One of the great things about the 2010 election cycle was the rise of the grassroots Tea Party. It provided an identity for many people who simply previously weren't interested in politics. Many self-identified tea partiers weren't very politically savvy, and many of them lacked even a high school education, but the Tea Party gave them a place on the national stage. It was a beautiful example of democracy in action.
Since the 2012 presidential election, the tea party sites have been busy with claims of voter fraud -- over a hundred individual reports, by our estimate. We can't go through them all, and for the time being we're mainly covering reports of voter fraud that actually came from the GOP -- such as the Maine GOP's reports of unrecognized people showing up in small towns across the state, and the Wisconsin GOP's claim that voter fraud caused Romney to lose the state.
But there are many additional claims of voter fraud being made by the Tea Party. Are they accurate? Some may be. Let's turn our attention to a few claims that are particularly popular with the partiers.
One is that the town of St. Lucie, Florida reported "141% turnout." This has already been debunked, and as explained by Michelle Malkin's twitchy site:
"Voter turnout in St. Lucie County, Fla., was not 141 percent. The confusion arose because uninformed people mistakenly conflated the number of “cards cast” (the number of ballot pages submitted by voters) with the number of voters. Since most voters submitted two ballot pages, voter turnout in in St. Lucie County was roughly half the number of cards cast. Thus, turnout was roughly 70-71 percent, not 141 percent."
Again, the thing to remember about the Tea Party is that they're not politically sophisticated, and many party members were simply unaware of the two-card ballot system in place in many localities. Combine this with reported data that can be confusing, and it's easy to see the mistake.
Poor Richard's News broke the news that the city of Boston reported 129% turnout. But again, the blogger was led astray by the confusing turnout reporting, and was unaware that Boston uses two-page ballots. He has since corrected his post.
We can't blame the Tea Party for spreading these. As mentioned, many of them are politically and mathematically unsophisticated, but they make up for that with enthusiasm, and that's what counts. By spreading these reports of voter fraud -- whether true or false -- they're helping raise awareness of the voter fraud issue.
2010 saw a surge of Tea Party-backed candidates that restored a GOP majority to the House of Representatives, and our country is better for it. But the 2012 elections saw some prominent Tea Party-friendly candidates like Joe Walsh and Allen West lose their seats, and Tea Party favorite Michele Bachmann barely won reelection.
We should not dispair. The pendulum will surely swing the other way, and we look forward to a Tea Party resurgence in 2014.