James O’Keefe, the guerilla filmmaker who brought down the ACORN voter-registration fraudsters in 2010 and forced the resignation of NPR executives, politely disagrees. Today, he is releasing some new undercover footage that raises disturbing questions about ballot integrity in Colorado, the site of fiercely contested races for the U.S. Senate, the U.S. House, and the governorship. When he raised the issue of filling out some of the unused ballots that are mailed to every household in the state this month, he was told by Meredith Hicks, the director of Work for Progress, a liberal group funded by Democratic Super PACS.: “That is not even like lying or something, if someone throws out a ballot, like if you want to fill it out you should do it.” She then brazenly offered O’Keefe, disguised as a middle-aged college instructor, a job with her group.
The video of O’Keefe’s encounters with other operatives is equally disturbing. He has a conversation with Greenpeace employee Christina Topping, and suggests he might have access to unused ballots from people who have recently moved out of college fraternity houses. “I mean it is putting the votes to good use,” she responds. “So really, truly, like yeah, that is awesome.”
Colorado secretary of state Scott Gessler, along with several county election clerks, have raised warning flags that a new state law that automatically mails a ballot to everyone is an engraved invitation to commit fraud. “Sending ballots to people who did not even ask for them or have moved out of state is asking for trouble” he told me. For example, little can stop someone who collects discarded ballots from trash cans, fills out the ballots, and mails them in. Election workers are supposed to compare signatures on registration records with signed ballots. But if a person has a “witness” who signs the ballot on the witness line, then the signatures do not have to match and the vote is counted.
Secretary of State Gessler had futile arguments with Democratic state legislators last year who insisted on ramming a bill through that mandated Colorado become the only state in the nation with both all-mail balloting and same-day registration. Under same-day registration someone can register to vote online, have a mail ballot sent to them, and never physically show up to register or vote. Other places that use same-day registration treat the vote as a provisional ballot pending verification. Colorado immediately counts the vote and there is no way to separate it out if the person who votes is later found ineligible. “We know people in other states with better integrity safeguards have cheated using the cover of these methods,” Gessler told me. A decade ago, Melody Rose, then a liberal professor at Oregon State University, concluded that state’s vote-by-mail system “brings a perpetual risk of systemic fraud” in elections with razor-thin margins.
“Voter fraud is incredibly difficult to detect and prosecute, absent a direct confession,” Gessler says as he notes that in other areas of law-breaking, we do not judge how much of it there is merely by the number of related prosecutions. But he also notes there is evidence of just how easy voter fraud is to commit. Last December, New York City’s Department of Investigation detailed how its undercover agents claimed at 63 polling places to be individuals who were in fact dead, had moved out of town, or who were in jail. In 61 instances, or 97 percent of the time, they were allowed to vote. (To avoid skewing results, they voted only for nonexistent write-in candidates.) How did the city’s Board of Elections respond? Did it immediately probe and reform their sloppy procedures? Not at all. It instead demanded that the investigators be prosecuted. Most officials are loath to admit how vulnerable election systems are, but privately many express worry that close elections could be flipped by fraud.
Nor are such sad examples limited to New York. In 2008, the Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of voter-ID laws in a 6–3 opinion written by John Paul Stevens, then the most liberal member of the court. He noted that the record “demonstrates that not only is the risk of voter fraud real but that it could affect the outcome of a close election.” Stevens had witnessed the Daley machine up close manipulate local elections through fraud and chicanery during a distinguished legal career in Chicago that included serving both as a special counsel to a commission rooting out corruption and as a judge.
I understand that Donna Brazile devoutly wants to wish away the notion of voter fraud. But by overwhelming margins, the American people believe it is a real problem and support steps to combat it. Indeed, a Rasmussen survey in 2013 found that a greater percentage of African Americans viewed voter fraud as a serious problem than did whites. That is because, as former Democratic congressman Artur Davis of Alabama told me: “Minority voters are often the biggest victims of voter fraud as reform movements in cities and depressed rural areas are crushed by fraudulent machine voting. I have seen it with my own eyes in Alabama.”
As with his expose of ACORN, James O’Keefe deserves credit for once again uncovering the potential for corruption at the ballot box while too many journalists keep their noses buried in campaign-finance reports. Both kinds of reporting are valuable, but O’Keefe appears to be a rare bird interested in ballot integrity.