Last week in this space I told a tale of a 2011 measure at the Nevada Legislature that would have switched the state to digital records storage to solve a problem that didn’t exist.
That wasn’t an exception. There are lots of solutions proposed for non-existent problems. For instance, there is voter fraud.
I think the first time I encountered a bill to deal with voter fraud was 2007.
Clark County Sen. Barbara Cegavske introduced Senate Bill 385 to require Nevadans to present identification before they could vote. When I asked Cegavske what prompted her to introduce the bill, she told me, “I talked to poll workers who say they have no idea if the person that comes forward is who they say they are. No checks and balances.
This last election the workers I have known and seen for the past 18 years at my polling place … said they had over 60 percent turnout [of registered voters], the most they have ever seen. They did not know these people and said they could not ask for their ID to verify. I always show my ID when I vote.”
She couldn’t supply any instances people trying to vote fraudulently. Rather, she was saying it was a good idea for people to have to present their papers to poll workers because, well, it was a good idea.
The poll workers had said so. I should mention here that most poll workers are senior citizens who spend a couple of days every couple of years working the tables at local precincts, picking up a few dollars. They’re not voting experts.
I was taken by surprise that as doctrinaire a conservative as Cegavske would take this stance. One of the definitions of conservatism that dates back to the 1600s is, “Where it is not necessary to change, it is necessary not to change.” Yet here was a conservative lawmaker telling me that it was okay to bring the power of government to bear where there was no problem to solve.
Voter fraud exists, of course, but for many years it’s been the COUNTING end that is the problem, not the VOTING end. On the voting end, it’s getting people to vote at all that’s the problem. Voter identification won’t solve either counting problems or voter apathy. And even vote counting problems have shrunk to rarity because the technology has become so difficult to fool.
If any readers have any doubts about whether voter fraud by voters themselves is rare, I have a method they can use to check on it. Try calling the county clerks in Nevada’s small counties and the voter registrars in the large counties and ask for examples of people voting fraudulently. I did exactly that in 2012.
“We once heard of a woman who continued to vote for her husband after he died, although our ability to contact that person failed,” Washoe registrar Dan Burk told me. “That was six years ago.”
A lot of voter fraud claims are like that – anecdotes, not proof of broad or common fraud. And like that case, they seldom pan out. There’s a Republican activist in Nevada who keeps claiming that in 2010 the Service Employees International Union “set the software [of the Clark County ballot system] so that when you want to vote for senator, the button had already been pushed for Senator Reid.”
This story was generated by a single viewer to a Fox television news station in Las Vegas in 2010. The station put it on the air without checking it out.
No complaint to election officials was ever made and both the union and Clark County Voter Registrar Larry Lomax denied it. Lomax’s denial is posted on more than 3,500 websites – but voting fraud anecdote peddlers have posted the original charge on more than a million sites.
Curbing voter fraud anecdotes is probably a greater need than voter identification.
My favorite instance came from Carson City Clerk Recorder Alan Glover. He told me, “Had a little lady, I think it was four years ago. … She was 87 years old with Alzheimer’s, and they didn’t find out until Thanksgiving when her granddaughter and her daughter were at the table.”
It seems that on election day, daughter had called on mom and took her to the polls to vote. And at another point on election day, granddaughter had also taken grandma to the polls to vote. The elderly woman had not remembered going the first time. They found out when comparing notes at Thanksgiving.
We’ve certainly got to stamp out such sophisticated voter fraud operations.
Dennis Myers is an award winning journalist who has reported on Nevada’s capital, government and politics for several decades. He has also served as Nevada’s chief deputy secretary of state.