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Protesters rally to demand congressional action to protect voting rights on August 28, 2021. (Photo: Andrew Caballero-Reynolds/AFP via Getty Images)

Beware the GOP Election Police Force

States across the country are establishing or empowering law enforcement agencies to aggressively pursue rare instances of voter fraud.

Since the 2020 elec­tion, the nation's voting systems have been under unpre­ced­en­ted attack from multiple angles. Laws that make it harder to vote. Legis­la­tion that sabot­ages the elect­oral process. Threats and harass­ment direc­ted at elec­tion offi­cials. Extreme racial and partisan gerry­man­der­ing.

Wide­spread voting fraud is a myth, and these meas­ures are a solu­tion likely to be far worse than the prob­lem.

Enter another threat: "elec­tion police."

As the New York Times repor­ted over the week­end, Repub­lican governors and legis­lat­ors are creat­ing new law enforce­ment agen­cies to aggress­ively pursue voter fraud alleg­a­tions. Earlier this month, the Flor­ida Legis­lature voted to create the Office of Elec­tion Crimes and Secur­ity. In Geor­gia, a bill moving through the legis­lature expands the Geor­gia Bureau of Invest­ig­a­tion's power to pursue elec­tion viol­a­tions. An Arizona bill intro­duced by a state senator who wants to over­turn the 2020 elec­tion would create an "elec­tion bureau" to aggress­ively hunt down voter fraud. Texas already has its own "elec­tion integ­rity unit"—which it has beefed up over the last two years—in search of voter fraud to prosec­ute.

There's one prob­lem: wide­spread voting fraud is a myth, and these meas­ures are a solu­tion likely to be far worse than the prob­lem.

How do we know this? Because as the Times reports, Flor­ida elec­tion offi­cials made 75 refer­rals of possible elec­tion fraud during the 2020 elec­tion, accord­ing to the Flor­ida secret­ary of state's office. Just four cases have been prosec­uted.

Over the last two years, Texas's elec­tion integ­rity unit has had about as much luck as Flor­ida. In 2020, the unit closed 17 cases. Last year, that number fell to three. And in Wiscon­sin, its elec­tion commis­sion repor­ted that it had referred 95 incid­ents of people with a crim­inal record voting to local prosec­utors. All told, 16 people have been charged with a crime.

These numbers are par for the course. Lorraine Minnite, an expert in voter fraud at Rutgers Univer­sity, told the Times that the amount of voter fraud happen­ing does­n't change much. "In an elec­tion of 130 million or 140 million people, it's close to zero."

Yet 62 percent of Repub­lic­ans—compared with just 19 percent of Demo­crats—say voter fraud is a major prob­lem, accord­ing to a recent poll from Monmouth Univer­sity.

This pred­ates Donald Trump's Big Lie of a stolen elec­tion, but his cartoon­ish version has now become dogma. "As myths about wide­spread voter fraud become cent­ral to polit­ical campaigns and discourse, we're seeing more of the high-profile attempts to make examples of indi­vidu­als, " my colleague Wendy Weiser explained to the Times.

These efforts are clearly polit­ical, and its proponents are play­ing with fire. To create law enforce­ment squads to aggress­ively search for vanish­ingly rare fraud does­n't just waste taxpayer money. It's one more way partis­ans are using the myth of wide­spread voter fraud to cast doubt on free and fair elec­tions.

By continu­ing to discredit our elec­tion system without any evid­ence, these self-proclaimed protect­ors of demo­cracy are noth­ing but arson­ists.

© 2021 Brennan Center for Justice

Michael Waldman

Michael Waldman is President of the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law, a nonpartisan law and policy institute that focuses on improving the systems of democracy and justice.

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