By Bill Steigerwald
October 25, 2008
Q: Please give us a brief idea of what your book tells us about the nature of our voting system.
A: It tells us that we in many ways have as sloppy, as chaotic and as varied an election system as we had in 2000, when Bush and Gore spent 37 days fighting about Florida and the country didn't know who the next president would be.
If you compare voting conditions to the conditions of a dry forest at the end of summer, when there is a danger of fire, the flammable material is just as present as it was in 2000, except now a lot more people have matches.
Obama and McCain have 14,000 lawyers between them spoiling for intervention. If the margin of victory is close, if it comes down to one or two or three states that are very close, we're going to see lots of lawsuits, recriminations and recounts if the margin of victory is less than what I call the "margin of litigation" -- in other words, the trigger for which you start filing a lawsuit to try to get enough votes thrown out or get enough votes added to your column to win the election. I think it's a conscious strategy on the part of both campaigns to go to court and demand recounts if it is close enough.
The reason why that is troublesome is this: in 2000 when we had Bush v. Gore, we were at peace, it was before 9/11 and we had a strong economy. Now we have a weak economy, we have the war on terror and we have adversaries from Iran to North Korea to Hugo Chavez. We can not afford an election which casts a shadow over the winner, which leaves us with a president without full legitimacy, without full authority, without perhaps even the goodwill of Americans to tackle our problems. Bush himself before 9/11 (was held back) by the fact some people didn't think he had won the election. I don't want the next president, regardless of who that is, to take office under a similar cloud.
Q: Why did you feel you had to write this book back in 2004?
A: Remember, 75 percent of this new book is fresh material. It's basically been completely rewritten and updated. I wrote the old edition and the new edition because I felt people were not sufficiently informed about how vulnerable our election system was to breakdowns, incompetence and outright fraud.
Q: What's an example of an update or revision that you've added since 2004?
A: The Washington governor's race of 2004. There's fresh material on Barack Obama's relationship with ACORN that is very timely and very newsy.
Q: Is ACORN a real problem or is it just a bunch of people just getting paid to gather signatures that may or may not actually subvert the election?
A: Today's New York Times carries a story that ACORN apparently commingled government funds it received with political projects it was working on. So the scandal has gotten bigger as of today and these are internal ACORN documents that point to the scandal getting bigger, because if ACORN is now using government money for political projects that takes it to the level of seriousness.
Secondly, the contention is made that none of this matters because you can't take voter registration fraud into actual voter fraud because people aren't going to show up and vote "Mickey Mouse." Well, if you go to the United Press International or the Ohio papers, you'll find that this week the prosecutor in Franklin County, Ohio, which is Columbus, is investigating 13 people who apparently moved to the state temporarily from New York to register people to vote. They had no intention of remaining Ohio residents; they've already left the state. And they had 13 illegal registrations. Four of those people actually cast early votes that were illegal.
There are other examples. I'm simply saying that the notion that you can have thousands of fake registrations on the rolls and no one is going to take advantage of them to cast any illegal votes is ridiculous. Voter registration fraud is like an iceberg one-tenth of the iceberg is visible above the surface, nine-tenths below the surface. It's like the canary in the coal mine. If you're in a coal mine and the canary drops dead, what does that tell you? It tells you there's danger, right. It's a warning signal, right? If you have massive voter registration fraud it's a signal that the conditions are ripe for massive voter fraud on Election Day.
Voter fraud is often not detected. If somebody walks into a polling place or applies for an absentee ballot and they say they're "X" at "X" address, and they aren't asked for ID, because the vast majority of states don't ask for photo ID, there's nothing preventing that person from casting a vote on behalf of someone else or a fictitious person; voting; or sending an absentee ballot on behalf of another person or fictitious person, and then leaving. Once the secret ballot gets mixed in with others, you have no way of ever finding that out. Because we have a secret-ballot system, once the fraudulent vote is cast, you can never prove it. The way to stop voter fraud is to look for warning signals like this massive voter-registration fraud, look and see that already in the early we have people voting illegally and postulate that if we don't do something between now and Election Day we're going to get a big problem on our hands and we may never even know how many fraudulent votes were cast.
Q: Will readers of your book be encouraged or depressed by what they learn?
A: I hope they'll be entertained, because some of the stories are hilarious, frankly. I don't want to frighten them. I want to educate them. I want to educate them that we have the sloppiest elections system of any industrialized country. We have the least secure elections system of any industrialized country. And we can take practical steps to make them better, but all of this is drenched in partisanship and one side always wants to block the reforms it thinks are less advantageous to it or encourage reforms that are more advantageous to it. In other words, it's become a partisan football.
I cover both Republican malefactors in my book and Democratic malefactors. My job is not to serve as a partisan advocate; my job is to serve as someone who says, "Look, political power is so important in this country, there's so much political power lodged with the government, that people will often cheat in order to get that political power. And no political party has a monopoly on virtue." I present example after example. Right now we have an honor system in our elections; basically we take people at their word that they are who they say they are, that they are casting a legitimate vote. I want to replace that with a system similar to what Ronald Reagan urged -- trust but verify.
