The Phantom Menace in Florida
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.
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.