A long-overdue investigative article appears in the Thursday New York Times that shreds the Republican Party’s claims of rampant voter fraud:
Five years after the Bush administration began a crackdown on voter fraud, the Justice Department has turned up virtually no evidence of any organized effort to skew federal elections…
Although Republican activists have repeatedly said fraud is so widespread that it has corrupted the political process and, possibly, cost the party election victories, about 120 people have been charged and 86 convicted as of last year…
…Many of those charged by the Justice Department appear to have mistakenly filled out registration forms or misunderstood eligibility rules…
…For some convicted people, the consequences have been significant.
What’s the deeper significance of this story?
1. Defenders of the Prosecutor Purge say President Bush was merely implementing good policy, including pursuing voter fraud.
At the barest minimum, we now know it is terrible policy. Chasing a nonexistent problem for partisan reasons wasted Justice Department resources and resulted in unwarranted punishment for a handful who made innocent mistakes.
2. Despite the failed policy, the Purge happened anyway. As the The Times reports:
…nearly all the … convictions from 2002 to and 2005 … were won against individuals acting independently…
…Previous guidelines had barred federal prosecutions of “isolated acts of individual wrongdoing” that were not part of schemes to corrupt elections. In most cases, prosecutors also had to prove an intent to commit fraud, not just an improper action.
That standard made some federal prosecutors uneasy about proceeding with charges, including David C. Iglesias … and John McKay…
Although both found instances of improper registration or voting, they declined to bring charges, drawing criticism from prominent Republicans in their states. In Mr. Iglesias’s case, the complaints went to Mr. Bush. Both prosecutors were among those removed in December.
The disastrous policy is not just a case of bad policy judgment. It’s the inevitable result of politicizing the Justice Department and undermining our civil service.
3. The remaining question: How does the media treat voting irregularities now?
Republican claims of Democratic voter fraud were intended to turn stories about their own systematic voter suppression into he-said-she-said setups, playing on the media’s tendency to give “both sides.”
Now, one side has been discredited, and there’s no obligation to keep giving it a platform.
The media’s only obligation is to the truth. Any attempt by politicians to regurgitate the voter fraud talking point should be directly rebutted.
Additional thoughts at Talking Points Memo.