A Philosopher's Blog

The Phantom Menace in Florida

Posted in Politics by Michael LaBossiere on June 5, 2013
English: The Miami Herald and El Nuevo Herald ...

Photo credit: Wikipedia)

My state of Florida has become well known as something of an electoral embarrassment. While most of this shame dates from the chad strewn 2000 election, there was also the more recent concern about voter suppression in Florida. As noted in earlier posts, the folks who were pushing for changes in the voting procedures in Florida claimed that they were engaged in a noble battle against voter fraud rather than a shameful attempt at disenfranchisement. One of the stock responses to the concern over voter fraud is that the solutions proposed were addressing a problem that could be, at best, be barely said to even exist. Critics of the proposals, including myself, pointed out that the methods proposed to combat fraud (such as limiting early voting and requiring voters to show identification) noted that these would not address the sort of fraud that raised the alleged concerns.

Interestingly, there is a somewhat new election fraud story, one involving phantom requests for absentee ballots. In this case, a phantom request is one made by someone other than a person who can legitimately make the request for the voter in question.  During the August 14 primaries in Florida, 2,552 fraudulent absentee ballot requests were made, flagged and denied.

Interestingly, this attempt at election fraud seemed to be bipartisan in nature: according to the Miami Herald the requests were aimed at Democratic voters in one district and and Republican voters in two other districts.

Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace (sound...

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Some might be tempted to trumpet this as a vindication of the dire warnings about voter fraud and proposals to protect election integrity from certain Republicans. However, while this matter raises legitimate concerns, there is little in the way of vindication for these folks. First, there is a meaningful distinction between voter fraud and election fraud. However, I will let this slide so as to avoid bickering about semantics and definitions. Second, there is the fact that the attempts were caught and prevented by existing means. Interesting, the main proposals made by certain Republicans such as voter ID laws, restricting early voting and so on would not have prevented these requests (which were thwarted by the existing system). Thus, I stand by my view that the specter of voter fraud has generally been used to “justify” attempts to suppress voting rather than motivating legitimate reform of actual problems.

While the actual incidents of voter fraud do seem to be minuscule in number, there are legitimate concerns about absentee ballots that are worth considering. After all, while the attempts in the case at hand seem to been thwarted, there is certainly the possibility that other attempts have succeeded. There is also the general concern about absentee voting in general-after all, it would certainly seem to one of the easier avenues for attempts at fraud. Addressing these concerns would seem to involve enhancing existing methods of security (which caught the fraud attempts in this incident) and perhaps developing some new methods to ensure the integrity of the election. Naturally, these methods would need to be designed to avoid disenfranchising or discouraging legitimate voters.

Given the closeness of some recent elections, it is not unreasonable to be concerned that some sort of fraud played a role in the results. It is, of course, the possibility that even a small amount of fraud could decide an election that gives merit to concerns about even the minuscule amount of voter fraud that does occur. Perhaps of even greater concern is the use of gerrymandering by incumbents of both parties to redraw the political landscape with the sole intent of staying in office. That seems to be a rather serious threat to proper elections, but that is a matter for another time.

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  1. WTP said, on June 5, 2013 at 11:49 am

    Stunning. Critical thinking indeed…Tossing this one to you, TJ. Thoughts?

  2. T. J. Babson said, on June 5, 2013 at 4:37 pm

    Something like 1100 felons in Minnesota voted illegally in a race that was decided by 311 votes. Felons mostly support Democrats, so it is likely that Al Franken won due to the fraud. Without Franken, there would be no Obamacare.

    So, far from being a “phantom menace,” Obama’s signature achievement (and real menace) the ACA was likely made possible by voter fraud.

    • Michael LaBossiere said, on June 5, 2013 at 4:45 pm

      If 1099 felons did vote illegally in the race, that would be a serious problem. Fortunately, it is not true:

      Von Spakovsky said, “The idea that there’s some deep conspiracy is just laughable.” His own work, however, has suggested that liberals engage in conspiracies. “Who’s Counting?” opens with an insinuating account of how Al Franken, the Minnesota Democrat, was elected to the Senate in 2008. According to the book, there is “compelling” evidence, compiled by a citizens’ watchdog group, that “1,099 ineligible felons voted illegally” in the contest—“more than three times” Franken’s victory margin. The subhead of the chapter is “Would Obamacare have passed without voter fraud?”

      Fox News and other conservative media outlets have promoted this argument. However, Mike Freeman, the Hennepin County Attorney, who oversees Minneapolis, told me, “Those numbers are fraudulent. We investigated, and at the end of the day, out of over four hundred allegations in the county, we charged thirty-eight people. Their research was bad, sloppy, incredible. They are just liars.” Some of the targeted voters weren’t actually felons; others were on probation and hadn’t realized that they remained ineligible to vote. To be convicted of voter fraud, a suspect needs to have criminal intent.

