"Shouting 'Fraud' in a Crowded Theater"

Reporting on Politics and Policy.
Aug. 3 2012 12:10 PM

"Shouting 'Fraud' in a Crowded Theater"

"The biggest threat facing the conservative movement," said James O'Keefe, "is that people don’t have any balls."

David Weigel David Weigel

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter. You can reach him at daveweigel@gmail.com, or tweet at him @daveweigel.

We're at the annual Americans for Prosperity "Defending the American Dream Summit," and I arrived a bit late, so I'm already standing. The people who'd been sitting down soon join me. They rise up and applaud O'Keefe, who's produced a slew of embarassing videos that show election officials offering ballots to candid-camera journalists who are lying about their identity.

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After three days in Harrisburg, watching lawyers debate Pennsylvania's new voter ID law, I really wanted a refresher on the activism that made that law happen. John Fund, the former Wall Street Journal reporter and author of several voter fraud books, reminded the audience of the 2008 election that gave America "Sen. Al Franken-stein." It was "stolen," pure and simple. "We may come to the point where we find more people convicted of voting legal than votes that made up the margin in that election," said Fund. Conservatives needed to ring every alarm they could find before it happened again.

"Voter fraud is just like shop-lifting," he said. "If you talk about it and let people know somebody's watching, the rate goes down dramatically."

The people standing next to me murmured and said "yes" or "unbelievable" as the cases were laid out. Anita Montcrief, a former ACORN employee-turned whistleblower, assured activists that Democrats were desparately playing the race card when they opposed ID laws. "They like to work in these minority communities because it provides a shield," she said. "Most blacks have photo ID. Go to any area across the country. They're trying to stir up those emotions in the black community." And it was baseless. "If you look at what happened in Georgia, they said minority voting would go down dramatically if they passed voter ID. It went up."

She chose an awfully telling example. Georgia's voter ID law was phased in over several years, after being hit by injunctions in 2006. Compared to Pennsylvania, Georgia had four times as many locations where voters could obtain IDs. And the election Montcrief's talking about, with higher turnout, was 2008 -- the Obama race, when black turnout surged. As the Brennan Center has pointed out, it rose at only half the rate of black turnout in North Carolina, an ID-less state.

But rumors spread fast. In the Q&A, Fund was asked about an unfamiliar conspiracy theory, that "votes in this election would be counted in Spain. He dismissed it. "We lose credibility if we say thing that aren’t true," he said. "Don’t yell ‘fraud’ in a crowded political theater unless you know it’s fraud."

UPDATE: Hans von Spakovsky writes in to debunk some of the Brennan Center claims. "Black turnout also surged in Georgia in the 2010 race when Obama was not on the ballot," he points out, though the lack of exit polling in Georgia's 2010 races makes this tough to show on the blog. As far as the North Carolina-Georgia comparison goes, "what the Brennan Center never mentions when it cites this is that Georgia had the second largest increase in turnout of any state in the country in 2008 over the 2004 election. North Carolina was number one, but Georgia did better than 48 other states, including many without voter ID laws."

For evidence, here's von Spakovsky's recent report on the Georgia voter ID experience. It's compelling, and I think it shows that the petitioners have a stronger argument when they say that Georgia invested more resources, over a longer period of time, than Pennsylvania's trying to.

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter. You can reach him at daveweigel@gmail.com, or tweet at him @daveweigel.