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Smoke of Registration Fraud Leads to Election Fires

Concerned about the tens of thousands of fraudulent voter registration forms that ACORN has been caught submitting to election officials in more than a dozen states? The standard line: They’re irrelevant and won’t affect the integrity of the election.

Trouble is, submitting fraudulent voter registration forms is a felony under federal law. Yet the chief counsel to Barack Obama said in a letter to the Department of Justice that “[v]oter registration impropriety does not constitute actual vote fraud.”

That’s why, according to her defenders, it doesn’t matter that Ohio Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner refused to comply with the Help America Vote Act’s requirement to verify the accuracy of voter registration information.

So voter registration fraud doesn’t lead to voter fraud and stolen elections? Really?

It’s certainly true that obviously fraudulent voter registration forms (say, in the name of Mickey Mouse) , when caught by election officials, won’t lead to tainted ballots. But what about the registration forms of fictitious individuals — or real people using false information — that are successfully submitted and processed? The names that end up on registration rolls?

One doesn’t have to look far to find instances of fraudulent ballots cast in actual elections by “voters” who were the figments of active imaginations. In 1984, a district attorney in Brooklyn, N.Y. (a Democrat), released the findings of a grand jury that reported extensive registration and impersonation fraud between 1968 and 1982.

Thousands of fraudulent votes were cast with fictitious names in state legislative and congressional primaries. Witnesses testified to “forgery of voter registration cards with the names of fictitious persons, the filing of these cards with the Board of Elections, [and] the recruitment of people to cast multiple votes on behalf of specified candidates using these forged cards or the cards of deceased and other persons.”

A key component in the 14-year conspiracy was the advent in New York in 1976 of mail-in registration, which made creation of bogus cards “even easier and less subject to detection.” Congress spread this New York disease nationwide in 1993 when it mandated mail-in registration by passing the National Voter Registration Act — known as “motor voter.”

Or take the 1997 mayoral election in Miami, Fla., which a court overturned after finding more than 5,000 fraudulent absentee ballots were cast. The Miami Herald won a Pulitzer Prize for its investigation. When police arrested conspirators, they found stacks of mail-in registration forms, absentee ballot request forms, and actual absentee ballots.

Registrations based on false addresses (and subsequent votes) also were made by voters who lived outside Miami — as well as by felons who were barred from voting. These ineligible registrations could have been detected before fraudulent votes were cast if officials had compared new registrations with other state records.

In Ohio, Ms. Brunner’s failure to forward information to county election officials about possible problems with registration forms is a serious issue. It means those officials aren’t checking the accuracy or authenticity of thousands of new registrations. It means any determined individual or group who wants to submit multiple votes could do so easily, with only a remote chance of detection — as long as they’re registering “Mickey Smith” instead of “Mickey Mouse.”

It’s not enough to hope it won’t happen. Better to rely on logic and experience, which tell us that where there’s smoke, there’s usually fire. What’s more, in no other situation do we ignore strong evidence of one type of crime in the hope it won’t lead to another.

Our voting rights are too important to leave to an honor system to prevent someone from gaming the system in an attempt to steal an election. The history of voter fraud in the United States, which the Supreme Court recognized this year in deciding the Indiana voter ID case, makes registration fraud an extremely serious threat. We ignore it at our peril.

Hans A. von Spakovsky is a visiting legal scholar at The Heritage Foundation (heritage.org). He is a former member of the Federal Election Commission and Justice Department official.

Hans A. von Spakovsky is a former Justice Department official. He is the co-author, with John Fund of  "Obama's Enforcer: Eric Holder's Justice Department" (Broadside/HarperCollins 2014). He is Manager, Election Law Reform Initiative and Senior Legal Fellow at the Edwin Meese III Center for Legal and Judicial Studies at the Heritage Foundation.