May 18, 2008

Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott's two year, $1.4 million dollar investigation into what he claims is "an epidemic of voter fraud in Texas" to justify his support for voter ID laws, resulted in just 26 cases. It will come as no surprise to anyone who has been following C&L's ongoing coverage of this issue that all of the cases were "against Democrats, and almost all involving blacks or Hispanics." What's more, of the 26, only 8 were actually cases of fraud. "In 18 of the 26 cases, the voters were eligible, votes were properly cast and no vote was changed – but the people who collected the ballots for mailing were prosecuted," yet Abbott refused to investigate a serious case of apparent ballot-box stuffing of "more than 100 ballots – potentially more than in all of Mr. Abbott's other vote-fraud prosecutions combined" - "in Highland Park, one of the wealthiest neighborhoods in the country with hundreds of million-dollar homes and where both George W. Bush and Dick Cheney once lived."

In more than 2/3 of the cases in Greg Abbott's epidemic, he actually charged volunteers who merely helped elderly and disabled people to be able to vote because they didn't add their name to the envelope to show that they carried the sealed envelope to a mailbox for them - a crime Abbott saw fit to spend an average of more than $53,000 each to pursue of a Federal Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Grant that is supposed to go to enforce state and local laws with an "emphasis on violent crime and serious offenders." Serious indeed.

Therein lies the rub. When you've got a crackpot uber-zealous AG going around training TX officials to spot voter fraud by way of a 71-slide powerpoint that included only pictures of minorities to look for clues on mailed-in ballots like "Unique Stamps" such as "the ‘sickle cell stamp,’ which depicts an African-American woman and infant,” why would any volunteer dare to put their name on an envelope if all they did was take it to a mailbox for someone? I sure wouldn't, especially if I had an ethnic-sounding name. Would you? Abbott's highly publicized “Special Investigations Unit” into voter fraud even went so far as to actually peer in at least one suspected anonymous ballot mailer's bathroom window while they were taking a bath. His prosecutions persecutions have so struck fear that now the Dallas Democratic Party has actually suspended its "field program that once sent volunteers to voters’ homes to help them fill out ballot applications so they could vote by mail." No doubt that put a smile on Abbott's face.

As someone who has personally worked field and helped to deliver thousands of already filled out and sealed ballots to our county clerks' offices (which, thankfully, unlike TX, is still legal in my state without having to put our name on every envelope unless we actually helped someone, usually disabled, fill their ballot out), I know first hand the drastic effect this can have on elections. Once a witch-hunt like this scares people from engaging in grass-roots GOTV field operations, it will result in keeping thousands of people (read: Democrats) from voting who otherwise would have, and that is exactly the intended purpose:

"Texas is trending majority-minority. And the Republicans haven’t figured out how to talk to minorities. So instead of figuring out how to talk to them on an issue basis, they have embarked on a plan to shave two or three percentage points off the electorate, and that’s how they stay in power.”

As Josh Marshall notes:

No one denies there are isolated cases of vote fraud. The question is how organized and widespread it is, whether it's affecting the outcomes of any actual elections, and whether (depending on the answers to those questions) whether the extent of the problem justifies measures which also have the effect of making it either more difficult or more perilous for eligible voters to exercise their rights at the ballot box. The fact that these politicized and morally corrupt prosecutors offices can't come up with more than a trivial number of actual cases makes the answer to the question pretty straightforward.

Indeed. If Greg Abbott's prosecutions had anything to do with preserving the integrity of elections, his partisan prosecutions, just like the Voter ID laws he supports, would be a prime example of throwing a tub-full of babies out with the bath water, but the Republicans like Greg Abbott who scream voter-fraud to support their want for voter ID laws don't care because they've figured out they were most likely going to grow up to be Democrats.

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