      It might be claimed that the New Yorker is a liberal rag, but this is an empirical matter. If 1099 felons voted illegally in the election and this is known, then there would be clear evidence in support of this claim. However, the evidence indicates that this is not the case. 38 people were charged, but that is far less than 1099. Even if it assumed they all voted for Obama, 38 votes would not have given Franklin his victory.

      The election was a mess and certainly problematic. However, I do not think the main lesson is about voter fraud but about more general problems with counting ballots, etc.

      In any case, felons voting is already illegal and the proposals made by some Republicans regarding early voting and voter ID do not address the matter of felons voting. But that is okay since, you know, it is already illegal for felons to vote.

      • T. J. Babson said, on June 6, 2013 at 1:29 am

        Mike, if you read carefully you’ll find it is true. There have been well over 100 convictions so far. Problem is that in order to convict the state has to prove that the person knowingly voted when he was not allowed to. Such criminal intent is very hard to prove.

        • WTP said, on June 6, 2013 at 6:00 am

          Note that Mike leaves out the fact that Mike Freeman is not just any ole county attorney, but one who has run for office, as high as governor, numerous times on the Dem ticket. Hence the passionate hostility in Freeman’s statement, re “those numbers are fraudulent” and “they are just liars”. The real fraud and lying was being done by the felons, yet he displays no such passion in that direction. Also note the numerous fallacies in the article that pass unreferenced by Mike.

        • Michael LaBossiere said, on June 6, 2013 at 12:08 pm

          Find that what is true?

          Are you claiming you can provide clear proof that 1099 felons voted illegally?

          Is your point that voter fraud is hard to prove so that there seems to be few cases, but under a much broader definition there would be a lot of fraud? If so, what is your definition?

          • T. J. Babson said, on June 6, 2013 at 4:07 pm

            What is the name of the following fallacy?

            1) Due to lax enforcement of election laws, we have prosecuted very few people for voter fraud.

            2) The fact that few people have been prosecuted means that the problem of voter fraud is small and we shouldn’t worry about it.

            • Michael LaBossiere said, on June 8, 2013 at 10:58 am

              If #1 is true and there is adequate reason to believe that there are significantly more cases of fraud than are prosecuted and the person who claims #2 knows both of these claims, then this would be a case of the fallacy of incomplete evidence.

              You do raise a very important point. If it is the case that the enforcement of the laws is lax, then that would be some reason to believe that there are more actual cases of fraud than are counted (assuming that only prosecuted cases are counted). What would be needed would be evidence regarding the number of cases that could be prosecuted but are not. Otherwise, claiming that the fraud levels are significant would be based on a weak inference (that lax enforcement entails that the violations are significantly more numerous). After all, the enforcement could be lax, but the violations could still be relatively low. They could also be outrageously high-but evidence would be needed to determine this.

              This situation is somewhat analogous to the challenge I face with my tests and quizzes, namely establishing that a cheater has cheated. I do take considerable effort to prevent cheating, but I know that students do cheat. However, in order to count it as actual cheating, I need to prove it-merely suspecting it is not enough. I am sure that more people cheat than I catch, but I obviously do not know how many more. However, I can infer from the available evidence (grades, observing students during the tests, speaking with students and so on) that most students are not cheating (at least not significantly). Or perhaps they are very clever cheaters-carefully cheating as a collective to generate the expected bell curve of grades, for example.

              I suspect elections are similar: some people cheat (commit fraud), but the evidence seems to indicate it is a tiny percentage. However, as with cheating, it is worth determining the likely methods of the misdeeds and taking reasonable steps to counter them. My main point all along has not been that fraud does not occur (it does) but that the “solutions” presented by some Republicans would not address the fraud we actually have evidence for. As such, the reasonable inference is that these folks are aiming to suppress voters to gain an advantage for their own party. Of course, both parties engage in manipulating voter distribution by gerrymandering-that is, they craft absurd districts to ensure they get a majority.

            • T. J. Babson said, on June 8, 2013 at 11:35 am

              Mike, I do not think that voter fraud is rampant, but I don’t think it should be considered a non-issue, either.

              When 300 votes in Minnesota can change the course of the U.S. health care policy even low levels of fraud become intolerable.

            • WTP said, on June 8, 2013 at 1:13 pm

              My main point all along has not been that fraud does not occur (it does) but that the “solutions” presented by some Republicans would not address the fraud we actually have evidence for.
              Oh, BS. “My point all along”. Your point all along has been to refute any attempt to address the problem. As has been noted, requiring a simple photo ID is a simple, reasonable step at preventing fraud. That it won’t prevent ALL fraud is irrelevant and a fallacious argument. You know this quite well. Sliding from sophistry into outright lying.

