers to several flawed examples. For example, she says a Milwaukee Police Department report found an “illegal organized attempt to influence the outcome of elections” in 2004. In truth, the report cites alleged voter fraud by 16 individuals technically ineligible to cast votes, which the authors conclude could potentially have been the “proverbial ‘tip of the iceberg’ as it relates to an illegal organized attempt to influence the outcome of an election in the state of Wisconsin.” But the report expressly disavows the idea of mass fraud, stating, “Investigators make no claim that thousands of fraudulent ballots were cast in Wisconsin …” PolitiFact Wisconsin previously has debunked this fraud claim, observing that police investigators found almost no evidence of double voting and invalid addresses in the 2004 election.

Ms. Mitchell also misstates the situation in Colorado. Republican Secretary of State Scott Gessler, a supporter of voter ID legislation, testified before Congress that 5,000 illegals may have voted in the 2010 Senate race. But his spokesperson later “clarified” the secretary’s remarks, noting all they could really say was that they were “nearly certain that 106 individuals [were] improperly registered to vote.”

The reference to New Mexico is similarly flawed. Republican Secretary of State Diana Duran, in a likely effort to bolster a voter ID bill, turned over for investigation an eye-popping 64,000 cases of alleged voter fraud. But rather than rampant fraud, experts and state election officials note the problems more likely stem from data entry errors and list management complications. Even Secretary Duran’s office conceded the likelihood of clerical mistakes.

Finally, Ms. Mitchell cites a study by Jeffrey Milyo of the University of Missouri purportedly showing voter ID laws have no effect on voter turnout for minority, poor and senior citizens despite ample evidence to the contrary. Mr. Milyo’s report is part of a long pattern of partisan research manufactured for political gain. The grant money for the study came from a former Bush/Cheney ’04 campaign counsel, Mark F. “Thor” Hearne, a Republican Party operative pushing voter ID laws across the country and the founder of an organization instrumental in enacting the very voter ID law Mr. Milyo considered.

Ms. Mitchell’s real aim in focusing on the nearly non-existent problem of voter fraud is to disenfranchise voters who may be less likely to vote Republican. Her attack on the Brennan Center serves the same partisan goal of attempting to undermine the credibility and integrity of an organization dedicated to scholarly research on issues of democracy and justice.

Voting is an inviolable constitutional right many Americans have sacrificed to protect. Debate over this important issue should be based on reality, not empty rhetoric and twisted facts.

Melanie Sloan is the executive director of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington.