Margolis: Condos is right to defy Trump on voter info

Jim Condos

Secretary of State Jim Condos at the swearing in of Gov. Phil Scott on inauguration day 2017. Photo by Andrew Kutches/VTDigger

Editor’s note: Jon Margolis is a political columnist for VTDigger.

Praising elected officials ought not be a common practice. They tend to do an adequate job of that themselves, rarely missing an opportunity to tell the world how wonderful they are.

There are times, though, when an elected official deserves the approval of his constituents. Right now, Secretary of State Jim Condos is that official.

Granted, a Vermont politician takes no great risk defying the Trump administration, as Condos is doing over a request that he provide voter information to a federal commission.

He’s not even alone. At last count, election officials in 44 states, Democrats and Republicans both, have told the Election Integrity Commission that they would withhold at least some of the information because complying might violate state privacy laws.

But Condos was one of the first (he even got on National Public Radio the other day), and though he initially said he was “bound by law” to turn over some of the information, he quickly readjusted, announcing that he would first ask the attorney general (Condos is not a lawyer) what his options were.

Was this turnabout in response to pressure?

Sure. But elected officials should respond to informed pressure. Stubbornness in office is rarely a virtue

Unlike officials in some other states, Condos made it clear from the outset that his objections were not just technical. The very premise of the commission – “that there is widespread voter fraud” – was the real fraud, Condos said, part of “a systematic national effort of voter suppression and intimidation.”

Let’s not overpraise Condos. There’s no point in giving him what the late, great philosopher Whitey Bimstein called “a swelled head.” Besides, Condos was if anything too restrained in his condemnation of the commission.

This is a peculiar controversy. It thrives only thanks to a peculiar amalgamation of events and conditions: vicious partisanship, indifference to truth, and what someone called “the journalism of opinions-over-the-shape-of-the-earth-differ,” which assumes that accurately quoting both the flat-earth and round-earth advocates is sufficient.

Hence the creation of a dispute over whether non-citizens or other ineligible voters are showing up at the polls pretending to be somebody else when: (a) there is no evidence that this occurs to any meaningful extent; and (b) a moment’s thought would reveal that doing such a thing would be so pointless and so dangerous that almost no one would do it.

Oh, some people do. In a country of 325 million people, a few of them will do any fool thing. Here and there a guy will vote in the wrong town or precinct to vote for (or against) his brother-in-law. This is apparently what the conservative columnist Ann Coulter did in Florida in 2005 (for a friend, not a brother-in-law), avoiding prosecution because by the time her mistake (or misdeed) was discovered, the statute of limitations had expired.

But because doing this is so stupid, it is extremely rare. It is stupid not only because one is likely to get caught and serve up to five years in prison, but also because one vote makes no difference, and most people understand that it makes no difference.

That explains why all the actual data by actual scholars show that this kind of voter fraud barely exists. One compilation of all general and primary elections from 2000 through 2014, in which more than 1 billion ballots were cast, found 31 alleged (that’s alleged, not proven) incidents of someone pretending to be someone else at the polls.

That’s effectively zero.

And yet, some partisans glom onto any incident, however irrelevant, to try to show that voter impersonation exists. Their latest is the news that someone in Virginia recently pleaded guilty to submitting 18 fake registration forms, some of them in the names of dead people, to his local election agency.

But this was registration fraud, not voter fraud. None of those people dead or alive actually voted. And the guy who tried to register them got caught. He’s going to jail. The system worked.

Deliberately or otherwise, this whole manufactured controversy over impersonation voter fraud is misdirection. There is some election fraud in the country. Most of it involves absentee ballots. As more votes are cast and tabulated by computer, there is a danger that the systems could be hacked and the results perverted by a political organization, a criminal organization, or … Russia?

Dangers ignored by the federal government as it pursues the non-danger of impersonation at the polls.

A convenient pursuit because it appeals to the common delusion among proper, respectable people that wickedness is practiced only by those other folks down there. Note that rarely if ever does anyone allege that impersonators showed up at an affluent suburban polling place, only in the inner cities or the rural South and Southwest.

Nor is this presumption solely racial or ethnic. It is part of the nation’s political mythology that Mayor Richard J. Daley of Chicago somehow stole the 1960 presidential election for John F. Kennedy.

