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December 14, 2011 3:26 PM Worst. Analogy. Ever.

By Jonathan Bernstein

I’ve blogged very little about the Republican War on Voting, because I really haven’t had anything to add to the conversation. It’s pretty straightforward: when Republicans win elections, they push to restrict voting based on a fig leaf complaint of “voter fraud,” the same excuse people have used for over a century to make it harder to vote. One could, I’ve thought, defend this as part of the normal give-and-take of democracy, or one could slam it as interfering with the basic and fundamental right to vote, but either way it is what it is.

Ah, but then I happened to be over at National Review’s “The Corner,” and saw this gem from Christian Schneider:

Think about all the times you’ve been told that sexual assault occurs more than we think, as victims are hesitant to come forward and press charges. (A claim I believe, incidentally.) What if we just used arrest and conviction statistics to determine how often women are assaulted? Should we assume nobody in Major League Baseball used steroids in the late 1990s because no players were suspended?

Wow. I almost want to skip past the first part of this because it’s so awful, but briefly: for that analogy to make sense, we’d have to believe that the reason that we have no actual evidence of voter fraud is that the victims (that is, Republicans) are just refusing to come forward. Does anyone believe that?

But mainly, it’s Schneider’s baseball analogy that got me going.

He’d have us believe that voter fraud is just like baseball’s steroids use. That is, presumably, the reason that no one has any evidence of widespread, significant voter fraud is because…huh? We know all about steroids in baseball. We have eyewitness accounts. We have MLB’s self-investigation, the Mitchell Report. We have trial records. We have lots of confessions. The guilty, or at least the believed guilty, have in fact been punished in some cases. In other words, whatever you think of steroids in baseball (and I believe it’s overhyped, but that’s another story), we have lots and lots of evidence documenting what happened. Voter fraud? Not so much. And no, Schneider’s list of mights and could haves doesn’t qualify.

In fact, voter fraud is far more like the major gambling and cheating scandals that have plagued every major sport recently. What, you don’t know about that one? Well, we have no evidence at all that there’s been any actual gambling/cheating going on (at least since this one), so by Schneider’s logic, there must be tons of it, right?

Just pathetic.

Jonathan Bernstein is a political scientist who writes about American politics, especially the presidency, Congress, parties, and elections.

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  • a on December 14, 2011 5:17 PM:

    "He’d have us believe that voter fraud is just like baseball’s steroids use"

    Apparently you don't understand the concept of "analogy".

    It's heartening to see that WM has fouind someone as stupid as Benen to stand in for him.

  • JS on December 14, 2011 5:22 PM:

    Hey! Our old buddy "Anonymous" from Plain Blog!

    How's it going, you pathetic concern troll, you?

  • emjayay on December 14, 2011 5:25 PM:

    The whole voter fraud thing is ridiculous on the face of it. Steroids in sports not reported? There is an obvious individual incentive to use steroids in sports: getting even a little bit better at home runs or whatever can earn an individual possibly millions. An individual voting fraudently? What incentive is there? Someone is gonna pay you a hundred bucks to make a single fraudulent vote?

    Real voter fraud is obviously at the next step: ballot box stuffing, changing the totals, etc. Jimmy Carter wrote that when he was just starting to get into politics he was shocked (remember, it's the South many years ago) to see wholesale vote count manipulations. If it is done, that's how it's done. Nothing else makes any sense.

    Why the current Republican hysteria? Besides just basic trying to disenfranchise likely Democratic party voters, which the Republican establishment wants, it is driven by Tea Party style suspicion of the other: illegal immigrants voting for Democrats who might support less enforcement of immigration laws or easier access to food stamps or something. Not that any illegal immigrant (I know, I know, but that's what they are) is going to have any interaction with government that they can avoid. Except for maybe a hundred bucks, which (see above) is not ever gonna happen.

  • Quaker in a Basement on December 14, 2011 5:25 PM:

    This is just one more example of a conservative playing the old "Who are you going to believe? Me or your lying eyes?" con. Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence, as Mr. Rumsfeld put it.

  • June on December 14, 2011 5:27 PM:

    Meanwhile, we have actual proof of Republicans indulging in election fraud and election tampering - something for which they've been getting sent to jail for lately. But Republicans only want the meme, "voter fraud" to stick in the public's consciousness. The GOP at large is beneath contempt.

