Election Panel Delays, Edits Reports on Voter Fraud
NOTE: The following is one of a series of case studies produced by the Union of Concerned Scientists' Scientific Integrity Program between 2004 and 2010 to document the abuses highlighted in our 2004 report, Scientific Integrity in Policy Making.
The U.S. Election Assistance Commission (EAC), a federal panel charged with conducting elections research, misrepresented the findings of a bipartisan team of experts on the highly politicized topic of voter fraud. In a report contracted by the EAC, the experts found little evidence of voter fraud across the nation;1 the EAC replaced these findings with language injecting uncertainty into the pervasiveness of fraud and downplaying the findings on voter intimidation.2 As one author states, "the conclusions that we found in our research and included in our report were revised by the EAC, without explanation or discussion with me, my co-author, or the general public."3
The EAC reduced the draft to half of its length and only released a final version after receiving a petition with 13,000 signatories, sponsored by the People for the American Way.4 Among the substantive changes, the draft report's conclusion that "there is widespread but not unanimous agreement that there is little polling place fraud,"5 was altered by the EAC to read "there is a great deal of debate on the pervasiveness of fraud."6 The EAC replaced the section of the draft stating "there is evidence of some continued outright intimidation and suppression … a number of people also raise the problem of poll workers engaging in harassment of minority voters,"7 with this language: "intimidation is also a topic of some debate because there is little agreement concerning what constitutes actionable voter intimidation."8
Voter fraud, intimidation, and identification laws are sharply partisan issues. Republican leadership maintains that "voter fraud continues to plague our nation's federal elections, diluting and canceling out the lawful votes of the vast majority of Americans," and advocates mandatory photo identification for voters at polls.9 Democrats insist that voter fraud is not a problem, and that voter ID laws "will disenfranchise countless American citizens."10 The EAC was created by the Help America Vote Act of 2002 to serve as a national clearinghouse and resource of information regarding election administration and research; As a bipartisan commission, the EAC should remain completely independent from partisanship.11
Both authors of the voter fraud report are barred by contract from discussing the draft and the discrepancies with the final version. However, Tova Wang, the Democratic author of the report, sent a letter to the EAC through her attorney "requesting that they release me from this gag order."12 The New York Times obtained an email from Job Serebrov, the Republican expert on the report, defending his research to Margaret Sims, a commission staff member. "Tova and I worked hard to produce a correct, accurate and truthful report," he wrote. "I could care less that the results are not what the more conservative members of my party wanted. Neither one of us was willing to conform results for political expediency."13
The Justice Department has made prosecuting voter fraud a top priority since 2002,14 yet government records show that only 38 cases were filed between 2002 and 2005, and only 24 of these resulted in convictions or guilty pleas.15 Investigations by Congress and The Washington Post into the firing of several U.S. attorney generals suggest that some of the firings may have been motivated by a failure to pursue voting fraud cases.16 Other independent investigations have confirmed the conclusions of Serebrov and Wang that the lack of voter fraud convictions is not due to a failure to prosecute them, but instead due to their rarity.17
The EAC is also being criticized for failing to adopt a second commissioned report on the effects of voter identification laws. This report, prepared by Rutgers University's Eagleton Institute, concluded that voter identification requirements and other laws intended to address voter fraud can reduce turnout and particularly disenfranchise minorities.18 The EAC delayed action for nine months and later released it unofficially, citing concerns "regarding the data, analysis, and statistical methodology" of the report.19
In face of intense criticism, the EAC has requested its Inspector General conduct an investigation into the handling of these two reports.20 The commission also faces the threat of oversight hearings21 and repeated requests for information22 from Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-CA), chair of the Committee on House Administration's Subcommittee on Elections. On the Senate side, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), chair of the Rules and Administration Committee, and Majority Whip Richard J. Durbin (D-IL), chair of the appropriations subcommittee which funds the EAC, have also submitted questions.23 As they wrote in their letter to Commissioner Davidson of the EAC, "it is imperative that the Commission's actions and deliberations are unbiased, free from political influence and transparent."24
1. Serebrov, Job and Tova Wang. Voting fraud and voter intimidation: Report to the U.S. election assistance commission on preliminary research and recommendations. Draft version. Submitted July 2006.
2. Election Assistance Commission (EAC). Election crimes: An initial review and recommendations for future study. Final version. Released Dec 2006.
3. Wang, Tova. Tova Wang on the EAC gag order. April 26, 2007.
4. People for the American Way. Our work with the Election Assistance Commission.
5. Serebrov, Job and Tova Wang. Voting fraud and voter intimidation.
6. EAC. Election crimes.
7. Serebrov, Job and Tova Wang. Voting fraud and voter intimidation.
8. EAC. Election crimes.
9. U.S. Senate Republican Policy Committee. Putting an end to voter fraud. Feb 15, 2005.
10. The Democratic Party. Democrats fighting Republican hypocrisy on voting rights. Sept 29, 2006.
11. Help America Vote Act of 2002.
12. Wang, Tova. Tova Wang on the EAC gag order.
13. Urbina, Ian. U.S. panel said to alter finding on voter fraud (Abstract). The New York Times. April 11, 2007.
14. Gonzaes, Alberto R. 2005. Prepared remarks for the Ballot Access and Voting Integrity Symposium. Washington, DC. Oct 4, 2005. "Since Attorney General John Ashcroft created the Ballot Access and Voting Integrity Initiative three years ago, we've made enforcement of election fraud and corruption a top priority..."
15. U.S. Departement of Justice, Criminal Division, Public Integrity Section. Election Fraud Prosecutions and Convictions, Ballot Access and Voting Integrity Initiative. October 2002 – September 2005.
16. Eggen, Dan and Solomon, John. Firings had genesis in White House: Ex-Counsel Miers first suggested dismissing prosecutors 2 years ago, documents show. The Washington Post. March 13, 2007.
17. Minnite, Lorrraine C. The politics of voter fraud. For Project Vote. 2007.
18. Eagleton Institute of Politics, Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey, and the Moritz College of Law, The Ohio State University. Report to the U.S. Election Assistance Commission on best practices to improve voter identification requirements, pursuant to the Help America Vote Act of 2002. Submitted June 28, 2006, and released without adoption in March 2007.
19. Election Assistance Commission. Media Advisory. EAC to launch comprehensive study of voter ID laws. March 30, 2007. Accessed July 10, 2007.
20. Election Assistance Commission. EAC requests review of voter ID, vote fraud and voter intimidation research projects. April 16, 2007. Accessed July 10, 2007.
21. Lofgren, Zoe. Chairwoman Lofgren calls for oversight hearings on Election Assistance Commission: Hearing to review transparency of report process. April 18, 2007. Accessed July 10, 2007.
22. Lofgren, Zoe. 2007. Chairwoman Lofgren re-requests documents from EAC. May 2, 2007. Accessed July 10, 2007.
23. Feinstein, Dianne and Durbin, Richard. Senators Feinstein and Durbin seek response from EAC regarding allegations of altered or delayed studies. April 13, 2007. Accessed July 10, 2007.
24. Feinstein, Dianne and Durbin, Richard. 2007.