Actual evidence in support of this mythology is all but nonexistent. But Daley and his gritty, big-city “machine” (that’s a political organization you don’t like) – mostly white but clearly downscale – also qualify as those other folks down there, not so proper and respectable.

But the real political corruption these days is legal, and is led by the proper and respectable, who know better than to try to pay people to impersonate legal voters. Instead they raise campaign contributions and hire lobbyists. That’s both more effective and cheaper. Then they can distract everyone’s attention by crying wolf about a threat which does not exist.

It’s just possible that Jim Condos understands this. Good for him.

Jon Margolis

Jon Margolis is VTDigger's columnist. He is the author of The Last Innocent Year: America in 1964, left the Chicago Tribune early in 1995 after 23 years as Washington correspondent, sports writer, correspondent-at-large and general columnist. Read more

Email: jmargolis@vtdigger.org

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  • Neil Johnson

    Why can’t we have open, fair and honest elections without a national registry? Isn’t that the goal of our republic?

    Shouldn’t that be the goal for everyone? Why aren’t we coming together on this issue?

    We can have easy, easy access. We can keep a check on fraud. Why would we not want this?

    If you have no id, no problem. Let them take your picture and put it into a data base of voters with no id along with your stated name.

    We can have open, fair, easily accessible and honest elections, that should be our goal.

    • Mike McNally

      Unfortunately voter ID laws are never based around giving people access to free forms of ID, they usually require a driver’s license or other form of ID which has a barrier to entry, which many poor/minorities don’t have access to, in order to restrict access to voting.

      Your free ID approach is a good one, but this voting fraud commission is not interested in good ideas, just in ideas that ensure as few new people can vote as possible so that the people who already vote (Older, white people for the most part.) have the most say in our elections.

      • Neil Johnson

        Working together we can assure access and no fraud. Don’t let the parties keep us from improving our country, by promoting division. We can have both, it’s actually really easy.

  • Robert Roper

    One vote doesn’t matter? Please tell that to Rep. David Ainsworth and ex Rep. Sarah Buxton who have experienced two elections pitted against each other decided by one vote (Buxton won the first, Ainsworth the second).

    Sure, people showing up as someone else to vote may be rare. But, the real vote fraud occurs with absentee ballots. There’s virtually no way to know, trace, or prosecute this kind of fraud. For example, if someone had an elderly parent without the interest or capacity to vote themselves, that person could request an absentee ballot in their parent’s name, fill it out, send it in. That’s fraud. Please tell me what serious or effective mechanisms are in place to stop, detect, and/or prosecute this kind of activity.

    • walter carpenter

      “But, the real vote fraud occurs with absentee ballots.”

      Do you have the evidence or the stats for that?

  • Willem Post

    Edward/Margolis

    I will donate $2 to a Vermont legal resident’s favorite charity for every person he/she finds to be improperly listed on a voter list anywhere in Vermont.

    This may eventually cost me at least $100,000, but it will shut up the liars and dissemblers in Montpelier and elsewhere.

    Blaming irregularities in voter lists on Russian hacker interference is pure hokum.

    It is a means to divert people’s attention from a real problem in every state of the US. Here is ONE example:

    In Rhode Island there IS A BIG PROBLEM with voter lists.

    http://truenorthreports.com

    The Providence Journal reports Rhode Island Secretary of State Nellie Gorbea conducted an audit of the state’s voter registry and identified 150,000 non-Rhode Islanders registered to vote in the state, NINETEEN PERCENT of all registered voters in Rhode Island. They were mostly citizens who moved to other jurisdictions or died. There were 781,770 registered voters in the state in 2016.

    Of course, this could NEVER happen in Vermont. I have a bridge….

    • paulaschramm

      “identified 150,000 non-Rhode Islanders registered to vote in the state, NINETEEN PERCENT of all registered voters in Rhode Island. They were mostly citizens who moved to other jurisdictions or died. ”

      It DOES sound like quite a problem ! But, I’m curious, of these registered people how many did actually vote ? That’s supposedly the point of Kobach’s investigations, and , as we know from Steve Bannon, Tiffany Trump, Jared Kushner, et.al., many folks are registered in more than one state without voting in both states. Now, if some of those who had died voted, THAT would be a problem indeed.
      At least here in VT, our town clerks know people well enough on their town’s voting rolls that there is an extra “common sense ” check on legal votes !

