In its fumbling attempts to explain the purge of United States attorneys, the Bush administration has argued that the fired prosecutors were not aggressive enough about addressing voter fraud. It is a phony argument; there is no evidence that any of them ignored real instances of voter fraud. But more than that, it is a window on what may be a major reason for some of the firings.
In partisan Republican circles, the pursuit of voter fraud is code for suppressing the votes of minorities and poor people. By resisting pressure to crack down on “fraud,” the fired United States attorneys actually appear to have been standing up for the integrity of the election system.
There is no evidence of rampant voter fraud in this country. Rather, Republicans under Mr. Bush have used such allegations as an excuse to suppress the votes of Democratic-leaning groups. They have intimidated Native American voter registration campaigners in South Dakota with baseless charges of fraud. They have pushed through harsh voter ID bills in states like Georgia and Missouri, both blocked by the courts, that were designed to make it hard for people who lack drivers’ licenses — who are disproportionately poor, elderly or members of minorities — to vote. Florida passed a law placing such onerous conditions on voter registration drives, which register many members of minorities and poor people, that the League of Women Voters of Florida suspended its registration work in the state.
The claims of vote fraud used to promote these measures usually fall apart on close inspection, as Mr. McKay saw. Missouri Republicans have long charged that St. Louis voters, by which they mean black voters, registered as living on vacant lots. But when The St. Louis Post-Dispatch checked, it found that thousands of people lived in buildings on lots that the city had erroneously classified as vacant.