PI Original Adam Doster Thursday October 14th, 2010, 11:22am

Kirk's Troublesome "Voter Fraud" Crusade (AUDIO)

U.S. Rep. Mark Kirk is planning to dispatch election lawyers across the state on November 2 to protect the integrity of the election. Why are Kirk's pals only going to work in black neighborhoods?

Every vote will be crucial in Illinois' tight U.S. Senate race. U.S. Rep. Mark Kirk doesn't want the black vote to tip the scales in his opponent's direction.

Here's the backstory. On a conference call last week, obtained by ArchPundit, the U.S. Senate candidate told a group of Republican supporters that he’s planning to deploy election lawyers to "key, vulnerable precincts" on November 2 to protect against potential voter fraud. It will be Illinois' "largest voter integrity” program in almost two decades, the congressman bragged. Where will these defenders of democracy travel to on Election Day? According to the audio, lawyers will be sent to the "South and West sides of Chicago, Rockford, Metro East, where the other side might be tempted to jigger the numbers somewhat." Listen:

While Kirk's plan may sound fair-minded, it's not. Voter fraud never happens. Ever. For five years between 2002 and 2007, George W. Bush's Justice Department looked for large-scale voter fraud all over the country. What'd they find? "Virtually no evidence of any organized effort to skew federal elections." "It's an extraordinarily inefficient if not impossible way to mess with an election," the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform's Cindy Candari told Gapers Block.

Of course, the more fraud hysteria a candidate drums up and the more election lawyers he or she dispatches to hover around polling locations and gum up the process, the less likely people are to stay and vote. And if those officials are working in sections of the state with sizeable black populations (who also happen to support Democrats in high numbers), so be it, right? "The object here is not criminal indictments," wrote Dahlia Lithwick in 2008. "It's to undermine voter confidence in the elections system as a whole."

Kirk's opponent, State Treasurer Alexi Giannoulias, blasted the congressman for his stunt, calling it "disgusting, illegal, and smacks of the Karl Rove politics that Illinois voters are sick of."

Republicans have made this standard practice during election season. TPM recently reported on a slew of Republicans who are raising dire warnings about election theft with no evidence to back up their claims. Just last week, the Illinois Republican Party posted on its website a request for volunteer pollwatchers. And the Republican National Lawyers Association is hosting trainings around the state to "ensure that the elections are open, fair and honest."

Kirk himself isn't new to this game, either. During a tele-townhall with constituents days before the 2008 election, the North Shore Republican used the notorious case of "Princess the Goldfish" to raise concerns about "massive voter fraud" occurring in north suburban Lake County. Those fears, of course, went unfounded. The Princess case was a simple mistake that was cleared up by the Lake County Clerk's office. The fish, as it were, was never registered to vote.

To be fair, the clerk's office is investigating allegations of voter registration fraud carried out by one volunteer on an SEIU-sponsored voter registration drive two years ago. (Full disclosure: SEIU's Illinois State Council sponsors this website.) According to a June 2, 2010 article in the Daily Herald, the woman was charged with "mutilation of election materials last year after officials said she had filled out the registration cards herself and used false addresses." The cards in question made up fairly small fraction of the 28,020 new registrations fielded by the clerk that summer, were not added to the voter rolls, and could have been forged for any number of reasons. Perhaps the employee wanted to boost her performance in the eyes of her coordinator or simply didn't want to do the work of finding legitimate new voters. (The union is cooperating with the investigation and has not been charged with any wrongdoing.)

Regardless, voter registration fraud is not evidence of a wide scale attempt to steal an election. It's a petty crime. And that conflation, which Kirk has made in the past, is disingenuous at best and dangerous at worst.

Even more infuriating is the fact that there are legitimate problems with our voting infrastructure that continually disenfranchise voters. A study from 2009 found that 4 to 5 million voters "did not cast a ballot in the 2008 presidential election because they encountered registration problems or failed to receive absentee ballots." Just yesterday, the Brennan Center for Justice held a briefing at the Washington Press Club to outline three ways in which voters might be prevented from participating. (Second on their list, notice, is the threat of partisan groups that try to intimidate the other side's voters at the polls.)

Back in Illinois, the U.S. Justice Department in now investigating whether some county clerks and city election authorities failed to mail absentee ballots to soldiers on time. Both Kirk and GOP gubernatorial nominee Bill Brady, to help raise awareness about the problem, sent out ignorant press releases this morning claiming that the state was actually at fault.

If Kirk was serious about the integrity of the ballot, he'd cancel his "voter integrity" initiative immediately. And he certainly wouldn't brag about the troublesome operation behind closed doors.


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