Monday, August 4, 2008
IN VIRGINIA, as in other states, loads of first-time voters are registering to cast ballots in the fall elections. Through the first six months of this year, 147,000 people, almost half under the age of 25, registered in the commonwealth, a figure that election officials say is unprecedented. As registration drives accelerate, including those run by the Barack Obama campaign and its allies, it's no wonder that Republicans are increasingly anxious about retaining their hold on a state that GOP presidential candidates have carried since 1968. What is surprising is their utterly baseless charge of "coordinated and widespread voter fraud . . . throughout Virginia."
That rhetorical hand grenade, lobbed the other day by the state Republican Party chairman, Del. Jeffrey M. Frederick of Prince William County, bears little relationship to the facts. Nor do Mr. Frederick's attempts to frighten prospective voters by warning that they could be victims of identity theft if they sign up to vote in registration drives by "a whole lot of groups out there that nobody has ever heard of." In fact, there is not even a whiff of evidence that identity theft is taking place in Virginia under the guise of registration campaigns. Mr. Frederick's message amounts to a classic attempt to suppress votes.
The allegation of a "very serious and troubling trend" of registration fraud, identified by Mr. Frederick alone, is unsupported by election officials, police or prosecutors. It is couched in the toxic language of gauzy innuendo, insidious suggestion and simple fear. Virginians, he says, "have to wonder" about efforts to corrupt the vote in November by means of tainted registration. Anyone who signs up with a stranger to vote should "exercise extreme caution." Asked for proof of identity theft in voter registration drives, he told us, "I bet it exists somewhere."
The instances he cites as proof of pervasive fraud include the following:
· An affidavit from a woman in Richmond who says her name and phone number were submitted by someone to get a registration card.
· The case of two teenagers and another young adult who are accused of falsifying names and Social Security numbers while canvassing for new black and Hispanic voters in Hampton, apparently to meet quotas and keep their jobs with their employer, the Community Voting Project. As it turns out, the faked forms were discovered by the employer, who promptly fired the three and reported them to authorities. Keep in mind that the alleged acts of fraud, while serious, would neither have opened the door for falsified votes nor prevented any legitimate voters from casting ballots.
Election officials say they see no evidence that those instances amount to anything more than isolated incidents -- the kind of thing that can and does occur in any state and in any election year. They see none of the "coordinated and widespread fraud" that Mr. Frederick alleges. Similarly, his charge that the Community Voters Project is tainted by a "documented history" of fraudulent registrations is unsubstantiated. Undeterred, Mr. Frederick warns of "poisoning the process" and "jeopardizing the integrity of our elections." In fact, it is groundless accusations and cynical fear-mongering such as Mr. Frederick's that are injecting the real venom, and the true threat, into the elections.