Q: Who seems to like your book more, Republicans or Democrats?
A: The majority of examples in my book are Democratic voter fraud examples. The reason for that is, Republicans used to have big-city machines -- Chicago; Philadelphia, by the way, until the '50s was a Republican machine; St. Louis. Those Republican machines have faded. Nassau County was the last one on Long Island. What's left are Democratic big-city machines.
Voter fraud is most frequent in big-city machines because two conditions are present at the same time: You have a large pool of voters who rely on politics for their livelihood or can be bribed or seduced into casting an illegal vote; and you also have the voting officials who are often beholden for their jobs to the machine and will often look the other way if they see fraud or sometimes they are even part of the fraud. That combination creates the perfect conditions for the largest amount of voter fraud.
Those are usually found in big cities or rural machines, old-style political machines, and those are more often than not controlled by Democrats. So it's not that one party is more virtuous than the other, but Democrats have more of an opportunity to commit voter fraud and, believe me, in big-city machines and rural machines, they often take advantage of that.
Q: What's the most overrated problem, vote fraud or vote theft?
A: Look, there's also a second problem which everyone says -- voter suppression -- which is Jim Crow tactics to try to keep down minorities from voting. I don't say it doesn't happen. I cite examples in my book of it happening, but they are not recent. First of all, because race is such a sensitive issue and because so many people are looking out for that kind of thing, you'd have to be pretty foolish politically to engage in something that's overtly designed to suppress minority voting. What they usually attack is something called "voter caging." Voter caging is when you send out a mailing to a group of people and you see how many bad addresses come back. In other words, you could take 100 voters and send out 100 first-class letters and you see how many come back showing that the person has moved. That's an indication perhaps that they're no longer an eligible voter because they've perhaps died or are otherwise ineligible. If voter caging is targeted specifically at only minority areas, that creates a very invidious question because you are clearly targeting minority voters and trying to knock them off the rolls. But that's almost never done anymore. Those examples I cite in my book are 15 or 20 years old. The only recent examples of voter suppression or intimidation that I can find are people will leave fliers in neighborhoods that say "Republicans will vote on Tuesday and Democrats vote on Wednesday." Or, "You have to clear up all your parking tickets before you vote or you might be arrested." These are anonymous fliers and I certainly deplore them. If anyone is found to have manufactured them and distributed them in neighborhoods, they should be prosecuted, because they are trying to trick people, fool people. I don't think people are that stupid to believe them.
The bottom line is, I don't say voter suppression doesn't exist. We spent a long battle in the 1960s over that. We have to make sure that we never again have people who try to intimidate or prevent people from voting. There are two civil rights. We have the civil right to make sure people can cast a vote -- we fought a battle in the 1960s for that, the Voting Rights Act. We should preserve and extend those gains. There's should be a second civil right -- not to have your vote canceled out by someone who shouldn't be voting, someone who's voting twice or someone who doesn't even exist. You can be disenfranchised just as easily if your vote is canceled out through fraud as if somebody stood in the courthouse door and prevented you from entering a polling place and voting. Do you see my point? Both are civil rights. We should pay attention to both civil rights -- that's the theme of my book.
Q: Are we going to be able to trust the results of this election in close states like Ohio and Florida?
A: It depends on how much we do between now and then to try to discourage voter fraud and other tactics people find objectionable. Forty percent of Americans right now, according to polls cited in my book, already have strong suspicions that their votes are counted inaccurately. A majority fear voter fraud, a significant minority fear voter suppression or intimidation.
Forty percent of Americans already have lost confidence in the accuracy and credibility of our election results. That is close to a toxic number. If we go through another 2000 Florida situation, where we have recounts, recriminations, rogue lawsuits, Election Day becomes Election Month, we could further erode confidence in our elections and have a president take office without the full credibility and authority that are necessary to deal with the challenges before us. I want a president whom people think has been elected legitimately. That's why I think we need to take steps to prevent an electoral meltdown.
Q: And what are they?
A: I think we can do three things between now and Election Day. We can give high school and college students credit to get training and help out at the polls, because there are going to be a lot of new voters and there is going to be provisional ballots, which will further complicate the vote count. We need more election monitors and election observers, from both parties. We also need prosecutors to step forward, because they've often treated voter fraud as a victimless crime or a crime that has a low priority. Or because it's so politically controversial or tinged with racial questions, they often don't pursue it vigorously. We need prosecutors to step forward and say, "Here's a hotline to call if you see voter fraud. Here's a hotline to call if you see voter suppression. Here's a press release saying prosecutors are going to be out looking for voter fraud and will pursue and prosecute it vigorously." We can make the situation better. We can't solve all of the problems or correct all the deficiencies. But there are practical things we can do between now and Election Day to
(Excerpts from "Stealing Elections)
E-mail Bill at email@example.com
©Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, All Rights Reserved.
Distributed exclusively by Cagle Cartoons, Inc. to subscribers for publication.