What is voter fraud?

During the last presidential debate, Republican nominee John McCain made the following remark: “ACORN is now on the verge of maybe perpetrating one of the greatest frauds in voter history in this country, maybe destroying the fabric of democracy.”

What is voter fraud? How is it different from registration fraud? And, most importantly, what is voter suppression?

Of the thousands of grassroots folks doing voter registration around the country, a very, very small percentage have been found to have faked information on registration application forms. But this does not mean that voter fraud has taken place. In order for actual vote fraud to happen, the fake application information would have to be approved by the Board of Election, with the individual verified as an actual person, and the board-approved applicant would have to show up on Election Day, prove his or her identity to local election judges and actually cast a vote.

There has never been a single reported instance in which fraudulently filled out registration application forms have led to improper voting. If a suspicious registration application form is turned in, the Board of Election tries to match the registration information with both the applicant’s driver’s license number and the last four digits of his/her Social Security number. If there is a mismatch, election officials attempt to contact the potential voter to verify his or her status. If status can not be verified, the application is rejected.

According to The New York Times, a five-year national crackdown on voter fraud by the Justice Department produced a total of 70 convictions at the federal level, including 40 campaign workers or government workers convicted of vote-buying, intimidation or ballot forgery and 23 cases of multiple voting or voting by ineligible voters.

There were 122 million votes cast during the 2004 presidential elections. And this year’s election turnout is expected to surpass all previous records. So do the math. Is John McCain really concerned about voter fraud? Or is he more concerned about a massive turnout of working class Americans, black, brown and white, young and old, voting overwhelmingly for Barack Obama?

ACORN, which hires people to do voter registration in largely low-income communities, employed over 13,000 people as voter registrars. In most cases where bad forms were turned in, the organization promptly fired the person responsible, andnotified the proper election authorities — as they are required to do by law. The group also separated and flagged suspicious applications to make the process easier for election officials.

In fact, ACORN has not been officially charged with any crime.

Now, what is voter suppression? Voter suppression is what McCain and the right-wing of the Republican Party are attempting to do right now. Voter suppression refers to the use of governmental power, political campaign strategies, media strategies and private resources in order to tamp down the total voter turnout, especially in areas seen as likely to vote heavily for one’s opponent. In effect, what we are seeing is an effort by McCain to delegitimize the voice of average Americans. He doesn’t want their voice to be heard. So he makes outlandish claims about so-called voter fraud even though the facts clearly state otherwise.

The Republican smokescreen is meant to accomplish three distinct goals: first, they want to distract voters from the real issues (the economy, jobs, health care, the war in Iraq, corporate greed and corruption in Washington); second, they want to keep newly registered voters, mostly African American, Latino and low-income, from actually going to the polls; third, they want to challenge the legitimacy of a process that encourages every citizen (no matter their class, color, age or beliefs) to participate in democracy. Contrary to John McCain’s rhetoric, the “fabric of democracy” is alive and well. Come Nov. 4, the people will have spoken. And change will come.

Tony Pecinovsky (tonypec @ cpusa.org) is district staff for the Missouri/Kansas Communist Party.