  • Scott Monje on December 14, 2011 5:27 PM:

    JB,

    While I agree overall, I can't say that your sexual assault analogy works much better. A politician tricked out of an election isn't going to have the same direct experience of it as a rape victim.

  • Paranoid Floyd on December 14, 2011 5:27 PM:

    Hey look what I "fouind". Well, if we're going to nitpick...

  • Mike in TX on December 14, 2011 5:30 PM:

    Hey "a" -

    An analogy? Oh, so Schneider meant that voter fraud was analogous to steroid use in baseball?

    Maybe it's you that doesn't understand the word 'analogy.'

  • Gandalf on December 14, 2011 5:37 PM:

    Well now let's give Scneider the benefit of the doubt. Since a grand toatl of 311 cases of voter fraud were actually prosecuted in about a twelve year period out of 500 million or more different votes cast lets say that a thouasnd times that many actual voter frauds took place. That still amounts to an ant turd on a whales back as a percentage of cases.

  • T2 on December 14, 2011 5:38 PM:

    where's the damn Mini-Report thats supposed to come up at 5:30 ET?
    Come on Bernstein, pump it out.

  • dweb on December 14, 2011 5:50 PM:

    Voter Fraud is exactly the same as WMD and Yellowcake. Just because nobody can find any evidence of it, doesn't mean it isn't there. Keep looking.

    It is an issue which cost the jobs of a significant number of US attorneys when they failed to be aggressive enough in stamping it out under the Bush years controlling the Justice Department. They had told DC that it was a waste of their time and resources because they had conducted investigations into the charges of widespread fraud and found that it didn't exist.

    Well, you haven't looked hard enough. Time to look for a new job.

  • jjm on December 14, 2011 5:56 PM:

    By the Republicans' own count, there have been precisely 331 cases of voter fraud since 1997 -- with hundreds of millions of legitimate vote. That is just some kind of statistical artefact that doesn't show the true scope of the problem???

  • folkbum on December 14, 2011 6:04 PM:

    As a Wisconsinite, I would like to formally apologize for inflicting Christian Scheider upon you all. He used to be a moderate and sane conservative, but then he started working for the Bradley-funded WPRI and lost all connection to reality. His defenses of Scott Walker--and attacks on working folks here--have been just awful.

  • John McKay on December 14, 2011 6:43 PM:

    The fact that no one has reported that Christian Schneider raped and killed a woman in 2002 should be taken as proof that he raped and killed several women in 2002.

  • majun on December 14, 2011 6:56 PM:

    The real problem with the alleged analogy is that the Bush DOJ completely politicized the Civil Rights Division and investigations of voter fraud (by Democrats) was given a high priority throughout the Bush years, with virtually nothing to show for it. According to an article in the NYT in 2007, with the DOJ concentrating on rooting out fraud for five years all they were able to come up with were 95 indictments which resulted in 25 dismissals or acquittals and 70 convictions. Of those convictions only 26 involved ineligible voters, multiple voting, or registration fraud, the three categories that Voter ID laws are intended to combat.

    If we average those 26 cases out over the five years, that was 5.2 incidents per year. In order to make certain that there is no repeat of those 5.2 incidents of voter fraud each year the GOP is pushing legislation that some estimate will disenfranchise up to 5 million legitimate voters. Almost all of them probable Democratic voters. I guess if I were a Republican that would work for me.

  • square1 on December 14, 2011 7:15 PM:

    It is important to distinguish between organized voter fraud and isolated fraud.

    The best argument against the existence of organized voter fraud is that it is incredibly impractical. Think about how hard it is to get people to vote legitimately. Now imagine trying to get people to vote multiple times, with fake names, etc. Who is going to do it? The candidate can't do it. Neither can his senior supporters who would all be caught. What you would need is an army of low-level supporters without close ties to the candidate.

    But how do you find an army of people who are so loyal that they will commit a felony for a candidate? How many people could you organize to do this before someone leaks to the media or opposition? 10? 50? Unless you are trying to win a race to be your local librarian, this really isn't going to work.

    No, the only possibility is that people may attempt voter fraud in isolated cases. But, again, who is going to do this? It is hard enough to get people to vote once. how many people care enough that they will cheat to vote multiple times?

    My guess is that a certain number of arch-partisan Republicans, like say Ann Coulter (just google "Ann Coulter Vote Fraud" for more info), have convinced themselves that this is a legitimate problem and have rationalized doing it themselves "in response."

