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Right Wing Vote-Fraud Shouters Accuse Five SD Counties of Inflated Voter Rolls

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.

*   *   *

p.s.: Cook County, Chicago, Illinois, did not make the PILFer list of bad counties.


  1. 96Tears 2015-09-07 10:10

    How much money do they propose to spend to stamp out violations which do not exist? It’s amazing that so many people can be so stupid as to support these goofy snipe hunts. Interesting that the counties listed include GOP strongholds.

  2. owen reitzel 2015-09-07 10:36

    96 you are right. As a resident of Hanson County there are only a handful of Democrats.
    You hit the nail on the head Cory. It’s about forcing voters to have IDs and making it harder to vote.
    I’m curious as to why this group picked South Dakota? Maybe to try to show in some way that this group is fair.
    I’d like to hear from fellow Hanson County resident and friend Stace Nelson on this. It’s be interesting to hear his thoughts.

  3. mike from iowa 2015-09-07 10:54

    My bad. It was Kansas AG Kobach who started this purge

  4. Douglas Wiken 2015-09-07 10:58

    No sense discussing real issues when completely phony issues can be invented and turned into rotten policy. In SD all the ID nonsense is a result of phony “voter fraud”. By now it should be obvious all the ID crap is unnecessary and should be eliminated as an irritant to voters and others.

  5. Eve Fisher 2015-09-07 16:07

    The subtext is that they want is to make sure that fewer Native Americans and Democrats vote. Period.

  6. caheidelberger Post author | 2015-09-07 19:11

    Bingo, Eve.

    Owen, they didn’t pick South Dakota: they named 141 counties in 21 states. I checked the counties they picked against the results of the 2012 Presidential election. I arbitrarily coded counties Blue if Obama beat Romney by more than 5 percentage points, Red if Romney beat Obama by more than 5 points, and Purple if the margin was 5 points or less.

    102 of the counties flagged were Red. 31 were Blue. 8 were Purple.

    This result could call into question my accusation that PILF/Act Right/True the Vote is acting with partisan/pro-GOP intent.

    But look more deeply: the four largest counties on PILF’s list make up over half of the votes cast. Those four counties all went big Blue.

    Besides, PILF isn’t aiming to simply clean up voter rolls in those 141 counties. They are creating propaganda to press states to pass voter ID laws and other measures to suppress voter turnout nationwide and favor the party that faces the greatest disadvantage if more people get out and vote.

  7. Jeff Barth 2015-09-07 23:42

    Once it is created on the internet it never dies and is recognized as fact by many.

  8. Dyna 2015-09-08 07:50

    This group is exploiting a statistical artifact- voters names remain on the rolls for a couple election cycles even if they don’t vote because their residence has changed to a cemetery. Thus these deceased but still registered voters in counties with a lot of elders make it appear to paranoid righties that voter fraud exists.

  9. caheidelberger Post author | 2015-09-08 11:03

    Good point, Dyna! They aren’t identifying a real problem; they’re portraying an under-analyzed number as evidence that the thing they want us to fear might happen. As Jeff indicates, they just want to put their noise online and let it spread like a virus. We have to do what we can to tie that claim to the explanation in this post and the comment section to tell people this is a case where there is smoke but no fire.

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