The fall elections approach, and like clockwork, GOP operatives begin priming the faithful with horror stories of rampant Democratic Party voter fraud. How much substance is there to their tales of electoral chicanery, and how great is the need for stern measures to deter it?
Speaking on the topic at last night's meeting of the Republican Club of Central Palm Beach County was Lake Worth attorney Bill Skinner, described by his hosts as a "civic activist, community leader, and bon vivant." But Skinner's sorry history gives reason to doubt his expertise.
Skinner's great adventure in "How to Prevent Voter Fraud" (as a Tea Party invite to last night's meeting put it) took wing in July 2007, when he and then-Palm Beach GOP Chair Sid Dinerstein contacted the Florida Department of Law Enforcement with claims of 59 instances of voter fraud in Palm Beach County. According to FDLE:
The [GOP] advised that there were approximately 12,788 registered voters in Palm Beach County who were also registered to vote in New York State [and that] analysis of the November 7, 2006 election had been conducted and sixty individuals were found to have voted in the election in both Florida and New York. [Only 59 complaints were actually filed.]
As reported by the Sun Sentinel:
Their computer analysis was based on matching the full names and birth dates of individuals registered to vote in Palm Beach County and New York state. William Skinner, an attorney who lives in Lake Worth, oversaw the project for the party in part using his own money and about $2,000 from the party.
Asked what drove him, Skinner said, "I hate to be screwed at the voting booth by someone from New York. It's my civil right to vote and those people are taking it away." Skinner's computer data base crunched the identities of 11 million registered voters in New York against 800,000 in Palm Beach County. He said both states also list the last time someone voted in an election.
"I guarantee, every one of those 60 people voted in both states," Skinner said.
Skinner was wrong. After four months of investigation, FDLE concluded:
FDLE conducted biographical background investigations on the original fifty-nine individuals alleged to have voted in Palm Beach County and New York State. The background investigations determined that of the fifty-nine individuals, only twenty were in fact the same person who was alleged to have voted in both states. The individuals who proved to not be the same people shared biographical information, i.e. name, date of birth or current or former address.
FDLE subsequently obtained voter records from Palm Beach County and the New York county of residence for each of the remaining twenty individuals. Records from each state indicated that seventeen of the individuals had, in fact, voted in both states during the November 7, 2006 general elections. New York records indicated that three of the individuals had not voted in New York during the November 7, 2006 election.
On October 12, 2007 Inspector Mitchell made contact with Paul Zacks, Chief Intake Attorney for the Office of State Attorney, Fifteenth Judicial Circuit of Florida. Inspector Mitchell relayed the facts of the investigation to Chief Zacks and requested an opinion as to whether the voters violated state law by voting in both states. Chief Zacks responded that it was his opinion that because the voters did not cast more than one vote for a single candidate, Florida statutes had not been violated. Additionally, Chief Zacks recommended that the DOS obtain an opinion from the Office of the Attorney General of the State of Florida to determine if the act of voting in two separate states constituted voting twice in one election.
Therefore, based upon the facts of the investigation and the findings of Chief Zacks that no state law had been violated, the case will now be deemed closed.
New Times' search of the Department of State opinions database found no opinion of the sort Zacks described.
Here's what Skinner's kerfuffle tells us: So-called voter fraud is rare, typically inadvertent, sometimes not actually illegal, and lacks any evidence of Democratic Party conspiracies. What cries of voter fraud actually accomplish is to drive GOP demands for restrictions on access to the polls that suppress the votes of minorities and the poor.
Beyond that, when Florida officials recently discovered a genuine voter fraud conspiracy, it involved a firm hired by the GOP. And they got off the hook too.
Skinner and his GOP fans can take some comfort in the fact that their favorite "vote fraud" punching bag, ACORN, had 11 of its workers arrested in 2009 for registration fraud. Who blew the whistle on those miscreants? ACORN did.
Fire Ant -- an invasive species, tinged bright red, with an annoying, sometimes-fatal sting -- covers South Florida news and culture. Got feedback or a tip? Contact Fire.Ant@BrowardPalmBeach.com.