Voter Fraud Problem in U.S. Elections?

This is a partial transcript of "Special Report With Brit Hume," Sept. 29, 2004, that has been edited for clarity.

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BRIT HUME, CO-HOST: Given how narrow the last presidential election was, the Get Out the Vote (search) effort this year is especially intense. That includes not only making sure registered voters get to the polls, but also, registering people who have never voted before.

So how widespread might voter fraud be? How vulnerable are U.S. elections?

John Fund is a member of The Wall Street Journal's editorial board and the author of the book, "Stealing Elections: How Voter Fraud Threatens American Democracy." He says the U.S. has the sloppiest election systems of any industrialized nation. He joins us tonight from Seattle.

So, John, what are you expecting?

JOHN FUND, AUTHOR, "STEALING ELECTIONS": I'm expecting we're going to have about 5,000 or 6,000 lawyers on each side, yelling at each other with poor 73-year-old poll workers in the middle wondering what in the world is going on.

HUME: You're talking about on election -- you're talking about polling places on Election Day (search) and...

FUND: On Election Day.

HUME: And there will be enough lawyers to go around, really?

FUND: Right. And we'll have provisional ballots. People who aren't showing up on the rolls can cast a provisional ballot that's verified later, after the polls are closed. So if one candidate is 5,000 votes ahead in a state and there are 50,000 provisional votes, lots of lawsuits, and lots of arguments, and lots of time.

It took 33 days to count the provisional votes in just one Colorado congressional race two years ago.

HUME: So how close would the race have to be, sort of nationally, if you can average this out?

FUND: Well, I say...

HUME: And within how many -- I mean if it's a three or four-point margin one-way or the other, would these problems likely be absorbed by that? Or what?

FUND: No. Although there's some conspiracy theorists on the Internet that are going to claim that -- I mean shoring computer programmers and these electronic voting machines changed everything.

But realistically, it's going to have to be very close. What I call within the margin of litigation, probably half a percentage point or one percentage point.

HUME: So if the race nationally, the margin between the two candidates is that low, then this whole scenario that you fear would unfold. But not if the margin is larger.

FUND: Well, with the Electoral College, Brit, it has to be in a given state. We could have several Floridas. Last time, Florida was the only place where all the lawyers congregated. This time if you compare the current voting situation to a forest, well, the trees are just as dry as
they were in 2000. But now everyone has matches in the form of lawyers. So we could have Floridas in five or six close states.

HUME: All right. Now, let's talk about the question of -- both camps, I gather, have tremendous Get Out the Vote Drives. And both have big registration drives. Wendell Goler's report suggested that a lot of the folks that the scrutiny has come on, the Democrats. Is that so? And
if so, why?

FUND: Well, they're the ones who have put many millions in, financed by George Soros (search) and others, into a massive Get Out the Vote drive in the theory that disenfranchised people, poor people and minorities didn't vote enough in 2000. So in New Mexico, one out of nine voters, Brit, is a brand new registered voter.

HUME: And presumably therefore, more likely to vote Democratic?

FUND: Well, there -- I interviewed someone in New Mexico who was on one of those voter registration efforts. It was a nonprofit, supposedly bipartisan group. But he was told you should only bring in two or three Republican registrations a week. That's your quota.

HUME: What group was that, that did that?

FUND: It was affiliated with Governor Bill Richardson. And this fellow was a college student in Las Cruces.

HUME: Oh, I see. So this was...

FUND: His name is Joshua Pena.

HUME: Well, Richardson is, of course as we all know, a Democrat. But...

FUND: Right. But many of these groups, Brit, are nonprofit. They're supposed to be nonpartisan. So the question is are they truly nonpartisan? Or are they just honoring the breach?

HUME: Do we have any reason to doubt that similar kinds of things are happening on the Republican side?

FUND: Both sides are completely suspicious of the other. The Democrats are absolutely convinced that Florida was stolen from them in 2000. And the danger in a polarized 50/50 nation, Brit, that lots of people could come up with justifications to cut corners.

And that's the danger here. We can no longer for the honor system, in a country in which people are absolutely convinced the other side isn't acting in good faith, and they feel that anything goes.

HUME: Now, let's talk about someone who may have been registered in some fraudulent way. It seems if you're -- and if you're an adult American and you're eligible to vote, you can get on the rolls, right?

FUND: No questions asked in many states.

HUME: All right. So then you come in to vote on that day. What would be -- how could your vote be challenged by any poll watcher? Signature didn't match. Identification is not required. Not provided. What?

FUND: In about a third of the states you have to show some form of identification, if not a photo I.D., then a utility bill or something like that. Otherwise, you just sign your name and nobody really checks the signature. Brit, the real danger here is that 30 percent of Americans who
will vote early or absentee. And that's the highest percentage ever.

HUME: That is huge. How much bigger is it than last time?

FUND: Oh, it was probably 21 or 22 last time, according to Curtis Gans. And in Oregon and Washington -- Oregon, it's 100 percent. They've abolished the polling place. And Washington state is going to be 75 percent, and traditionally it has been.

And here's the problem. Absentee voting is the easiest way to commit fraud. Because it's a paper ballot and it's out of the view of election officials, which means it's not even a secret ballot.

And you've already heard what happens with nursing homes with Alzheimer's patients. It can happen in other cases where people go door-to-door with absentee ballots, helping people how to vote.

HUME: And who -- do you have to mail it in any special way? I mean is there any certification of any kind for these ballots that are out there floating around?

FUND: Some states, Brit, allow party workers to go and collect absentee ballots from people door to door. And then bundle them together, and then deliver it via the party workers to the election officials. I think that's fraught with peril.

HUME: And those ballots are accepted as having been properly certified and so forth?

FUND: Well, you have to sign the outside of the ballot and your signature has to match the voter registration. There are some safeguards. But in an election when 30 percent of the people vote absentee, I think the election workers are going to be overwhelmed. And they're not going to be
able to conduct the kind of safeguards they normally do.

HUME: So, let's assume that all this happens. And it happens on some large scale, just in the way you fear. Does your estimate of how tight the race would have to be for this to be enough to make a difference still hold?

FUND: I think it would have to be close. But remember, it's up to the lawyers who think they have a case. If you go judge shopping, and you find a judge who is willing to hold the polls open, as was done in Missouri four years ago, or some judge who say these provisional votes have to be
counted, even though we can't find the voter registration. Maybe there's been some bureaucratic snafu.

Remember, Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton could look at all the provisional votes; even the people who aren't registered and say count every vote. Because it's a philosophical difference, Brit, some people think every vote must be counted because that's the most important thing.

Some people think the rule of law is important. You have to follow certain rules to turn a ballot into a valid vote.

HUME: Got you. John Fund, good to have you. Thanks very much.

FUND: Thank you.

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