With no notice and little comment, ACVR—the only prominent nongovernmental organization claiming that voter fraud is a major problem, a problem warranting strict rules such as voter-ID laws— simply stopped appearing at government panels and conferences. Its Web domain name has suddenly expired, its reports are all gone (except where they have been preserved by its opponents), and its general counsel, Mark "Thor" Hearne, has cleansed his résumé of affiliation with the group. Hearne won't speak to the press about ACVR's demise. No other group has taken up the "voter fraud" mantra.Now that we know at least nine U.S. Attorneys were "asked to resign" over the issue of not brining enough cases of voter fraud in courts, what happened? That is essentially 10% of the total 93 U.S. Attorneys.
The death of ACVR says a lot about the Republican strategy of raising voter fraud as a crisis in American elections. Presidential adviser Karl Rove and his allies, who have been ghostbusting illusory dead and fictional voters since the contested 2000 election, apparently mounted a two-pronged attack. One part of that attack, at the heart of the current Justice Department scandals, involved getting the DoJ and various U.S. attorneys in battleground states to vigorously prosecute cases of voter fraud. That prong has failed. After exhaustive effort, the Department of Justice discovered virtually no polling-place voter fraud, and its efforts to fire the U.S. attorneys in battleground states who did not push the voter-fraud line enough has backfired. Even if Attorney General Gonzales declines to resign his position, his reputation has been irreparably damaged.
But the second prong of this attack may have proven more successful. This involved using ACVR to give "think tank" academic cachet to the unproven idea that voter fraud is a major problem in elections. That cachet would be used to support the passage of onerous voter-identification laws that depress turnout among the poor, minorities, and the elderly—groups more likely to vote Democratic. Where the Bush administration may have failed to nail illegal voters, the effort to suppress minority voting has borne more fruit, as more states pass these laws, and courts begin to uphold them in the name of beating back waves of largely imaginary voter fraud.It's pretty clear from the firings of the U.S. Attorneys followed by the resulting exposure of the politicization of the Department of Justice and now the overnight disappearance of the American Center for Voting Rights that the fraud was not by voters but by the Bush White House.
Perhaps even with the demise of ACVR, the hard work—of giving credibility to a nonproblem—is done. The short organizational history of ACVR, chronicled indefatigably by Brad Friedman of the Brad Blog, shows that the group was founded just days before its representatives testified before a congressional committee hearing on election-administration issues chaired by then-Rep. (and now federal inmate) Bob Ney. The group was headed by Hearne, national election counsel to Bush-Cheney '04, and staffed with other Republican operatives, including Jim Dyke, a former RNC communications director.
Consisting of little more than a post-office box and some staffers who wrote reports and gave helpful quotes about the pervasive problems of voter fraud to the press, the group identified Democratic cities as hot spots for voter fraud, then pushed the line that "election integrity" required making it harder for people to vote. The group issued reports (PDF) on areas in the country of special concern, areas that coincidentally tended to be presidential battleground states. In many of these places, it now appears the White House was pressuring U.S. attorneys to bring more voter-fraud prosecutions.