But according to a Carroll County election official and a University of West Georgia professor of political science, neither side has legitimate need to worry about a stolen election.
Dr. Stanley Caress said registration fraud is largely innocuous in itself, and voter fraud is rarely so widespread in modern elections as to change the ultimate results. While there was general concern when the country changed from paper balloting to electronic voting machines, he said, worries of a stolen election this year are mostly imaginary.
“Usually the margin of victory is large enough that fraud is a non issue,” Caress said. “With voter registration fraud it is actually a much easier process than voter fraud is. It’s much more difficult once they’re at the poll to have a fraudulent effort at the polls themselves. I don’t think it will be an issue this year because, first of all, they found out about it, and second, it’s in the registration process and it’s much easier to have problems with the registration process.”
Allegations of widespread registration and voter fraud by the Association of Community Organizers for Reform Now have been swirling around the conservative blogosphere, and GOP presidential nominee John McCain has gone as far to say the actions of ACORN employees in falsely registering voters threaten to destroy the “fabric of democracy.” At the same time, Democrats are concerned about the move by Republican officials to purge hundreds of thousands of voters from the voting rolls - some, they fear, simply because those individuals would likely vote for Democratic nominee Barack Obama.
“It’s been widely reported that [Georgia Secretary of State] Karen Handel has tried to eliminate voters from the rolls,” said Ray Harris, treasurer of the Carroll County Democratic Party. “The theory is that the more people we have to vote, the more likely we are to elect Democrats.”
Harris said Handel, a Republican, has submitted 2 million names of registered voters to the U.S. Social Security Administration in hopes the agency can find some discrepancy between each voter’s registered address with Social Security, the person’s driver’s license or any other identifying information logged with the federal government. In the state, any discordance between separate identification documents can result in the voter being stricken from the rolls.
Harris said the state works to limit poor neighborhoods’ access to the ballot box by providing such communities with a limited number of voting machines.
“In affluent neighborhoods like the one I live in, there’s always a surplus of voting machines. There’s voting machines waiting. You go into the poorer neighborhoods, and there’s lines. There’s not enough voting machines. They don’t want poor people or black people to vote, it works against them.”
Others on the left are concerned that even after they cast their ballot it will not be counted.
With the memory of the Florida recount of 2000 still in the back of her mind, Cynthia Coats, an Obama volunteer, said she was hesitant to cast an early ballot because it might be lost.
“I for one was afraid to vote early because I thought my vote was going to get lost or something,” Coats said. “Look what happened in Florida. I was thinking because I voted early, I wasn’t comfortable. I was afraid maybe there was some way they could erase it or just overlook it.”
But Carroll County Elections Supervisor Patti Brown-Traylor said nothing of that sort has happened in the county, and voters can be confident their ballot will be tallied.
“If someone is registered to vote and they have voted, there’s no reason to worry about their vote being counted,” Traylor said.
More than 10,000 people have already voted early in the county, and so far, there have been only a few instances that have raised red flags, the majority of which involved those who had registered at the Department of Motor Vehicles. Traylor said 10 people have come to vote but the office never received their registration from the DMV. These people were issued provisional ballots which will be counted once their registration is verified with the Department of Public Safety.
In terms of voter suppression, Traylor said she had not heard of any efforts to keep anyone from voting.
While Democrats worry about the electorate being underrepresented, Republicans are concerned about just the opposite. The threat of widespread voter registration fraud has many on the right crying foul, insisting voter fraud may taint the election, even before a single ballot is counted.
Their concern is chiefly rooted in regards to swing states like Florida and Ohio, where the last two presidential elections have been called into question.
Terry Agne, chairman of the Carroll County Republican Party and a volunteer for McCain, said the penalties for registration fraud alone should be much harsher.
“My own personal belief is that if someone deliberately commits voter fraud they should lose their citizenship. Organizations should be sued for millions which would cause them to disband their organization and then we should go after the individuals and take them for everything they own,” he said.
The primary problem with large-scale voter registration drives is that they oftentimes encourage paid staffers to produce as many names of new voters as possible, leading to corruption and possible election fraud, said Jim Beck, the president of the Georgia Christian Coalition, a historically conservative voting bloc. Because the electoral system is not primed for massive turnout, he said, this year is especially ripe for partisan maneuvering.
“Anytime you have the turnout that is anticipated, you worry about the fraud issue because there’s nothing more important than what happens at the ballot box. I’m always skeptical when people are paid to register voters,” Beck said. “My background is such that I’m more comfortable when you have people who are volunteers that are not doing it for pay, but organizations like ACORN where canvassers are paid with how many registrations they get, that sounds ripe for manipulation.”