With all the talk about the criminal charges against groups like ACORN for trying to fatten Wisconsin’s voter rolls, I thought it would be helpful to stroll through the state’s statutes to give a common language explanation of what exactly it is that they’re doing wrong, and why it matters. The easiest way to do so, I think, is to compile a simple how-to manual describing the various ways state law allows you to cast a fraudulent vote and never be caught.
Of course, the overriding theme here is names – once someone gets a false name on a voter list, it is there virtually for good. A first name, last name and address is as good as a vote, as long as identification isn’t necessary to verify it at the polls. If ACORN were merely adding fraudulent names to voter rolls to satisfy some kind of quota they had set for themselves, that would still be fraud, but not nearly as concerning. But since Wisconsin doesn’t require any sort of identification verification at the polls, those names could quickly become votes – which can easily sway elections.
This is the one you’ve been hearing about in the news recently. Until the last year or so, local governments could “deputize” people to go out and collect names to be added to the voter rolls. The names were written down on cards and mailed in. In theory, these are supposed to be treated like mail-in registrations, which require some form of proof of residence. But this required local governments to be vigilant in doing the legwork to verify all these new names, which may not have often occurred.
Now, the state is supposed to be handling the “deputy” registration process. ACORN submits the names they collect to the state, which does a preliminary check, then farms the names out to the municipality to do the final check. But what ACORN tries to do is flood the state with names, so it takes a long time for them to sort through them and redirect them to the local clerk. Some clerks have said they are still getting registrations from the state dated as far back as August – and with just a few days left before the election, there’s just not enough time to do the requisite checks. As a result, a lot of names could be showing up on the rolls without adequate verification.
After the election, clerks are required to send post cards to all the new registrants to verify addresses. If a post card comes back undeliverable and the individual voted, those names are supposed to be forwarded to the district attorney in that municipality’s county. Once the DA has those names, it is completely up to them what they do with them. And given the time needed to track down these people, those names could sit on the shelf for a while.
But, as noted, once a vote is cast, it is cast. As long as ACORN has a Xerox machine and copies off the cards, they know the names they put on the voter lists. And any one of their volunteers can go from polling place to polling place, voting under any number of pseudonyms.
#2: “The Vouch”
When someone actually registers to vote for the first time at the polls, some form of proof of residence is required. This could be a driver’s license, bank statement, utility bill, or several other forms of identification. If a person does not have the required identification, they can still cast a provisional ballot. It is only after a person is registered that they are no longer forced to verify their identity. However, there is a giant loophole – someone can register to vote without any form of identification as long as a registered voter “vouches” for them.
So on election day, you will sometimes see a situation where a bus of people pulls up, with none of the people having identification. One person on the bus will be a registered voter in the municipality, and will then “vouch” for all the others, which will then be allowed to register on the spot without any form of ID. These people could be from Illinois, they could be from Texas, they could be from Prague. And the only way their residence can every be verified is months after the election, when the postcard check is completed, if it is ever completed.
#3: “Phone a Friend”
Under state law, voter lists are public information, and for good reason. The public should have a right to examine who is registered. As such, sometimes you will see poll watchers at the polls, who have a copy of the same list the clerks have. When a voter comes in and casts a ballot, the poll watcher scratches that name off the master list.
Near the end of the day, the poll worker is left with a list of all the people who haven’t voted – which, even during the busiest days, is half the list. At around 7:00 PM, they can get on the phone and read off a list of names of people who have not yet voted, so people can come down and use those names to cast ballots. Again, since no identification is required, there’s no way the poll workers can question whether they are the actual people they say they are.
This method has the added bonus of filling up the polling place right before they’re scheduled to close at 8:00, which leads to lawsuits being filed to keep the polling place open. That way, if the wrong candidate wins, voter suppression can be alleged.
Of course in two of the above ways, it is impossible to go back and check whether fraud has occurred, since voting under a name on the rolls is perfectly legal without identification. And, to the state’s credit, other openings for potential fraud have been tightened up in recent years. Checks are being done to make sure voters aren’t registered at more than one location within the state. At one time, a community group could request a stack of ballots, have people fill them out in their offices, and send them in absentee (this is what happened at the famous “bingo” party Governor Doyle’s volunteers held in Kenosha in 2002.) Apparently, that no longer is legal. It should also be noted that some of ACORN’s volunteers are being caught, which means some safeguards are working.
However, despite many of these safeguards being in place now, the toothpaste may already be out of the tube. Who knows how many false names and addresses have been added to the voter rolls by these community groups in the past few years. And, as noted, they are extremely difficult to check. And new regulations do nothing to roll back the names that already exist. ACORN knows these names, but clerks do not.
Also, there are still tactics that go on that can’t be easily fixed by state law. Offering “smokes for votes” to homeless people is going to go on – it’s illegal, but difficult to catch. College students are probably still going to be able to vote in their home states and in Wisconsin, until there’s a national database check – which, given Wisconsin’s difficulty in putting together a statewide list, is still a long way away. Campaigns will still be able to shell out under the table “walking money” to volunteers to pay them to get people to the polls.
But with a simple switch to a photo ID requirement, all of ACORN’s shenanigans are undercut significantly. It severs the tie between “vote fraud” and “vote registration fraud,” and gives our electors more insurance that their votes aren’t being cancelled out by fraud.