Voter Fraud and Democracy: How Damaging Is DOJ's Failure to Enforce Voting Law?

In the fall of 2008, Tarrell Campbell was a student at Southern Illinois University at Edwardsville. With his three separate master’s degrees, he had been on a college campus, somewhere, for more than a decade. He was so interested in the outcome of the 2008 presidential election that he cast a ballot in Illinois, then drove across a Mississippi River bridge to his hometown of St. Louis and voted again.

Last week, Mr. Campbell entered a guilty plea to federal voter fraud charges for illegally casting two votes in a federal election. He may well sit out the next presidential election in federal prison.

This strange case of a highly educated criminal seeking to game our electoral system is not as rare as you might think. While some dismiss voter fraud as a myth, as common as unicorns and Sasquatch, others claim fraud regularly determines election winners. Both views are wrong. The truth lies somewhere in between.

When he plead guilty, Tarrell Campbell told the federal judge that he simply had forgotten about his Illinois vote when he voted in Missouri. For that preposterous claim alone, he should have to go to jail. Campbell also trumpeted his three advanced degrees as a justification for leniency. Most Americans probably think those three master's degrees merit extra jail time.

Campbell described one of his degrees as a study of “economic social systems and Mediterranean studies.” He noted: “This program is centered on economic policy and how it can be best implemented in the Arab world.” No word on whether taxpayer dollars were used to educate this professional student turned federal felon, but we can probably presume we all helped Campbell one way or another earn those multiple degrees.

Unfortunately, Tarrell Campbell is but one of many recent examples of voter fraud.

It is a federal crime to vote more than once in any election where federal candidates are on the ballot. This statute can be used to prosecute someone who casts more than one absentee ballot, as well as someone like Campbell who votes in more than one state. It can also be used to prosecute someone who votes twice within the same state.

The problem is that double voting is some of the hardest voter fraud to detect. Section 8 of the federal “Motor Voter” law requires states to conduct reasonable efforts to ensure that only eligible voters are on state voter rolls. Dead people, ineligible felons, and people who have moved should not be on the voter rolls as a matter of federal law. Unfortunately, states usually don’t share their voter lists with other states. Nor has the Justice Department ever sought to act as a clearing house of multi-state registration data to detect duplicate voter registrations across states.

The federal government can enforce Section 8 of Motor Voter, but as I have reported previously, that isn’t going to happen unless there is a change in Justice Department policy.

In November 2009, Deputy Assistant Attorney General Julie Fernandes, the Obama political appointee in charge of the DOJ Voting Section, told the assembled Voting Section that the Eric Holder Justice Department had “no interest in enforcing Section 8.” Because “Section 8 denied ballot access rather than increase turnout,” the DOJ wouldn’t be enforcing the law, she said. Her tone exhibited dismissive contempt for this law.

Upon hearing this lawless announcement, seasoned Voting Section veterans and managers had a look on their faces as if someone announced without shame they were planning to steal boxloads of office supplies. I was there to hear the corrupt announcement firsthand. I saw the reactions.

The curious case of Tarrell Campbell is the hardest to police, but it is not impossible. Unfortunately, corrupt toleration of corrupted voter lists makes it harder to do so. Of course the criminal process can catch up with people like Campbell. But vigorous enforcement of Section 8 can also play an important role, and the DOJ should reverse Fernandes’ lawless policy and bring cases against states who have thousands of ineligible voters on their rolls.