Election Fraud! Voter Fraud! Voter ID!

An obscure Indiana indictment is getting major play on Fox News and across the conservative chattering classes. The Fox lede makes it sound pretty lurid: “Felony charges related to election fraud have touched the 2008 race for the highest office in the land.” And the headline, below which are arranged mugshot-style photos of the malefactors, reads: “4 Indiana Dems charged with election fraud in 2008 presidential race.”

Elsewhere are bloggy headlines and shouts about “voter fraud” and, inevitably, “voter ID,” viz: “The Real Reason Why Liberals Hate Voter ID: Four Indiana Democrats Charged with 2008 Election Fraud.”

Republicans promoting franchise-shrinking Voter ID laws, you see, are hard-pressed to supply evidence of any actual voter fraud, so anything that sounds remotely like it will get a lot of attention.

So what’s the big deal in Indiana? It is alleged that local Democratic officials in St. Joseph’s County (South Bend) forged an unknown number of signatures on petitions to place all three major Democratic presidential candidates (Clinton, Edwards and Obama) on the state’s 2008 primary ballot.

It is unclear why county party officials, not the campaigns involved, were responsible for this task. Only 500 signatures were required from each of the state’s congressional districts. It shouldn’t have been a very heavy lift: when the primary occurred, Obama received over 33,000 votes in St, Joseph County, and Clinton more than 30,000 (the third candidate, John Edwards, had dropped out by then); the two candidates appear to have collected over 50,000 votes each in the congressional district as a whole, or 100 times the number of petition signatures required.

So I don’t know if this was a matter of sheer incompetence (my guess), poor campaign oversight, or what, particularly since we don’t know how many forgeries actually occurred. But no one could seriously argue there wasn’t enough popular support for Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton to justify their appearance on the primary ballot, or that it had any effect on the primary results, or any vaguely remote effect on the general election. So maybe this was “election fraud” in the broadest sense of the term, but hardly “voter fraud.” And the connection to “voter ID” is non-existent.

But hey, as the saying goes, when you are a hammer, everything looks like a nail. So you can continue to expect conservative media to hammer away at this scandal and use it to justify all sorts of efforts to keep citizens from casting ballots–which really could “touch on the race for the highest office in the land.”

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.