Our elections are overwhelmed with voter fraud, or so say Steve Pappas and Nancy Crawford-Hall, the publisher of the Santa Ynez Valley Journal. In her columns over recent months, Crawford-Hall has laid out what she claims is the evidence of this massive fraud.
Does voter fraud threaten our system of democracy? Should we be worried? No.
Pappas and Crawford-Hall have confused registration fraud, which is a petty crime that threatens nothing of much importance, with voting fraud, which actually is a serious crime. Out of this confusion, they have spun a fantastic story about democracy under attack. It isn’t true. The only threat to democracy came from Steve Pappas, who sought to strip 18,000 American citizens of their voting rights, a threat which the courts dismissed for a complete lack of evidence. Let me explain.
Voting fraud is casting ballots illegally. Registering under a thousand different names and voting on behalf of these thousand fictitious people in an attempt to change the outcome of an election is an attempt to subvert democracy. Even a single case of casting a fraudulent vote is a serious crime.
In contrast, registration fraud is typically petty theft. Many campaigns pay people to register voters for their side. If a dishonest deputy registrar fills out a few fake registration forms and registers his dog Fido, he gets paid for it. He is stealing from the campaign. But if it is theft, it ends there. A few family pets may end up on the voter rolls, but if they don’t vote, democracy suffers no harm.
How do we know that there was no voting fraud in the 2008 election when Steve Pappas lost to Doreen Farr? It goes back to an old standard of both journalism and law. As Washington Post editor Ben Bradlee said to Woodward and Bernstein when they were chasing down Watergate conspirators, “Names, fellas, we want names.”
Names are precisely what Crawford-Hall and Pappas do not have. Yet if there had been voting fraud, names of illegal voters would be so easy to find. The names and signatures of registered voters and those who voted are both on file. When Pappas sued to overturn Doreen Farr’s victory, his lawyers got those lists and carefully examined them. They failed to find the name of a single person who voted illegally.
There is also the matter of precincts in Isla Vista in which voter turnout was over 100%. Was that evidence of fraud? No.
State law says that you can cast your ballot at any precinct. If it isn’t your precinct, you can cast a provisional ballot. That means that you can vote, but the Office of the Registrar will check your voter registration to make sure that you were actually registered in another precinct, that you only voted once, and that your signature matches the signature of the officially registered voter. Pappas’s lawyers also checked those records. No names. No fraud.
Nancy Crawford-Hall and Steve Pappas have been recklessly accusing innocent people of serious crimes. That raises questions about Pappas’s candidacy for supervisor. He lost his lawsuit against Doreen Farr and the judge ordered him to pay her legal fees because he did not have a shred of evidence to back up his claims of voter fraud. He is making those claims again in this campaign. One has to ask whether he is seriously confused about the law or so lacking in integrity that he would accuse innocent people of crimes. Either way, one has to wonder whether it is safe to put him in public office.
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Eric Smith is a professor of political science at the University of California, Santa Barbara, and vice-chair of the department. He is also faculty advisor to the UCSB Campus Democrats.