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The meaning of fraud



I typically do not want to use this editorial column to respond to claims made by my co-writer and friend Al Fonzi, so as not to get readers caught in a wormhole of claims, corrections, and counter-corrections over the issues that we write about. This week I make an exception, primarily because I believe that we have a good shot at coming to a common understanding of the challenges that we face in protecting the integrity of the system that we both love. I need to address some of the claims made by Mr. Fonzi in his most recent column regarding voter fraud (“Sorting the wheat from the chaff,” Feb. 2).

Mr. Fonzi, responding to my criticism of President Donald Trump’s claims of systemic voter fraud, acknowledges that there were only a handful of documented convictions for attempted voter fraud in 2016. Yet Mr. Fonzi can’t bring himself to let go of the claim that we face “egregious attempts to violate election laws and steal the votes of citizens.”

As evidence to back his claim, Mr. Fonzi cites some well-publicized allegations and complaints of fraud. Note that Mr. Fonzi wants to advertise complaints and allegations of actions of potential election fraud. OK, let’s. Mr. Fonzi cites that “someone said they saw election officials stuffing ballot boxes” in Broward County, Fla. Well, thanks to this cool thing called the free press, we can look into such allegations, and it turns out that the local paper not only documented the allegation made by temporary election worker Chelsey Marie Smith, but they also followed up on the response by the Republican Secretary of Elections (SOE), which explained that “ballots were being completed by SOE staff on behalf of overseas military personnel who had voted by faxing their ballots to the election office. The fax paper does not scan into the voting machines and the votes must be transferred onto a ballot that can be scanned. State law allows such a transfer of vote to a computer ballot.” So, no election fraud.

To clarify, ballot stuffing is election fraud, not voter impersonation fraud, which is the type of fraud that Trump is claiming ruined his ability to win the popular vote. Mr. Fonzi cites the Minnesota Senate election of 2008 as an allegation of actual voter fraud, where potentially ineligible felons cast votes. Unfortunately for Mr. Fonzi, the loser Norm Coleman and Minnesota Majority, the right wing group that alleged there were 2,803 illegal voters, the allegations were investigated, less than 80 charges were brought by local authorities after the recount, and fewer (possibly 28) were convicted of registration or voter fraud. Far fewer than Franken’s margin of victory, and far, far fewer than what Mr. Fonzi or anybody else claimed. Though I would like to have the exact data, and that is a shortcoming. All we can be certain of is that anyone who claims the election was stolen is a liar.

Complaints and allegations are just that; no matter how many there are, they don’t add up to actual fraud. Consider the infamous allegation of the Atascadero 2013 election, when someone said they saw Mr. Fonzi and current Atascadero Mayor Tom O’Malley hiding ballots in the pig pens of former Councilmember Jerry Clay. This is a serious and disturbing allegation. But it is just that, and should be taken no more as fact than allegations of widespread voter fraud. Given that the press didn’t even follow up on it, I can’t imagine why anyone would believe it.

Mr. Fonzi can continue to entertain delusions about widespread voter fraud, or he can get out of the pig pen of conspiracy theories, come clean, and fight for electoral integrity like all good Americans should. He should stop attacking “the left” for opposing voter photo ID laws when it is his own party acknowledging that voter ID laws are designed to bias elections in favor of Republicans. Consider Glenn Grothman (R-Wis.), explaining how Republicans would win a presidential election in Wisconsin for the first time since 1984, “And now we have photo ID, and I think photo ID is going to make a little bit of a difference as well.” Or there is Mike Turzai, the Pennsylvania state House majority leader, who claimed that voter ID passed there might “allow Gov. Romney to win the state of Pennsylvania.” Don’t take our word for it.

Mr. Fonzi would be wise to address the worst fraud being perpetrated on the American people, the fraudulent capture of the once great Republican Party by white supremacists and ethno-nationalists who now sit in the highest seats of power.

Michael Latner is a political science professor and Master of Public Policy Program director at Cal Poly. Send comments through the editor at clanham@newtimesslo.com.

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