      • JohnGreenberg

        First, Paula Schramm is correct: showing up on a voter list does NOT imply voter fraud. Indeed, part of the process of eliminating people erroneously on a state’s voters roll is to remove those who have failed to vote in at least 2 elections.

        Additionally, the Providence Journal story says: “Secretary of State Nellie M. Gorbea has identified roughly 150,000 people erroneously on the state’s voters rolls and has begun to clean them up, she told The Providence Journal on Tuesday.

        Nearly 65,000 names have been removed since Gorbea took office in 2015, and another 30,000 have been marked as “inactive,” a first step toward removing
        them.

        “It’s not really fraud,” Gorbea said. “It’s really just inaccuracies.””

        http://www.providencejournal.com/news/20170628/150000-names-erroneously-on-ri-voting-lists

        If I’m reading the 2nd paragraph correctly, a large
        percentage of those identified have already been removed. Nothing in the story supports ANY allegation of voter fraud, which requires actual voting, not just
        registration.

    • Homer sulham

      True North reports also has a story about iacurate voter list here in VT.

      • Bob DePino

        The original article was in the VT Watchdog.
        A minimum of 25% of the voter roster in our little district was invalid.
        Voters moved, sometimes years, sometimes decades ago.
        Trying to run a campaign with invalid data is impossible.
        Just what the democrats want.

        http://watchdog.org/284538/vermont-voter-checklist-errors/

    • Paul Drayman

      It should be very easy to get the ball rolling on voter fraud. Since 150,000 non-Rhode Islanders registered to vote as you claim the audit revealed, then, Nellie, using available public records, can bring those who voted illegally to light and the prosecutions could begin. No S.S. #’s. No Mr. Condos. Start turning around this massive nationwide fraud. Thank God for Trump. His cleanliness and purity will create a title wave, devastating and crushing those who stand in the way of truth and threaten the very existence of our republic.

  • George Cross

    This certainly looks like proof that only Republicans cheat at elections. Hmm!

  • Lee Russ

    Unfortunately, much like having only a hammer tends to make everything look like a nail, being a true partisan tends to make everything look like a partisan issue.

  • walter carpenter

    “Steven Mnuchin, Mr. Trump’s Secretary of Treasury, was registered in New York and California, CNN found.”

    But, of course, this is not voter fraud because the right people are doing it. Thanks for putting this up.

  • James Rude

    If Condos also refuses to send voter information to all political advocacy groups, research institutions, etc., regardless of their left or right leaning positions, then I would support his move. The question is; has he in the past turned over voter info to such groups and will he stop from doing so in the future?

    • Sharon Fraser Toborg

      The Secretary of State’s office sends out an updated voter checklist every month (more often before elections) to anyone who requests it. The only requirement is that the recipient sign a statement that it will not be used for commercial purposes.

      • James Rude

        So, I guess Condos thinks that the Federal Government will use it for “commercial” purposes.

        • Jeff Noordsy

          That is their plan, correct. “The commission says it plans to publish the voter data it compiles,
          allowing it to be used commercially. That, Winters said, would violate
          the legislative intent of the Public Records Act.”

      • Jay Cummings

        So all Trump needs to do is sign this statement?

  • Paul Richards

    “…this is about preserving our voting process from President Trump and his henchmen and women who want to destroy it through this fraud ”
    What’s the fraud?

    • paulaschramm

      The fraud in this case is setting up a commission ( which takes time , energy, personnel and money) to investigate a practically non-existent voter problem to cover for something the POTUS’ made up……. when these same resources are needed to tackle real problems voters are facing, including voter suppression laws, incorrect and/or illegal purging of registration rolls, no way to check accuracy of electronic voting machines with a paper trail, incredibly long lines at voting polls because a secretary of state decided to have fewer than needed, etc.

