Voter fraud case triaged by local prosecutor because it doesn’t matter

Back in July, Greene County, Missouri announced that it was investigating a case of voter fraud. As the Missouri Times reported, an unnamed woman had reportedly voted twice in a special election on April 7th, voting once in her home county and once in the city of Springfield, which had a hotly contested non-discrimination ordinance on the ballot. There is no indication as to which way she voted on the ordinance, Greene County Clerk Shane Schoeller suggested that this was her reason for casting an extra ballot in a locality where she did not reside.

When the story first broke, Schoeller had some strong words concerning the case, saying in a statement that, “Voter fraud is not acceptable under any circumstance and it must be swiftly addressed to ensure all voters know their vote is not being compromised. I, along with our election team here at the County Clerk’s Office and our election judges, take this matter seriously and will continue to work to ensure every vote is protected.” The statement added that the still-unnamed woman could face up to five years in prison and $10,000 in fines if convicted.

Fast forward a few months, though, and it appears as though the case is no longer so serious. From the Springfield News-Leader:

Voting booth via Shutterstock

Voting booth via Shutterstock

Greene County Prosecutor Dan Patterson said his office is continuing to review the case but it has taken a back seat to others because the suspect doesn’t pose a threat to the community.

“We triage cases that come to us, right. I put our resources where the greatest public safety threat is and so we’re going to address those cases first and this case doesn’t present a public safety threat,” Patterson said.

On Friday, Patterson said he expects his office will make a decision on whether or not to prosecute the woman in the coming weeks.

In other words, regardless as to whether this woman did in fact vote twice in April, does it really matter?

This kind of fraud is pretty easy to catch. Your voting record (not who you vote for, but whether you cast a ballot) is public and held by the state, making it incredibly easy — as was the case here — to match records to see if someone voted twice. What’s more, as the Missouri Times notes, the fraud in question could not have been prevented by voter ID laws, as the woman appeared at the second location as herself — according to the county clerk’s office, she simply provided a different address. If she registered to vote in two places, the second registration should have canceled the first; if she didn’t register in the second location, and simply provided a name and address, then the workers at that particular polling station have to answer for why they let someone who wasn’t on their voter rolls cast a ballot.

Either way, nothing about the case suggests a comprehensive vulnerability in the electoral process — especially since she got caught. Additionally, since voter fraud remains exceedingly rare, it’s all but impossible that double voting on this small of a scale would have affected the outcome of the election one way or another — unlike the much larger effects that voter ID laws have. So, to reiterate what County Prosecutor Patterson said, cases like this simply don’t “present a public safety threat” — or any other kind of threat, for that matter.

All this is to say that, to conservatives who treat every claim of voter fraud as the literal end of American democracy, the people on the ground charged with actually prosecuting said claims would like you to chill.

Jon Green graduated from Kenyon College with a B.A. in Political Science and high honors in Political Cognition. He worked as a field organizer for Congressman Tom Perriello in 2010 and a Regional Field Director for President Obama's re-election campaign in 2012. Jon writes on a number of topics, but pays especially close attention to elections, religion and political cognition. Follow him on Twitter at @_Jon_Green, and on Google+. .

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3 Responses to “Voter fraud case triaged by local prosecutor because it doesn’t matter”

  1. The_Fixer says:

    It seems to me that, for some reason unknown, this County Prosecutor needed, or felt the need, to pump up himself and his office. Why?

    I’d think that in normal circumstances, this would merit an investigation, and prosecution/conviction before much was made of it. This is not a large conspiracy designed to sway an election, and it’s not some kind of public safety-threatening event. Why did he feel the need to make such a big deal out of this before charges were even filed, only to back-burner it?

    Maybe someone is trying to justify his existence to someone.

  2. gratuitous says:

    Now why would you think that? Oh yeah. Probably right.

  3. Nicholas A Kocal says:

    The prosecutor probably found out that the woman was a conservative republican.

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