April 11, 2007

Indiana Secretary of State Rokita , the EAC Controversy, and the Incidence of Voter Fraud

At a recent AEI-Brookings Election reform project event, I tangled a bit with Indiana Sec. of State Todd Rokita, including over the question whether the National Association of Secretaries of State will continue to take its unfortunate position that the EAC should be disbanded. Sec. Rokita has also been a strong supporter of voter identication laws, and his state's law has been subject to challenge in the Crawford case (see some of my analysis of the cert. possibilities for this case).

I did not realize until now (or perhaps I forgot) that Sec. Rokita was a member of the EAC's working group on vote fraud issues (see page 4 of pdf).

In the draft Seberov/Wang report leaked to the NY Times, Sec. of State Rokita is quoted as making some troubling remarks about conducting research into possible voter fraud, a key empirical question not only for the constitutional issue in Crawford but for election administration more generally. On page 28 of the report, Sec. Rokita is quoted as saying both that he believes the EAC should be in business of designing its own methodology for figuring out the incidence of voter fraud (rather than relying on existing assessments of the amount of fraud) and that the EAC should be "very careful" not the make the "wrong selection in the eyes of some group" of a political scientist to conduct such a study.

In my view, there's no way that the EAC can design a sound methodology for a new study of voter fraud without the help of well-trained political scientists (or other social scientists well trained in appropriate research methods). It cannot subject the selection of such a political scientist to some kind of litumus test that excludes a good political scientist whose choice offends some interest group. This is part of the EAC's new pathology generally: it is afraid to release any data that might offend some group or take a side. (Under pressure, the EAC has now released that Eagleton/Moritz study on voter id and turnout that it has disowned).

In the end, I get the sense that no amount of evidence from the most eminent political scientist would convince Sec. Rokita that voter fraud at the polling place is not a major problem. From the report: "Mr. Rokita stated that, 'We're not sure that fraud at the polling place doesn't exist. We can't conclude that.'"

With the apparent demise of the American Center for Voting Rights (whose Thor Hearne was also in the EAC working group), Mr. Rokita appears to be fighting this battle alone on the EAC.

A more general lesson from the EAC controversy: There has been much writing in recent years by Chris Elmendorf, Heather Gerken, and myself on the use of election reform commissions and other devices to get changes in election administration rules. I fear that we will be studying the EAC's failures for many years to understand how not to engage in meaningful election administration reform.

Posted by Rick Hasen at April 11, 2007 11:07 AM