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A solution in search of a problem

Associated Press

Fox News ran a curious special report the other day called, "Fox News Reporting: Stealing Your Vote." The ostensible point of the report was to justify Republican efforts to place new restrictions on Americans' access to the ballot box, as we've seen in recent years with a slew of voter-ID laws.

And while Fox was able to highlight some actual, real-world incidents, there were a couple of notable problems with the report. For one thing, these were isolated incidents, some of them several years old, and represent an infinitesimally small percentage of the larger voter-participation rate. For another, as Matt Gertz explained, Fox found "no credible cases of in-person voter fraud that could have been prevented by" the GOP's voter-ID measures.

This seems to happen quite a bit.

As Gov. Bob McDonnell (R) prepares to decide the fate of a proposed voter ID bill in the Old Dominion state, the Richmond Times-Dispatch reported on voter fraud prosecutions stemming out of the 2008 election that "may signal a more significant voter fraud issue than some state lawmakers realized."

One problem: the type of voter fraud that allegedly took place -- namely, felons voting when they shouldn't have been -- wouldn't have been prevented by the proposed voter ID law.

The underlying problem itself is not at all widespread. Research uncovered 39 individuals who voted in Virginia who weren't eligible to do so. In an election in which roughly 3.7 million votes were cast in the state, the number is inconsequential, and just as importantly, there are already laws against these felons voting, and most of the 39 individuals are being prosecuted.

So when the right points to stories like these as a reason to pass voter-ID laws, they're confused -- the felons could have shown their identification and still cast a ballot.

The same thing came up earlier this month in Indiana, when four county-level Democratic Party officials allegedly falsified some petition signatures four years ago, got caught, and now face charges. Fox and Republicans seized on this as yet another reason to justify voter-ID laws -- overlooking the fact that voter-ID laws wouldn't have prevented the crime.

The right is so desperate for evidence it's seizing on the wrong kind of evidence. Of course, they don't have much of a choice -- if they're looking for proof of many people voting under false identities, they'll be looking for a very long time.