Voter ID on Trial: The Hans von Spakovsky Wars

Reporting on Politics and Policy.
Aug. 1 2012 3:30 PM

Voter ID on Trial: The Hans von Spakovsky Wars

HARRISBURG, Pa. -- Here's one of the least-understood aspects of the voter ID trial: The missing subject of "voter fraud." Before hearings began in Applewhite v. Pennsylvania, both parties stipulated that "there have been no investigations or prosecutions of in-person voter fraud in Pennsylvania."

David Weigel David Weigel

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter. 

And yet, and yet... you can't keep a good voter fraud story down. The petitioners' final witness of the hearings was Lorriane Minnite, a professor at Rutgers* and author of The Myth of Voter Fraud. The states' attorneys objected as she started to talk about specific fraud prosecutions and indictments. The objection was overuled.

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"They cited the legislation in their opening brief," explained Michael Rubin, one of the D.C.-based attorneys who's helping out the petitioners here. "Voter fraud's been coming up in testimony."

The petitioners interrogated Minnite for more than 90 minutes, walking through many op-eds worth of fraud myths, fraud facts, fraud definitions, and the real problems with ballot-counting. When they were done, Senior Deputy Attorney General Patrick Cawley promised a "few questions" and started trying to undermine Minnite's credibility.

"Your formal education, if I read your CV correctly, does not include specific training in election administration, does it?" he asked.

"I don't know what you mean by training," said Minnite.

"Did you get any degree or take courses that were specifically geared toward election administraion?"

"Actually, there are no degrees in election administration."

Cawley couldn't really win. He got Minnite to admit that she had not volunteered as a poll worker, then tried to prove that the "voter fraud really is a problem" school needed to be taken seriously.

"Have you read the Carter-Baker Commission Report?" he asked, referring to the post-2000 election reform panel led by the former president and former secretary of state.

"Yes," sad Minnite.

"Is it safe to say that that's among the literature that's sort of required reading in the field of voter fraud?"

"No."

"No?" Cawley recovered quickly. "Would you take seriously someone who engaged with you in a debate on voter fraud, if he hadn't read the Carter-Baker report?

"Yes."

"Okay... why do you say that?"

"That was a blue ribbon commission," she shrugged. "The scholarly work on it was not of the depth that I put into my investigation."

The Carter-Baker quotes that followed didn't really advance Cawley's point. The commission commented pretty generally on voter fraud. It didn't name incidents of fraud. So, Crawley moved on to the work of Heritage Foundation fellow and former FEC commissioner Hans Von Spakovsky, one of the leading conservative voices on "voter fraud."

"Mr. Von Spakovsky reaches a different conclusion than you do," said Cawley, "not only about the necessity of voter ID laws, but about the presence of fraud."

Yes," said Minnite, with a grimace.

"I can tell by the look on your face that you're familiar with Mr. Von Spakovsky and his work?"

She was. She and Cawley briefly disagreed on whether Von Spakovsky ever served on the FEC -- "I couldn't remember which thing whe was nominated to that he didn't actually receive." She dismissed Van Spakovsky's work on election boards, because he was "never an administrator."

Cawley started to asked his witness about Spakovsky's work, but she didn't bite.

"We could go through each one, if you want, and I could talk about what I object to. But in general, he has made claims about voter fraud that, upon investigation, are not correct. In fact, I have written a rebutal to a claim he's made a lot about voter fraud in Brooklyn in 1982," published on a "highly-read election listserv."

"I didn't want to go through his testimony," said Crawley. But would Minnite admit he was an expert with different views?

"No," she said. 'He's not an academic. He doesn't do the kind of research that he should do before making these sorts of claims. He's not an academic. He's a lawyer. He's employed by the Heritage Foundation... but he has no standing as an academic. He's never produced academic research."

"Okay," said Cawley. "I'll switch the focus of my questions."

*I originally transposed the school that employs her with the school where she got her degree. Mea culpa.

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter. 

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