      • Paul Richards

        “The fraud in this case is setting up a commission ( which takes time , energy, personnel and money) to investigate a practically non-existent voter problem to cover for something the POTUS’ made up……. ” You mean like the efforts searching for something, anything that proves that Hillary lost because of the Russians? Or the kind of fraud involved that rewarded Lois Lerner for helping the obama administration silence conservative groups before that election and obstruct justice? For all of that she was rewarded with a $130k bonus and a pension plan over $102k a year for life?

        • David Bell

          “You mean like the efforts searching for something, anything that proves that Hillary lost because of the Russians?”

          How about Trump literally asking Russia to hack Hillary, that count as something, anything?

  • Paul Richards

    The Republicans gave obama everything he wanted. Any purported resistance was nothing but showmanship.

    • JohnGreenberg

      That’s why Merrick Garland sits on the Supreme Court today, I guess.

    • paulaschramm

      Paul Richards – This is a strange assertion. The Republcans in lockstep kept Obama from doing many things he was hoping to do, including major immigration reform and a massive infrastructure program, to name just two; not to mention blocking many of Obama’s nominees for judgeships, etc……most shamefully refusing to even hold hearings for his nominee for the Supreme Court for a year. In my mind that was a dereliction of duty that amounted to treason.

  • Neil Johnson

    Yes many of us are. One suggestion above solves the problems you mention. We should have more polling, pretty basic.

    People camp out for the latest iPhone and sleep on the side walk 24hrs in advance but complain if they have to wait in line for voting. It’s also about priorities. There should be no long wait in lines, that problem is so easily solved it’s amazing it hasn’t been done.

  • Neil Johnson

    See this is where the public gets a short stick in the eye. Doesn’t this resist, resist, resist sound so familiar? I’ll protest, yeah, what good did that do you? How much change really happened? Do you feel better now?

    They get everyone riled up about resisting, resisting, nothing gets done but stealing and misuse of tax payer money for either or both sides. Meanwhile people resist, resist, resist while we are getting stolen blind of our money and liberties.

  • David Bell

    “And you don’t think people are voting 2x?”

    Since no one has presented a shred of evidence that they do after decades of right wing investigations, no.

    To assume voting is rife with fraud based on no evidence whatsoever is to deny reality. Or perhaps embrace alternative facts is the better term.

    • Neil Johnson

      Some how voting is the only place not corrupt or doesn’t have any fraud please explain.

      In EVERY other aspect of life one has to be wary of theft, fraud and corruption, but to suggest it doesn’t and isn’t happening in voting? Please.

      You are denying the human condition and reality that we are flawed everywhere else and perfect in voting? That is an alternative universe and denying what exists everywhere else in our world.

  • David Bell

    The fear comes solely from the right. Our so called President is trying to engage in another round of voter intimidation and harassment based on the factually bankrupt claim of voter fraud.

    We have seen multiple investigations into the menace of voter fraud: results, no evidence whatsoever it is widespread.

    “We could easily come up with a system that provides a free of charge voter ID card”

    This is the opposite of what voter suppression is about. The people demanding ID laws based on their personal belief fraud is rampant erect hurdles to minorities voting with almost surgical precision.

    And it is the duty of the government to ensure everyone has free, easy and quick access to anything needed to exercise the right to vote.

    When the anti-voting crowd gets us these free, easy to obtain ID’s get back to me. Until then all you have is a poll tax combined with Jim Crowe 2.0 laws.

    • David Dempsey

      David,
      You said that requiring photo IDs to vote is a “hurdle to minorities voting”. You went on to say that goverment is suppose “to ensure everyone has free, easy and quick access to anything needed exercise the right to vote.” I agree with you on that point.
      But the goverment requires you to have a photo ID to enter most federal buildings. That discriminates against any person who doesn’t have the ID needed, minorities included.

  • David Bell

    Addendum, on the Russian investigation. We have the word for word request of our so called President asking Russia to hack his enemies. That isn’t evidence?

  • Jeff Noordsy

    “So how do we know that there is not wide spread abuse of our voting
    system when there has not been a complete investigation of our voting
    system nationwide? ”

    Please check into President Bush’s 5 year investigation and let us know how that went. Thank you.

  • paulaschramm

    One person’s “liberal tripe” is another person’s relevant factual information…..

