THE MAN BEHIND THE CURTAIN….The New York Times, in a genuine act of public service, has conducted an investigation into voter fraud. Republicans claim it’s rampant, and the only way to stop it is via strict voter ID laws that — purely by coincidence — happen to have the effect of reducing turnout among several traditionally Democratic constituencies. So what’s the score? By 2005, four years after John Ashcroft had changed Department of Justice guidelines to streamline prosecutions, how much voter fraud had DOJ dug up?

….about 120 people have been charged and 86 convicted as of last year. Most of those charged have been Democrats, voting records show. Many of those charged by the Justice Department appear to have mistakenly filled out registration forms or misunderstood eligibility rules, a review of court records and interviews with prosecutors and defense lawyers show.

…. In swing states, including Ohio and Wisconsin, party leaders conducted inquiries to find people who may have voted improperly and prodded officials to act on their findings.

But the party officials and lawmakers were often disappointed. The accusations led to relatively few cases, and a significant number resulted in acquittals.

Here’s the nickel summary: In 2002, DOJ changed their guidelines to make it easier to prosecute voter fraud. They made it a priority to find voter fraud cases. They appointed a clean slate of U.S. Attorneys loyal to the Republican Party. They set up training classes to help prosecutors charge and win voter fraud cases. But after all that, they managed to demonstrate fraud in a grand total of only 86 cases over four years. And even then, many of the cases of confirmed fraud were simply mistakes, while virtually none of them were actually designed to affect the outcome of an election.

So in four years of concerted effort, the Bush Justice Department managed to come up with maybe half a dozen cases of actual voter fraud. In other words, two or three per election cycle. Mostly in rural districts for low-level offices. And because of this, we’re supposed to believe that it’s a high priority to spend millions of dollars on voter ID laws that plainly do nothing except make it harder for poor people to vote.

Can we now please put this nonsense to rest? Can we please stop writing stories that treat voter ID laws as if they’re sincerely designed to stop voter fraud? There’s no longer any excuse.

POSTSCRIPT: This stuff can also ruin lives. Be sure to check out the part of the story about the guy who was deported to Pakistan because he mistakenly filled out a voter registration card while standing in line at the DMV. I’m sure the prosecutor who brought that case is proud of himself.

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