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Posted at 03:24 PM ET, 04/09/2012

James O’Keefe tries to defend voter ID laws by filming D.C. election workers

Conservative activist James O’Keefe’s latest project aims to lampoon the mostly Democratic opposition to “voter ID” laws, and does so by focusing hidden cameras on last week’s D.C. primary elections.

In the first of several promised clips, an O’Keefe associate tries to see if he can vote as Eric H. Holder, attorney general of the United States and longtime Spring Valley resident.

Why Holder? Under his leadership, the Justice Department has objected to laws requiring voters to present identification in states subject to preclearance under the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

People like O’Keefe think voter ID laws are a common sense way to prevent voter fraud; people like Holder say they address a problem that doesn’t exist, and the laws would give officials new pretext to keep legitimate voters from casting ballots.

The footage shows a man affiliated with O’Keefe’s Project Veritas inside Holder’s Precinct 9 polling place, Metropolitan United Methodist Church, and requesting a ballot under Holder’s name asking if Eric Holder appeared on the rolls.

The poll worker finds the name and invites the man to sign the poll book; the signature would indicate Holder had cast a ballot and would prevent other persons from casting a ballot in that name.

At that point, the man tells the poll worker he forgot his ID.

“You don’t need it; it’s all right,” the poll worker says. “As long as you’re in here, you’re on our list, and that’s who you say you are, you’re okay.”

The man insists on getting his ID, and at that point, hightails it out of Precinct 9. Had he signed the poll book or proceeded to cast a ballot, he would have broken the law.

The D.C. Board of Elections and Ethics declined to address the particular circumstances shown in the video. “We are investigating it and will refer all information we gather to the appropriate law enforcement authorities,” said spokeswoman Alysoun McLaughlin.

It’s unclear if the poll worker followed procedure, although it comports to my personal experiences voting in the District. I’ve often showed up at a polling place with my ID out, to help poll workers with the spelling of my name, only to be told that it wasn’t necessary.

But the crux of the O’Keefe video is not surprising: Even the staunchest opponents of voter ID laws acknowledge that a dedicated fraudster can generally cast a ballot in someone else’s name. But voter ID opponents say there is no evidence a widespread effort to engage in this type of fraud would be successful or rational. In other words, they say, organizing a scheme large enough to throw an election would be easily detected and would not be worth the risk.

Under D.C. law, persons found guilty of making “any false representations” as to their eligibility to vote are subject to fines up to $10,000 and up to five years in prison. If the fraud is committed during an election where the presidency or congressional offices are on the ballot, it can also be prosecuted under federal law, which contains the same penalties.

Project Veritas is promising more footage from D.C. polling places for its “Voter Fraud in America” series.

However, there’s a hint O’Keefe might be overselling his goods: In one portion of the footage, the man was repeatedly told by a poll worker to fill out a “special ballot” — also known as a provisional ballot — which are used in any case in D.C. where there is doubt about a voter’s eligibility to cast a ballot.

For instance, if a fraudster actually did go vote for Holder, and then Holder himself went to vote later in the day, he would discover he could no longer cast a regular ballot but would have to fill out a special ballot.

Special ballots are always counted, regardless of whether they could affect the outcome of the election only in the event that their total would affect the outcome of the election. Each special ballot is subject to inspection and challenge from the candidates. During that process, election officials can look at public records — including signatures on poll books and voter registration forms — to determine whether a ballot is genuine. If fraud is suspected, the Board of Elections and Ethics can refer the case to federal prosecutors for further investigation.

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By  |  03:24 PM ET, 04/09/2012

 
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