The ‘Greater Sin’ in Election Fraud

Looking at “the media attention granted the right-wing attacks on ACORN,” politics writer Glenn W. Smith poses a question to Editor & Publisher readers (10/15/08): “Why does it seem to be a greater sin to be suspected of voter registration mistakes than to publicly engage in voter suppression efforts?” Smith’s response to his own query looks to U.S. election history:

One answer to this question might be simple editorial bias. E&P‘s Greg Mitchell detailed the right’s pioneer suppression efforts in his book, The Campaign of the Century: Upton Sinclair’s Race for Governor of California and the Birth of Media Politics.

As reported by Mitchell, in the 1934 race for governor of California, Republicans hatched perhaps the most sophisticated voter suppression scheme undertaken up to that time in America. Taking the shrewd advice of a former New York prosecutor, Eli Whitney Debevoise, opponents of Democrat Upton Sinclair leveled wild charges of voter registration fraud. A cooperative district attorney drew up a secret list of 200,000 allegedly illegal registrants.

The Los Angeles Times advanced the suppression campaign, writing on the front page that “it would be far better for a few honest persons to lose their votes than for a hundred thousand rogues to defeat by fraud the majority will of the people.” The publicity, the conspirators knew, would frighten those who were afraid they just might be on that list. Rather than risk capture (for a vague crime they had no understanding of), they’d stay away from the polls.

Smith tells us that,”ultimately, the effort ended in some embarrassment when no actual voter registration fraud was uncovered and the state’s Supreme Court tossed out the accusations”–though the currently applicable lesson of this tale is that the result was “not before the goal of the publicity was met.”

Listen to FAIR’s radio program CounterSpin: Lori Minnite on ACORN & Vote Fraud (10/17/08)