Friday, May 09, 2014

Human Error Isn't Voter Fraud

So Matt Schultz sent out a big press release and report on office letterhead yesterday "proving" that he's cracked the case on Iowa's Massive Voter Fraud Crisis, which isn't really what he did at all.

The timing is rather suspicious, coming as it does less than a month before Schultz's six-way congressional primary and shortly after the outgoing - outgoing! ☺secretary of state drew heavy negative publicity for keeping ex-staffers on the payroll in no-show jobs. Call this report what it is: candy for the GOP base that Schultz needs on primary day.

The biggest "problem" Schultz found was people registering, and sometimes voting, when their rights had not been restored after a felony conviction. Technically true. But everyone needs to remember: the policy on rights restoration changed and changed again. Tom Vilsack made it automatic and retroactive. Chet Culver's policy was ask, and then automatic. But Terry Branstad made rights restoration so difficult as to be nearly impossible, and it was literally the first thing he did upon his return to office.

The confusion is part of the point: people were wrongly turned away, as well. And there's no way to tell how many eligible people have been scared away from voting or even trying because of this crusade. In marginalized populations, read: poor and minority, read: heavily Democratic, there's already the fear that The System is out to get you, so why take the chance.

Johnson County got singled out on a couple items, and those are worth a look. The report states that one case was turned over to Johnson County. County attorney Janet Lyness said she had been approached by the investigator about a non-citizen who had inadvertently registered when getting a driver's license because of a language barrier.

“Instead of spending time on a murder or a sexual abuse case," Lyness said, "we had an agent spending hours and hours on a case where I said we’re not going to prosecute because there’s not enough evidence he willfully violated a law.” (This is what experienced attorneys call "prosecutorial discretion.")

The report also indicates that the People's Republic had 148 "Election day registration cases in which the voter’s address could not be confirmed in accordance with state law," by far the most in the state. Obviously, a bunch of Those People From Chicago If You Know What I Mean came over and stuffed the ballot box, just like they must have for Obama in the 2008 caucuses, right?

Well, no. There are also high numbers in the other college counties. Black Hawk and Story. Let me walk you through the typical election day registration and the followup process.

Joe College shows up to vote but isn't registered. He needs to produce proof of address - utility bill, lease, etc. - AND a photo ID. (Also lost in the discussion: Schultz's photo ID cure all would not have prevented ANY of the problems he cites in the report. Especially not election day registrations because they're ALREADY SHOWING ID in almost all cases. There are a few circumstances where someone else living in the precinct can vouch for you but those are rare.)

Polly Pollworker types Joe College's data onto the computer. Polly has a long and very busy day and there's a big line behind Joe College. Some of the data fields are mandatory, like lot and street. Some aren't, like apartment. Joe and Polly are both in a hurry. Joe, like more and more people these days, leaves off his phone number.

Polly prints a sticker with Joe's info, sticks it on a voter form, Joe signs it. He votes, probably for the first time, and is all happy about it.

A few voters down the line, here comes Phil Paranoid. He doesn't want to register ahead of time because he hates getting mail. He doesn't want to give his address and offers a post office box. Polly correctly tells Phil that she needs his street address to make sure he's at the right precinct. Phil reluctantly provides ID and proof of his street address, adjusts his tinfoil hat, and grouchily goes to vote.

Now the election is over. Polly Pollworker brings back her mountain of voter registrations. 56 other Pollys do the same, 98 other counties of Pollys do the same. The registrations get checked out and the voter cards get mailed.

Joe's card comes back to the office, returned as undeliverable. The staff recognizes the address: a high-rise, student oriented apartment complex. There's no apartment number. Either he didn't give that to Polly, or Polly didn't type it in.

Look up the scanned form to see if we call call him? No phone number. Check him out on the UI student directory? He's got Mom and Dad's address listed, and again no phone number. Phil's card comes back too. We have no idea why, not knowing about his post office box. Of COURSE Phil's phone is unlisted.

At this point we're legally obligated to send Joe and Phil letters saying their addresses didn't check out. Yes, we send a letter to the same bad addresses that just got returned to us. Even sending it Special D won't help.

So when you're looking at a statistic on "Election day registration cases in which the voter’s address could not be confirmed in accordance with state law," this is the kind of stuff you're looking at. Simple human error by well-meaning people, not "fraud." In any operation involving thousands of temporary employees and millions of people needing service, many of whom only use the service once every few years or for the very first time, mistakes happen despite everyone's best intentions.

Brad Anderson, the Democratic candidate to replace Schultz, says it better than I can:

"Matt Schultz has spent three years and a quarter of a million dollars trying to prove Iowans are cheaters, and as a result found isolated cases in the midst of millions of votes that have been cast since he took office. Throughout this investigation, Secretary Schultz has turned a blind eye to mismanagement in his own office, including ghost employees who spent months on his payroll without doing any real work. Our time and tax dollars would be better spent modernizing Secretary of State's office and working to increase participation in our elections. The results of this investigation show the real fraud in Iowa is being committed by Matt Schultz, not Iowa voters."

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