  • Bill Ketchin

    Considering all he has to do is send in publicly available voter information, why can’t he just do his job?
    Put a dollar amount on what this “resistance” costs both Vermont and the Feds and see how much the taxpayers really appreciate his partisan obstruction.
    Unfortunately, this voter fraud is exactly like the alleged Russian collusion, no evidence but let’s keep digging anyway….something will turn up.
    This guy needs to put on his big boy pants and focus on what is important. You know, like keeping inactive agencies records secure.

  • paulaschramm

    Jerry Kilcourse – yes, the notorious purging of Florida voter registration lists of anyone who had a name similar ( not even the actual same name ! ) to a felon was uncovered by the same investigative journalist, Greg Palast, who is now writing about this “Crosscheck” system that Vice Chair Kobach developed . The Florida 2000 election voter lists purging had great significance ( or would have had, if the Supreme Court had not been so determined to skip the actual counting of votes ). This is what made me give credence to what Palast is looking into now. He is a tenacious investigator.

  • Edward Letourneau

    If there is no fraud, then a commission will not find any. So why are people whining about looking? Seems they do not want to know if there is corruption or incompetence among thousands of little election officials across the nation. That is stupid.

  • Bob DePino

    There are SO many problems with the voter system in Vermont it is nauseating.
    And it has been known for YEARS and NOTHING is being done about it.

    http://watchdog.org/155846/vermont-voter-integrity/

  • paulaschramm

    Dan DeCoteau – About fear : I have absolutely no fear of there being a discovery of the kind of massive voter fraud that Trump alleged, and if that was all this sham commission was truly about, and if the taxpayer money wasn’t being used, I’d say : “go for it, knock yourself out, guys.”
    What I do feel fear about, based on past occurrences, is the use of all this extremely personal voter information to find ways to shape and limit voter registration rolls to benefit whatever political henchmen are in control at the moment. This is basically a non-partisan fear ! (Although Republicans have been shown to be really good at this kind of thing and they are in charge of this right now !)

  • Bill Ketchin

    There is no problem with the voting process it’s just the result you’re having an issue with.
    And what exactly are you attempting to resist, the fact that America is getting back on track? Or that the free ride is coming to an end?

  • Townsend Peters

    Go Jim go!

  • wendywilton
  • Phil Greenleaf

    Good points Jerry, but don’t expect your conversational adversaries here to stick to any facts. They are coming out of a horrid 8 years of intense paranoia. This reaction, as others, is pure fantastical longing for the dead dream of private nationalism ( a gated community of like kind). Little facts like you just pointed out just bounce off their ideological bubble. Let’s reframe the discussion to announce that it is the heinous right-wing that is in futile resistance to progress (slow as it may be). Cheers to you!

  • David Bell

    We have had multiple investigations over the past decades. The Bush admin alone spent years desperately searching for evidence of widespread voter fraud only to come up empty handed.

    I get my facts from actual, factual investigations. How many more investigations, precisely, are you going to demand before you accept those facts?

  • David Bell

    “The Garland thing was just business as usual for all parties.”

    Nope, never in the history of the US has this been done. It was a blatantly partisan attack on the integrity of our judicial system, a truly horrific abuse of power by the GOP.

  • Paul Drayman

    I guess we now have the proof !! The new commission can start their investigation beginning with Trump’s close circle. They can do this without Condos’s cooperation.

  • Paul Richards

    I wouldn’t consider the way anyone voted on the ACA the litmus test on obstructing or not obstructing obama. After all it was the most far reaching legislation this country has ever seen and has created irreversible damage. It’s not about healthcare, it’s about the government picking winners and losers, redistributing wealth, governmental bloat and control and paying off people for votes.

    • David Bell

      Paul,

      First you say the GOP gave Obama everything he wanted, not some, not most, not just a little: absolutely everything.

      Either you don’t believe Obama wanted the ACA, or you believe the GOP gave it to him.

      Trying to back peddle your earlier statement is disingenuous.

      The ACA was far reaching, though Social Security, Medicare, and quite a few other things were far more so.

      That said, it reduced growth in healthcare costs considerably, improved access (especially for anyone with a per-existing condition) and caused the number of insured to skyrocket.

      The saddest part is, when you talk about damage, these are actually the things you are referring to.

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