A right-wing group that likes fanning false fears of voter fraud has attacked five South Dakota counties for having more registered voters than voting-age residents. On August 27, the Public Interest Legal Foundation threatened to sue Campbell, Hanson, Harding, Potter, and Union counties for violating Section 8 of the National Voter Registration Act by failing to maintain accurate voter rolls.
Why would the PILFers get so irate about these alleged overcounts?
“Corrupted voter rolls provide the perfect environment for voter fraud,” said J. Christian Adams, President and General Counsel of PILF. “Close elections tainted by voter fraud turned control of the United States Senate in 2009. Too much is at stake in 2016 to allow that to happen again” [Public Interest Legal Foundation, press release, 2015.08.27].
Ah—voter fraud gave the Democrats the Senate in 2009. Right.
PILF’s claim is right-wing falsehood, peddled mostly about Al Franken’s close win in Minnesota. A Carnegie-Knight News21 analysis of elections nationwide from 2000 to 2010 found 2,068 cases of alleged election fraud. Voter impersonation, the only logical crime that could arise from inflated voter rolls, was alleged 10 times:
Analysis of the resulting comprehensive News21 election fraud database turned up 10 cases of voter impersonation. With 146 million registered voters in the United States during that time, those 10 cases represent one out of about every 15 million prospective voters.
In Minnesota, there have been 10 total cases of reported fraud and no cases of voter impersonation reported since 2000.
“Voter fraud at the polls is an insignificant aspect of American elections,” said elections expert David Schultz, professor of public policy at Hamline University School of Business in St. Paul [Natasha Khan and Corbin Carson, “Cases of Voter-ID Election Fraud Found ‘Virtually Non-existent’,” News21 via MinnPost, 2012.08.13].
Republican Secretary of State Shantel Krebs rebuts PILF’s accusations by pointing out they used bogus numbers:
Krebs sent a letter back on Monday explaining why the Indiana-based organization, Public Interest Legal Foundation, was wrong.
The group compared 2010 census data with 2014 voter data that had been submitted to the federal Election Assistance Commission.
“We believe that if PILF was interested in an accurate depiction of the situation they would have used the most current voter registration information, including only active registered voters,” Krebs wrote in the letter [Bob Mercer, “Krebs Backs Five Counties on Voter Lists,” Black Hills Pioneer, 2015.09.05].
Wow—if you’re going to accuse 141 county governments of breaking federal law, you’d better have your numbers right. Lining up voter registration from 2014 and population from 2010 is like accusing me of bouncing a $500 check today because I only had $400 in my account four years ago.
PILF’s infacility with numbers evidently comes from its conservative pedigree. used to be called the Act Right Legal Foundation. Act Right remains an active conservative organization, raising money for oath-breaking Kentucky clerk Kim Davis, the faux-family values National Organization for Marriage, and the science-twisting anti-gay Ruth Institute. PILF’s boss J. Christian Adams is a former Bush Administration official who abused his position by filing a false civil rights action against the New Black Panther Party on the basis of false allegations of voter intimidation. Another leading PILFers is Hans von Spakovsky, a Republican lawyer who participated in the Florida recount that gave George W. Bush the Presidency and then got a job in the Bush Administration Justice Department cracking down on voter fraud. President Bush gave von Spakovsky a recess appointment to the Federal Election Commission in 2006, but the Senate refused to confirm him, based in part on negative testimony from lawyers and the 36-year veteran chief of the DOJ voting section. Adams and Spakovsky ran True the Vote, a conservative outfit that claimed last summer that South Dakota had over 36,000 voters registered in other states.
But perhaps the PILFers get some bipartisan cred for attacking South Dakota. The five counties they attack are among the 50 of South Dakota’s 66 counties that have more Republicans than Democrats. Harding and Campbell have the two highest GOP-over-Dem margins in the state, 68 and 63 percentage points, respectively. Potter has the seventh-highest GOP advantage, 53 percentage points. Hanson and Union are back toward the middle of the pack at 21 and 19 percentage points in favor of Republicans. (The GOP beats Dems statewide by 13 percentage points.) Even playing with the misaligned numbers PILF cites, and assuming the lingering names are proportionate to party affiliation in each county, purging those five counties’ voter rolls of the overages PILF confabulates would strike 391 Independents, 515 Democrats, and 939 Republicans. Go ahead, PILF, sue your own kind.
The biggest overage is in Hanson County, where PILF claims 2014 voter registration exceeded 2010 population by 63%. (That’s the third highest on PILF’s list, behind only Pulaski and Franklin counties in Illinois. The average overage among all 141 listed counties is 8.9%; the other four overages in South Dakota are lower single-percentages.) Secretary Krebs ran her own analysis and found that Hanson County does indeed appear to have more voters than residents. She ascribes that overage to the 1,465 RVers piled into the Triebwassers’ mailbox in Emery.
McPherson County is the only other state where Secretary Krebs found an apparent overage. She tells Mercer that McPherson’s overage likely reflects out-migration to North Dakota.
PILF/Act Right/True the Vote or whatever the heck they call themselves next year doesn’t have to get its numbers right. They just have to keep playing the sockpuppet, showing up in different guises with different truthy-sounding analyses to make it sound like lots of different groups are finding evidence of voter fraud. Then they can turn around and say, “Look at all these reports of voter fraud! We need to tighten the rules for voter registration!” thus providing cover for unnecessary voter ID laws and other Republican efforts at voter suppression. Secretary Shantel Krebs isn’t falling for it; neither should the rest of South Dakota.
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p.s.: Cook County, Chicago, Illinois, did not make the PILFer list of bad counties.