A League of Women Voters forum on voter identification laws last week turned into an exercise in how to stamp out bad information and urban myths.
The forum, held at the South Valleys branch library, was held to examine laws enacted in several states and proposed in others that would require citizens to present government-issued identification cards before being permitted to vote.
Such proposals have been floated at the Nevada Legislature several times but have not been enacted (“A solution without a problem,” RN&R, March 29, 2007).
They are a particularly sensitive topic in Nevada because the state is a mecca for migrating senior citizens fleeing high winter heating fuel costs in the northeast. According to 2010 census figures, 12 percent of Nevadans are senior citizens. According to an exit poll conducted in three western states in the 2010 election, voters over 65 were 8 percent less likely to have a driver’s license than younger voters.
At the forum last week, Jim Moneyhun, who was recommended for the panel by the local Republican Party and heads a group called NV Clean Up the Vote, fired away with an array of charges in support of the ID requirement. His assertions essentially became the pivot of the forum, and in most cases were addressed by other panelists or audience members—or he declined to provide proof himself.
Moneyhun began with the statement, “I have been involved in election fraud for well over 16 years.” Presumably he meant the issue of election fraud. Then he cited various instances.
• Moneyhun said he knew of a case in Reno when someone was permitted to vote although his name did not appear on voter lists.
When his turn to speak came, Washoe Voter Registrar Dan Burk said that sometimes people are given “provisional ballots” when there is a problem with their registration or they are challenged on some basis, but that those provisional ballots are never counted until it is first ascertained that the voter was qualified to cast a vote in the first place.
• Moneyhun said that the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) in 2010 “set the software [of the Clark County ballot system] so that when you want to vote for senator, the button had already been pushed for Senator Reid.”
Both the union and Clark County Voter Registrar Larry Lomax deny the charge, which SEIU says stemmed from a claim made by a single viewer to a Fox television news station in 2010. Lomax calls the claim “patently false.” At the time the charge first surfaced—when early voting was being conducted—Lomax said the complaint had been made to the media but not to election officials who would have investigated it. The claim has been discredited repeatedly, and Lomax’s denial is posted on more than 3,500 websites. However, there are at least 1,280,000 websites that repeat the original charge, demonstrating the difficulty of stamping out bad information in the internet age.
Burk added that there was a single instance in 2008, not 2010, when someone pressed so hard on one ballot option that it caused an electronic glitch that might be compared to what Moneyhun alleged.
• Moneyhun said, “I personally know of Californians who came to Nevada [and voted].”
Moneyhun declined to provide the names of the Californians to Registrar Burk so the case could be investigated. When asked by panel moderator Janice Browne if he knew the names, he said he did but would not reveal them. He did not explain why he did not report what he regarded as a crime.
• Moneyhun said that in the 2010 election in Clark County, there had been some “ballots which had only Senator Reid’s name on them.”
Moneyhun did not produce such a ballot, nor did he provide any substantiation in the form of precinct numbers where the ballot was used so the charge could be investigated.
•Moneyhun said that on one occasion in Reno, “a busload pulled in and several dozen voted.”
Moneyhun was asked for the precinct number. He said he did not have it at hand but would send it by email to the Reno News & Review later. It has not arrived. An audience member pointed out that senior citizens sometimes travel to the polls together and that there are senior bus services to take them.
Members of the audience also offered scenarios that might suggest voter fraud.
• One audience member said that college students register to vote from their dormitory addresses and that mailings from the voter registrar’s office cannot be delivered to those addresses.
Burk said all voters must provide mailable addresses. In addition, the voter registrar’s mailings are marked “Do not forward,” so mailings would be returned to the registrar’s office, which would trigger inquiries.
Students in University of Nevada, Reno dormitories are informed that no mail delivery is made to those buildings and are advised that they can rent boxes at a post office, University Station, located on the campus.
• Although no one raised the issue of illegal aliens voting, when panel member Chris Wicker said the purpose of voter ID laws is to suppress voting by senior citizens and groups like racial minorities that have fewer driver licenses, one audience member wrote in a notebook, “Suppress ‘some groups’ – how about illegals.”
During Burk’s opening remarks, he urged people to be reasonably realistic and not conjure up improbable scenarios that do not pass the “smell test.” For instance, he said, the widespread suspicion that illegal immigrants are voting illegally falls into that category, because it means they would be gambling with bringing themselves to official attention: “Does it really seem like a person would do that to cast a single vote … at the risk of getting kicked out of the country?”
In any event, Burk said, there are a variety of safeguards. Voter records are cross-checked with the post office to make sure that addresses given by registrants actually exist. The signature of a voter must match the signature provided at the time that voter registered.
He has been a election official for more than three decades, he said, and has an interest in seeing that it happens legally. And any claims of voter fraud are investigated.
“If we’d seen evidence of it, if we’d seen proof, we’d want to address it,” he said.
But he also acknowledged that in recent years there has been a loss of confidence in officials like himself.
“Some time around the 2000 election, there was a loss of trust,” he said.
Although there have been reports that a Nevada initiative petition is being circulated to impose a voter ID law, none has been filed with the secretary of state’s office.
Wicker claimed that the drive for voter ID measures is being funded by the right wing Koch Foundation through the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), an organization that drafts model bills for state legislators to introduce in their home states (“Corporate group gets scrutiny,” RN&R, July 28). At least two Nevada legislators, Republicans Dean Rhodes and Greg Brower, are members of ALEC.
Virtually all voter ID measures have been sponsored by Republicans and approved by Republican governors. A couple of Democratic governors have vetoed such measures.
If the intent of such a measure in Nevada is as Wicker describes it, it might well backfire on Republicans, given the size of the senior citizen vote. In 2008, senior citizens voted for Republican John McCain over Democrat Barack Obama by 53 to 45 percent.
While Republicans have been the prime movers behind voter ID bills, liberals have also been outspoken in their suspicion of electronic voting devices.