        • Nal said, on June 6, 2013 at 4:28 pm

          Franken-Coleman Senate Recount: Flap over felon votes shows GOP playing fast and loose with facts

          Now, let’s take one key stat that Minnesota Majority focuses on, that 341 alleged felons from heavily Democratic Hennepin and Ramsey counties voted. For the moment, take that at face value.

          That would mean, based on voter turnout numbers, about 70 percent of them (240) would be from Hennepin and 30 percent (101) would be from Ramsey. Taking into account the percentages for Franken, Coleman and others in each of those counties, Franken would net 51 votes.

          Remember, he won by 312. Let’s take away those 51 in this silly game. That still isn’t enough to switch the result.

        • Nal said, on June 6, 2013 at 4:52 pm


          There are solid reasons to suspect that Minnesota Majority has overstated the number of illegal votes.

          Conservatives inflating voter fraud numbers, I’m shocked.

  3. WTP said, on June 5, 2013 at 9:51 pm

    TJ, TJ, TJ…Mike, the great Critical Thinker, throws up statements like this:
    Interestingly, this attempt at election fraud seemed to be bipartisan in nature: according to the Miami Herald the requests were aimed at Democratic voters in one district and and Republican voters in two other districts.

    and you throw him a softball to smug outta the park? Sigh…Let me get you started…If someone is fraudulently seeking absentee ballots, what difference does it make who they get them from? Obviously if one is working in favor of the Dems, the Repub ballots are gold. But what difference does the party affiliation really make? You get the ballot and you know 100% for sure who that ballot’s vote will go to. And you will know 100% for sure that the ballot will be cast. What sort of “critical thinker”, unless he is actually a sophist and has a taste for the red herring, would make such an argument?

  4. T. J. Babson said, on June 6, 2013 at 1:34 am

    The hypocrisy is what kills me. On the one hand we are told that the U.S. needs universal health care because most other developed countries have it. But if you point out that these same countries also require voter ID suddenly it doesn’t matter.

    We are also told that ID should not be required for exercising a constitutional right. Yet the same people have no problem requiring ID for purchasing a firearm, another constitutional right.

    • WTP said, on June 6, 2013 at 5:47 am

      You may have a Constituional right to own a firearm, but there is no right to vote in the Constitution. It does state that where a voting right exists, it may not be infringed upon for various specified reasons.

    • WTP said, on June 6, 2013 at 6:04 am

      Also, I found this comment by David Thompson rather informative in regard to “folks” like Mike,
      Some of the most frustrating and/or entertaining exchanges I can remember have been with students or former students, or people who’ve spent too much time in academia. When people who are definitely not idiots cheerfully disregard logic, evidence and the scale of their own assumptions, it’s very strange indeed. There’s a kind of obstinacy, an imperviousness.

  5. ut8t5 said, on June 8, 2013 at 4:28 pm

    Michael LaBossiere is a good example of cognitive bias in action.

    • WTP said, on June 8, 2013 at 6:06 pm

      Yeah, but good luck telling him that.

    • Michael LaBossiere said, on June 9, 2013 at 9:51 am

      Thanks for contributing so significantly to the issue at hand.

      • WTP said, on June 9, 2013 at 3:16 pm

        Where’s your snappy snark when AJ posts 7-8 paragraphs about the joooos and 9/11?

  6. T. J. Babson said, on June 9, 2013 at 10:29 pm

    From Obama’s website:

    Protect Whistleblowers: Often the best source of information about waste, fraud, and abuse in government is an existing government employee committed to public integrity and willing to speak out. Such acts of courage and patriotism, which can sometimes save lives and often save taxpayer dollars, should be encouraged rather than stifled. We need to empower federal employees as watchdogs of wrongdoing and partners in performance. Barack Obama will strengthen whistleblower laws to protect federal workers who expose waste, fraud, and abuse of authority in government. Obama will ensure that federal agencies expedite the process for reviewing whistleblower claims and whistleblowers have full access to courts and due process.


    Democrats at work!

    • T. J. Babson said, on June 9, 2013 at 10:35 pm

      It never gets old 🙂

    • T. J. Babson said, on June 9, 2013 at 11:20 pm

      Harry Stein:

      Yet in America today, only one of the dominant political parties–guess which one–is actually dependent on the idiot vote for its very survival. Ignoramuses are the Democrats’ core constituency. Can’t name your congressman or a single Supreme Court justice? Have vaguely heard of Gettysburg, but can’t quite place the war? Get your idea of news from People and Us or Comedy Central? You’re a singe-issue voter and the single issue is more-more-more and who-cares-how-it-gets-paid-for. The Dems not only want you to vote, they’ll hunt you down, fill out the registration form for you and show up on Election Day to drag you to the polls. And if you can’t make it, they’ll send someone else and say you did. And all the while, proudly cast themselves as defenders of democracy, because the right to vote is, you know, like, sacrosanct.


