!! History Commons Alert, Exciting News
Profile: Justin Levitt
Justin Levitt was a participant or observer in the following events:
The Brennan Center for Justice at New York University’s School of Law issues an in-depth report entitled “The Truth about Voter Fraud.” The report is written and overseen by Justin Levitt, counsel for the Democracy Program at the Brennan Center. Levitt’s study analyzes reports over the last 10 years from around the nation, and finds that real instances of voter fraud are a vanishingly small number, usually less than a tenth or even a hundredth of a percent. Voter fraud of the sort that is usually alleged, he writes, is “more rare than death by lightning.… It is more likely that an individual will be struck by lightning than that he will impersonate another voter at the polls.”
'Voter Fraud' Usually Conflated with Other Kinds of Election Irregularities - Levitt continues: “‘[V]oter fraud’ occurs when individuals cast ballots despite knowing that they are ineligible to vote, in an attempt to defraud the election system. This sounds straightforward. And yet, voter fraud is often conflated, intentionally or unintentionally, with other forms of election misconduct or irregularities.”
Allegations Almost Always Exaggerated - Levitt writes that the allegations often stem from dramatic and unverified stories from bygone days, and those stories “make… a popular scapegoat” for other, non-criminal issues such as a vote not going the way someone wishes it had gone. “In the aftermath of a close election, losing candidates are often quick to blame voter fraud for the results,” Levitt writes. “Legislators cite voter fraud as justification for various new restrictions on the exercise of the franchise. And pundits trot out the same few anecdotes time and again as proof that a wave of fraud is imminent.” However, he finds: “Allegations of widespread voter fraud, however, often prove greatly exaggerated. It is easy to grab headlines with a lurid claim (‘Tens of thousands may be voting illegally!’); the follow-up—when any exists—is not usually deemed newsworthy. Yet on closer examination, many of the claims of voter fraud amount to a great deal of smoke without much fire. The allegations simply do not pan out.”
Allegations Used to Justify Restrictive Voter Requirements - The false allegations, he writes, have provided, and will continue to provide, justifications for restrictive policies such as heightened requirements for voter registration, voter identification requirements, enhanced demands for proof of residency, and others that actively restrict the ability of many legal voters to participate in the democratic process. [Levitt, 2007 ; Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law, 2012]
Brennan Center for Justice logo. [Source: Red Alert Politics (,com)]A coalition of civil rights groups files a lawsuit in federal court alleging that Florida’s new voting registration law blocks tens of thousands of legitimate would-be voters. The Voter Registration Verification Law, passed in 2005, is sometimes called the “No Match, No Vote” law because it forces first-time voters to provide identification numbers—driver’s license, official state ID, or Social Security numbers—to match those on their voter ID cards. If the numbers do not match, the citizens are not allowed to vote. Justin Levitt of the Brennan Center for Justice, one of the groups filing the lawsuit, says of the law, “Any number of things can go wrong in that process, and the fact that they do is why we’re in court.” The Brennan Center for Justice is joined in the lawsuit by the Florida branch of the NAACP and the Haitian-American Grassroots Coalition. Levitt says Florida’s State Department has provided files showing some 20,000 voter registration cards were rejected in 2006 because of the law. The lawsuit shows evidence that after California passed a similar law, rejection rates reached as high as 44 percent. Florida Secretary of State Kurt Browning says in a statement, “While it is not my policy to comment on pending litigation, I will reiterate that it is the intention of the Department of State to make sure that every eligible voter in the state of Florida has the means and the opportunity to register to vote and to cast a ballot.” The law merely works to comply with federal verification requirements, Browning says, and is “supported” by the US Department of Justice, which is reviewing Florida’s amended registration laws. The Brennan Center for Justice is also involved in another lawsuit challenging state rules which make it more difficult for independent organizations such as the League of Women Voters to register new voters. Levitt says the new law will only exacerbate an already-difficult situation for voters in 2008. “Given the way that registration picks up heavily in an election year, we really fear it’s going to pick up in 2008. As forms flood in before the deadline, there will be less time to deal with them,” Levitt says. [WTSP-TV, 9/17/2007; Florida Independent, 10/22/2010] The lawsuit will not succeed. [Tampa Bay Times, 10/28/2008] In 2008, the law will effectively disenfranchise almost 8,000 voters, the majority of whom are African-Americans and Hispanics, and over three-quarters of whom are registered Democrats. [Florida Independent, 10/22/2010]
Receive weekly email updates summarizing what contributors have added to the History Commons database
Developing and maintaining this site is very labor intensive. If you find it useful, please give us a hand and donate what you can.
If you would like to help us with this effort, please contact us. We need help with programming (Java, JDO, mysql, and xml), design, networking, and publicity. If you want to contribute information to this site, click the register link at the top of the page, and start contributing.