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Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Voter Fraud Hysterics

The voter fraud silly season has arrived.

A report in Wednesday's New York Times blames various Tea Party groups for planning voter intimidation, vote suppression (particularly in minority areas) and other disenfranchisement tactics with the goal of reducing Democratic voter turnout and helping more Republicans win on Tuesday, November 2nd.

Challenging voters on the basis of their legitimacy to vote is, well, perfectly legitimate. It should be done more often. Plenty of voters are ineligible, whether on the basis of citizenship (must be a citizen to vote), residency duration or domicile, or parolee status. Ineligible voters can often tip the balance in elections, and that disenfranchises everyone.

Voter fraud is a nonpartisan, uniform problem. The solutions -- greater popular vigilance and greater enforcement by boards of elections -- are also nonpartisan.

The Tea Parties are this year's bogeymen. That is merely because voters presumed to be conservative and hence likely to vote Republican (if they don't vote for protest candidates) are far more energized than many Democratic voters, and especially more energized that the "progressive" vote.

It is unfair to tarnish the Tea Parties, however. Many miscreants have tried to infiltrate these groups, precisely to destroy the brand. (This nonsense is common in politics.). And remember that many Tea Party groups have overtly disavowed anyone claiming their endorsement -- like the Republican candidate for U.S. Congress, 5th District, New York, who lied about being so endorsed -- while others are openly nonpartisan.
With the Tea Parties, remember that there is no licensing body or "Better Business Bureau" to certify them. That lack of credentialing just leads to mischief and brand erosion. Don't be fooled by the frauds pretending to be reformers, using the Tea Party as a disguise and exploiting its name.

Undoubtedly there will be overzealous efforts to fight voter fraud. One law professor, Wendy Weiser (who was a year behind me at Yale Law, if memory serves me correctly), is correct when she says that efforts to challenge voters -- without a reasonable basis -- are improper and sometimes illegal. But there are times when that reasonable basis is very present.

Pre-emptive strikes, such as the threatened accusations of illegal behavior, and the inferred threat of subsequent criminal prosecution, should likewise not be used to chill election day whistleblowers and bully ordinary citizens who see illegal immigrants and out-of-state residents voting into silence.  Tactics like these, when used against witnesses in civil and criminal cases, can constitute witness intimidation and obstruction of justice. 

Our society does enough to deter whistleblowers and others from reporting misdeeds, illegal or unfair conduct. Does the "stop snitching" movement have to extend to the ballot box and, by extension, to all participation in public life?

Eric Dixon is a New York election lawyer who has represented about two dozen political campaigns, from presidential campaigns down to party state committee campaigns, and party organizations as a lawyer since graduating from Yale Law School in 1994.  Mr. Dixon is the president of Eric Dixon LLC. He is available for comment or consultation at 917-696-2442 and at edixon@NYBusinessCounsel.com.

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