Beyond ongoing problems with absentee ballots, voter fraud is not a serious problem. It just doesn't occur very often. But in at least half a dozen states, conservative activists are being organized and dispatched to look out for anyone Tuesday who appears to be voting when he or she shouldn't. This is an old intimidation ploy to keep voters in poor and minority communities away from the polls. Interfering with a person's right to vote is illegal, and any hint of this kind of activity in Florida should be investigated by law enforcement.
There already have been some outrageous actions to suppress African-American and Hispanic turnout in other states. It is couched as combatting voter fraud, but the real intent is to scare people who might be new citizens or have a criminal record away from exercising their franchise.
• In Milwaukee, large billboards around the city show people behind bars with the statement "We Voted Illegally" and "3 YRS & $10,000 FINE" in big print underneath.
• A group called the Election Integrity Watch in Minnesota is training "surveillance teams" to look for questionable voters. A training document tells poll watchers to photograph buses that take voters to the polls and then follow the buses surreptitiously.
• Rep. Mark Kirk, a Republican in Illinois running for President Barack Obama's former Senate seat, is involved in an operation targeting four largely African-American areas. In a private conversation, Kirk said that he "had now funded the largest voter integrity program for 15 years in the state of Illinois."
Republican and tea party activists like to claim that voter fraud is an epidemic, but the evidence indicates the opposite. The Bush Justice Department took a look at voter fraud cases from 2002 to 2005 and found a total of only 55 convictions. Fewer than 20 of those involved people casting ballots illegally.
In Florida, the only serious election integrity issue involves the ease of obtaining absentee ballots. Daytona Beach City Commissioner Derrick Henry and his campaign manager were arrested Wednesday for committing absentee ballot fraud. The commissioner's computer was used to request dozens of absentee ballots before the city's Aug. 24 elections. It is illegal to request an absentee ballot for anyone but yourself or immediate family. The local elections supervisor spotted the anomaly and turned the matter over to the sheriff.
But history shows that when election security and surveillance efforts target African-American and Hispanic voters, the intent is to tamp down their election participation. The Republican National Committee got into trouble for this kind of thing in the past. Now the tea party and other conservative groups are adopting the same strategy. Someone needs to be watching these watchers.