As President Obama spoke about Representative Paul Ryan’s budget yesterday, Fox News broke away from the president’s remarks to cover “a stunning case in South Bend, Indiana.” The story covered an indictment by the St. Joseph County prosecutor’s office alleging that local Democratic officials forged signatures to get Obama, Hillary Clinton and John Edwards on the Indiana Democratic Primary ballot in 2008. “Indiana State Police investigators identified a total of 22 petitions that appeared to be faked, yet sailed through the Voter Registration Board as legitimate documents,” Fox reported. Eric Shawn, of the Fox News Voter Fraud Unit, said that a local election worker was “ordered to forge presidential petitions for Barack Obama, illegally faking the names and signatures of unsuspecting voters to put the then-Illinois senator on the presidential primary ballot.”
The new report will no doubt underscore the belief among Fox News viewers that Obama was illegitimately elected in 2008. According to a 2009 poll by Public Policy Polling, “52% majority of GOP voters nationally think that ACORN stole the Presidential election for Barack Obama last year, with only 27% granting that he won it legitimately.” Conservative commenters are pointing to the indictment as further proof of rampant voter fraud and more evidence of the need for voter ID laws nationwide.
There are at least two major problems with this argument.
Number one: there’s no evidence that the alleged forgeries played a decisive role in getting the Democratic candidates on the Indiana ballot in 2008 or determining the outcome of the primary or general election. “No one could seriously argue there wasn’t enough popular support for Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton to justify their appearance on the primary ballot, or that it had any effect on the primary results, or any vaguely remote effect on the general election,” writes Ed Kilgore of The Washington Monthly. “So maybe this was ‘election fraud’ in the broadest sense of the term, but hardly ‘voter fraud.’”
Number two: Indiana’s voter ID law, passed in 2008 and the model for the nine states that have adopted similar laws since the 2010 election, did nothing to prevent the alleged signature fraud, nor did it stop Indiana’s Republican Secretary of State, Charlie White, from committing felony voter fraud in the 2010 election. (White was sentenced to a year of home detention on felony fraud convictions.)
Indeed, the Indiana indictment reinforces how thin the conservative case about voter fraud really is and why voter ID laws are a misguided solution to a miniscule problem. As I reported in Rolling Stone last fall: