Relax, John McCain, stolen elections are as American as apple pie.

Media criticism.
Oct. 21 2008 4:35 PM

Stolen Elections—as American as Apple Pie

Dissecting John McCain's hyperbole about voter fraud.

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As Campbell notes in his book, compromising an election's integrity in any way qualifies as fraud, whether it changes the outcome or not. So when John McCain shouts fraud in response to the sham voter-registration forms submitted by ACORN for "Mickey Mouse," "Donald Duck," and the Dallas Cowboys starting lineup, he's right. Just because these registrations might have been purged before a vote could be cast with them doesn't invalidate his charge. Fraud is fraud.

Democrats get accused of voter fraud more often in the modern era than Republicans, but as Larry Sabato and Glenn R. Simpson write in Dirty Little Secrets: The Persistence of Corruption in American Politics, that's probably because they have more opportunities. (Where Republicans have chances, they're known to take them, Sabato and Simpson quip.) Typically in the election cycle, Democrats are trying to increase the number of registered voters and boost turnout—especially among African-Americans and Hispanics, who tend to vote in lower percentages.

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The more aggressive the Democratic registration effort, the more likely that "quality control" will suffer and fraud will result, and every relaxation of voter-registration rules increases the likelihood of "mischief." For example, while the passage of the "motor-voter" bill in 1993 enfranchised many of the disenfranchised, it also made it easier to commit voter fraud. (See this think-tank critique, which declares the whole motor-voter process highly corrupt.)

Conversely, it's in the Republicans' interest to tamp down Democratic registration and turnout. Writing in the new Rolling Stone, Robert F. Kennedy Jr. and Greg Palast consider the ongoing efforts by Republicans to "obstruct" voter-registration drives, "purge" legitimate voters from the rolls, require "unnecessary" voter IDs, and reject "spoiled" ballots as an attempt to steal the 2008 vote, even where those efforts are legal. These barriers and others, Kennedy and Palast write, are examples of "GOP vote tampering"—the contemporary equivalent of poll taxes and literacy tests.

Finding the crease in the zone, where both inclusion and integrity reign at the American voting precinct, is probably impossible. If you care enough to see your candidate win, you probably care enough to cheat outright or, if not cheat outright, then bend the rules and rewrite them to your party's unfair advantage. Not even Solomon could satisfy everybody if he were in charge.

So, let's look on the bright side and enter the Election Day countdown appreciative of the fact that voter fraud—or charges of voter fraud—are leading indicators of high civic involvement.

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My favorite example of voter fraud? Robert D. Novak writes in his memoir, The Prince of Darkness: 50 Years of Reporting in Washington, that he deliberately committed voter fraud by casting two ballots for Dwight D. Eisenhower in 1956. Send your favorite to  slate.pressbox@gmail.com. (E-mail may be quoted by name in "The Fray," Slate's readers' forum; in a future article; or elsewhere unless the writer stipulates otherwise. Permanent disclosure: Slate is owned by the Washington Post Co.)

Track my errors: This hand-built RSS feed will ring every time Slate runs a "Press Box" correction. For e-mail notification of errors in this specific column, type the word fraud in the subject head of an e-mail message, and send it to slate.pressbox@gmail.com.

Jack Shafer was Slate's editor at large. You can follow him on Twitter or email him at Shafer.Reuters@gmail.com.