      • Michael LaBossiere said, on June 10, 2013 at 10:41 am

        All these claims are supported with actual arguments or evidence? Or is he just making unsupported assertions?

        • WTP said, on June 10, 2013 at 11:11 am

          TJ, I was just about to advise you about this, knowing Mike would give this sort of a response. The problem with Mike’s response here is that even if you take your valuable time to provide detailed, solid evidence (see: https://aphilosopher.wordpress.com/2013/05/17/doj-vs-ap/#comment-28557) Mike will eventually either abandon the argument, make some pithy comment and abandon the argument, pooh-pooh/tut-tut the argument (childish behavior begets childish terms), not even address the argument, or claim such was his point all along (see: https://aphilosopher.wordpress.com/2013/06/05/the-phantom-menace-in-florida/#comment-28934)

          • Nal said, on June 12, 2013 at 1:22 am

            Solid evidence?

            The LA Times reports that Libyan president Magarief was mistaken: The assault on the U.S. diplomatic mission in Benghazi last month appears to have been an opportunistic attack rather than a long-planned operation, and intelligence agencies have found no evidence that it was ordered by Al Qaeda, according to U.S. officials and witnesses interviewed in Libya.

            As the New York Times reports: To Libyans who witnessed the assault and know the attackers, there is little doubt what occurred: a well-known group of local Islamist militants struck the United States Mission without any warning or protest, and they did it in retaliation for the video.

            • T. J. Babson said, on June 12, 2013 at 5:32 am

              Mike: “My main point all along has not been that fraud does not occur (it does) but that the “solutions” presented by some Republicans would not address the fraud we actually have evidence for. As such, the reasonable inference is that these folks are aiming to suppress voters to gain an advantage for their own party.”

              Mike, could not one turn this around and say that the Democrats know there is fraud, but by downplaying it and minimizing its existence the reasonable inference is that they want it to continue because they benefit from it?

            • Michael LaBossiere said, on June 12, 2013 at 9:42 am

              That is interesting point. If the Democrats do benefit from the election misdeeds, then they would have a practical reason to play down such misdeeds. The fact that both parties have “good” reasons to muck with elections provides a reason to be suspicious of both parties.

            • T. J. Babson said, on June 12, 2013 at 5:42 am

              Nal, these newspaper reports are 8 months old.

            • WTP said, on June 12, 2013 at 6:52 am

              Notice lefties have no problem quoting the NY or LA Times or any other left media source, no matter how out of date nor obviously suspect the info is. But provide a quote stating established facts via Fox News and its all “FauxNews! FauxNews!”. There’s no philosophy here, just Dem cheer leading, even when there’s nothing to cheer about. For a man with a PhD who teaches ethics, of all things, to let such pass without comment, let alone to carry water for dems in other context is truly despicable.

            • Nal said, on June 12, 2013 at 10:08 am

              But quoting a Muslim politician who has every incentive to deflect attention away from internal extremists is “solid evidence?”

            • WTP said, on June 12, 2013 at 10:26 am

              Plenty of other evidence exists if you’re willing to acknowledge it. Or do you want to play semantic games all day like certain biomasses is/was/was/were wont to do? Quoting the NY Times or LA Times, which have every incentive to deflect attention away from Obama is relevant?

  7. T. J. Babson said, on June 12, 2013 at 7:59 am

    On Monday, CBS News uncovered documents showing the State Department may have covered up allegations of misconduct by its employees ranging from soliciting prostitutes to obtaining narcotics from an “underground drug ring.” According to the CBS, an internal memo from the department’s Inspector General says investigations into misconduct were “influenced, manipulated, or simply called off” by more senior State Department officials.


    Most transparent administration in history.

    Democrats at work!

    • WTP said, on June 12, 2013 at 9:16 am

      But that’s just hearsay. We need to wait until a full and formal investigation is done. And if that doesn’t fit the bill, an investigation of the investigation. But of course that would be silly, so why waste tax payer dollars. Sequester and all. Where will we get the money? Might as well just drop it now.

    • Michael LaBossiere said, on June 12, 2013 at 9:45 am

      Obama: “transparency.
      T.J.: “I don’t think you know what that means.”

      • WTP said, on June 12, 2013 at 10:29 am

        LaBossiere: “I take a fair and balanced approach to applying philosophical approaches to the issues of the day”
        WTP: “I don’t think you know what those words mean…nor irony for that matter”

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