    I STILL think that this isn't a serious problem. But anytime Republicans accuse people of doing something, ALWAYS assume that is exactly what Republicans are doing.

  • N.Wells on December 14, 2011 7:31 PM:

    Well, it only took five fraudulent votes to make Bush president, so every vote counts. But I still don't understand why voting fraud charges were dismissed against Ann Coulter (yes, IOKIYAR).

    As Square1 said, whatever the R's are bleating about is what they are guilty of.

  • MaggieMcGee on December 14, 2011 7:49 PM:

    where's the damn Mini-Report thats supposed to come up at 5:30 ET? ... Come on Bernstein, pump it out.

    I feel you, T2. Maybe Blue Girl and Yellow Dog will take pity on us and post their Nightowl Newswrap before midnight tonight.

  • Anonymous on December 14, 2011 7:58 PM:

    I think (coming in late as usual) that this is an excellent, really interesting and smoothly written post. And "a" is, as everyone agrees, ludicrous. And Scott Monje -- perhaps I misread, but the sexual assault part of the analogy wasn't JB's, it was the first part of Schneider's really amazingly bad piece of inchoate sputter.

  • slf on December 14, 2011 8:01 PM:

    Oops. Don't want to be confused with anyone else on this thread. I hit post by accident before I put in my name. The post above, from "Anonymous" at 7:58, is really me, known in these here parts as slf

  • andyvillager on December 14, 2011 8:05 PM:

    rape analogies are just bad, low, and lazy form. but very republican, unfortunately.

  • BetweenTheLines on December 14, 2011 8:12 PM:

    Thanks to Jonathan Bernstein for filling in very competently for Steve Benen. I don't get over to Ten Miles Square much, but will have to reconsider ;)

  • square1 on December 14, 2011 9:16 PM:

    Just to be clear though, although Schneider is wrong in this case, he does make a legitimate point: just because there aren't convictions for something doesn't mean that crimes aren't occurring.

    Take Wall Street. Would anyone argue that there is now less systemic fraud on Wall Street than during prior eras simply because so few convictions, prosecutions, and referrals for prosecutions by regulators have occurred in recent years?

  • Scott Monje on December 14, 2011 9:45 PM:

    Anonymous sif,

    I don't mean to make a big deal of it, but JB said, "for that analogy to make sense, we’d have to believe that the reason that we have no actual evidence of voter fraud is that the victims (that is, Republicans) are just refusing to come forward."

    All I mean is that fraud victims may never know for sure that they're fraud victims, although they may suspect it. The experience of rape victims is fundamentally different. As andyvillager suggests, it's probably best to leave the rape analogies alone (even though Schneider started it).

    BetweenTheLines,

    Where you want to go is A Plain Blog about Politics.

  • PEA on December 14, 2011 10:26 PM:

    Sorry but I can't suppress the laughable image of a Republican candidate "raped" metaphorically by a Dem voter who commits fraud (perhaps by forging his elderly parent's absentee ballot, a scary possibility that could become epidemic along with Alzheimers-- have the R's thought of that??). You KNOW many Repubs would claim about rape that the so-called victim ASKED for it or DESERVED it by wearing something "too revealing" or being in the "wrong" location. So, playing this out, the Repug candidate must have ASKED for and DESERVED to be defeated by the voters? Hmmm... Perhaps this analogy has something going for it after all.

  • exlibra on December 14, 2011 10:51 PM:

    PEA, @10:26 PM,

    Yes, Republicans have thought of that, and they practice it, all the time, right here in my tiny town. Two ways they've been getting an extra vote here and there: 1) They have the power of attorney for the parent (peacefully vegetating in a nursing center) which, apparently, allows them to "help" with filling out a ballot. 2) You bring the parent to the precinct and fill out a form, requesting help, which the parent signs. You then enter the booth with the parent. The second method also works for Down syndrome offspring.

    How do I know they're Republicans? In a town as small as mine, you kinda know everyone and their leanings, what with passing by their yard signs daily. Besides... I work at the polls, and the helpers/cheaters show up with their helpless parents/offspring at every Republican primary (as well as general elections), but never at the Dem primaries (we do not register party allegiance in VA).

    And to make things crystal clear that the fraud is limited to Repubs... There's one Dem woman in town, who has a Down syndrome child. She *does* come to the polls with her child (35 yrs old), but the child is not registered to vote, and never even enters the booth.

