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As the US presidential election heads towards the final stretch, voter fraud and voter registration issues have hit the headlines. Republicans claim they are trying to protect the
integrity of the voting process and the electorate, while Democrats accuse Republicans of voter suppression, putting up roadblocks, to disenfranchise voters Republicans think, will vote Democrat. Professor Spencer Overton states that there are “several examples of partisan election administration officials who are making decisions, and there is a cloud over their decisions, because of their partisan motivations that may be behind it.”

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US elections – The fox guarding the henhouse?

ZAA NKWETA, TRNN: As the US presidential election heads towards the final stretch, voter fraud and voter registration issues have hit the headlines. Republicans claim they are trying to maintain the integrity of the voting process and the electorate, while Democrats acused Republicans of voter suppression—putting up roadblocks to disenfranchise voters they think will vote Democrat. I spoke to Professor Spencer Overton, a law professor at George Washington University.

PROFESSOR SPENCER OVERTON, GEORGE WASHINGTON UNIV. LAW SCHOOL: Claims about voter fraud are exaggerated and irresponsible. If you look at the data, voter fraud is very rare. Out of the hundred million ballots cast in the presidential election, there are only about nine—just nine convictions per year for ineligible people fraudulently voting. So almost no one is willing to risk five years in prison to cast an improper ballot. The problem, though, is we’ve got politicians who make exaggerated claims about fraud, and they push these error-prone bureaucratic systems that would block thousands of innocent voters. —talking a problem that is inherent to the United States. If you look at whether it’s gerrymandering in our system or election administration, we’ve got the fox essentially guarding the henhouse here, because we’ve got politicians making the rules about elections. If you look in the newly formed democracy in Iraq that the United States helped set up, there they’ve got an independent election administration, whereas here in the United States we do not have that. Here in the United States, politicians essentially work and draw their own electoral boundaries, and in many other jurisdictions that doesn’t happen. And we’ve seen this as an issue recently. If you look at the US attorney firing scandal at our Justice Department, it illustrated the problems with trumped up rumors about widespread voting fraud. Several Republican US attorneys, they found no evidence of widespread voter fraud, and the attorney general, Alberto Gonzales, he fired them. Even though the scandal led to Gonzales’ resignation, there are still problems. Less than 24 hours after John McCain exaggerated these claims about voter fraud, two Justice Department senior lawyers violated Justice Department regulations and told the press that a voter-fraud investigation was being conducted. So we don’t want a repeat of the abuse of the Justice Department for political purposes that we saw before. We also have to prevent state law enforcement abuse. In Wisconsin, the McCain campaign co-chair is also the state attorney general. He used his position to sue and force the state’s election board to block registrations, and, fortunately, the judge threw his case out. In Ohio, the Democratic secretary of state blocked some absentee ballot applications from McCain supporters because a particular box that was not required by law was not checked. The McCain campaign chair for Southwest Ohio, who was also a county prosecutor, subpoenaed personal info of 40 percent of the voters who registered and cast a ballot on the same day, and which was completely in accordance with the law. And so we do have several examples of partisan election administrators who are making decisions, and there is a question, there is a cloud, over their decision because of the partisan motivations that may be behind it. I do think that certainly politicians want to do what they will to win—certainly not all politicians, but many of them—and some of them have admitted it. In Nevada just before the 2004 election, the former Republican state party executive director challenged 17,000 voters—all of them were Democrats. He said that he targeted Democratic voters because, quote, “I’m a partisan Republican. I admit it,” close quote. And the improper challenge was blocked by the county registrar. So I think in many situations there is some partisan motivation behind this. Certainly Senator McCain’s statement, I don’t know if it was intentional, but I think it was certainly reckless, where he said that now we’re on the verge of one of the greatest frauds in voter history in this country, maybe destroying the fabric of democracy. That was certainly over the top, it was reckless, and it was inconsistent with the facts.


Please note that TRNN transcripts are typed from a recording of the program; The Real News Network cannot guarantee their complete accuracy.

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Spencer Overton is Professor of Law at The George Washington University Law School, where he specializes in the law of democracy. Professor Overton's academic articles on election law have appeared in several leading law journals, and his book "Stealing Democracy: The New Politics of Voter Suppression"" was recently published and released by W.W. Norton. He was also a commissioner on the Jimmy Carter-James Baker Commission on Federal Election Reform as well as the Commission on Presidential Nomination Timing and Scheduling. Professor Overton currently serves on the boards of Common Cause