    Not that the 5-10 such "votes" that we get are likely to change the outcome, even here, where only slightly over 3K people are registered to vote and where 1700 is a "big turnout".

  • Cha on December 14, 2011 10:51 PM:

    Not to worry, Jonathan, the "a" in the first post stands for asshole.

  • Col Bat Guano on December 15, 2011 2:46 AM:

    Maybe because the arguments presented in the article are as laughable as the analogies. As usual, cherry picked evidence is presented in the worst light and then a whole bunch of "maybe" and "possibly" is waved around furiously to baffle the easily confused such as yourself. If voter fraud, and by this I mean actual votes being cast by impostors or large numbers of people voting multiple times, was the widespread problem simpletons like you believe then at least one case would have been prosecuted where the results of a major election were changed by it. Go ahead, name it.

  • Ted Frier on December 15, 2011 7:37 AM:

    And whatever you think of the Republican ACORN-style voter fraud boogey man -- and I don't think much of it -- we've got actual convictions of Republicans doing far worse and affecting far more voters, such as the campaign manager of a Republican governor candidate (was it Maryland?) who authorized robo-calls to Democratic-leaning voters telling them they didn't have to show up at the polls because their guy had already won.

    It's voter suppression tactics like these that can turn elections, not the relative handful of voters who might be voting fraudulently. And these examples of GOP underhandedness need to be thrown in the face of Republicans every time they try to change the rules to make it harder to vote.

    The charge of "voter fraud" is what it has always been: a pretext for out-numbered conservatives to change the rules to make democracy more onerous so that right wing Republicans with their unpopular ideas are not swamped at the polls on election day.

  • square1 on December 15, 2011 8:06 AM:

    @Stellar:

    You are off your rocker. The analogies were the strongest part of the article. The point that absence of criminal prosecutions is not conclusive evidence of the absence of criminal activity is actually a decent point.

    Whenever Republicans whine about widespread imaginary voter fraud they demonstrate their detachment from the real world. As I point out above, you don't have to believe that Democrats are honest to understand why systemic fraud wouldn't work. You just have to grasp reality.

    You think that thousands of complaints of voter fraud are coming into office of district attorneys and that they are just choosing to not prosecute them because the DAs are Democrats? Hello? Even if the DAs are corrupt they could never cover up thousands of complaints not being prosecuted. The whole idea is preposterous.

  • zandru on December 15, 2011 10:42 AM:

    Never miss an opportunity to use their own words against them.

    The Republican Lawyers association conducted a massive, comprehensive nation-wide study of voter fraud (thanks, jjm!) for the last 15-20 years. They covered EVERYTHING. A lot of their 331 cases are questionable, not actually proven, or not even "voter" fraud. But suppose all 331 cases had been proven?

    Using round, approximate, conservative (in the actual sense) numbers, that's 10 years x 100 million voters x 0.5 election per year or about 500,000,000 potential votes.

    300 cases of "fraud" - or 0.00006% of the potential vote. In fractional terms, 0.0000006. In my book, that's REALLY GOOD quality control.

    So, we all need to start citing and quoting from the REPUBLICAN study. This was their best shot. It has no Democratic or librul bias. This is what the Republicans say.

  • Tramey on December 15, 2011 1:01 PM:

    I think the point of note regarding Republican concerns about voter fraud this time around is it's actually new "dog whistle" rhetoric for keeping undocumented aka illegal immigrants from access to the voting booth. Not that it's actually a real concern (I think it's pretty well documented that the undocumented steer clear of any place that might shine light on their undocumented status), but it's another way for the Republican to demonstrate their bona fides in their anti-illegal efforts.

  • CRA on December 15, 2011 2:25 PM:

    I see a pattern at The Corner. It's supposed to be a thinking conservative's blog, with lotsa smart contributors. But time and again I see carelessness, diffidence, shallowness -- as if most of 'em think blogging shouldn't be carefully considered. Schneider's dipshit analogy is just typical of their unforced-error style of slackercon blogging. Jonah Goldberg sets the standards

  • Kenneth Almquist on December 15, 2011 10:49 PM:

    @ CRA

    My guess is what you actually see at The Corner is dishonesty. I think the idea is that as long as some people fail to spot the flaws in some of their arguments, they are making forward progress.

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