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Another Poor Attempt at Illustrating the Scourge of Voter Fraud

election-voter-peopleDeroy Murdock provides what seems to be a fairly typical “analysis” of voter fraud in the US in a NY Post column:  The vote fraud that Democrats refuse to see.  The method of argumentation is one I have seen before, and it seemed worthy of comment as an example of certain species of a common approach on the topic.

The piece is a combination of bullet points of examples of some combination of voter fraud and errors in the US electoral system that are summed up to proclaim that not only is voter fraud empirically real, but Democrats/critics of numerous Republicans attempts to address the issue are ignoring a grave, demonstrable problem.

He concludes:

Today, in order to preserve the dodgy electoral system that seems to benefit them when fishy things happen, their battle cries have devolved into “Count every vote, but don’t worry if some of them are negated by fake ones” and “One man. One vote. Usually.”

This is pathetic. If Democrats will tolerate non-widespread vote fraud, how many phony ballots are they willing to see neutralize genuine ones? 265? 765? 7,474?

A couple of thoughts occur.  One is that this falls into a “methinks thou dost protest too much” situation, given that as I noted yesterday, the electoral system of the US has far more structural advantages built into it for the GOP than it does the Democratic Party.  A second is that all the piece does is present a vague defense of the Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity while trying to reinforce the narrative that there is a huge problem that needs addressing while at the same time displaying borderline innumeracy.

The entire analysis is predicated on that fact that one can find examples of either actual cases of voter fraud and/or errors in voter rolls.  No one with any knowledge of the process would deny that this is the case.  And, by the way if it seemed as if the commission in question was dedicated to finding ways to strength our voting system, then that would be fabulous–unfortunately, their approach has been counterproductive at best.  And, moreover, the approach seems to fit far more into a long-term approach by Republican policy-makers to address what they see as a massive problem by simply making voting more difficult (while not even fixing many of the problems that Murdock cites).

I suppose some credit should be given to the piece to at least admit that the problem is not wide-spread–although he still tries to make the situation sound dramatically dire.  He does not go an especially good job of citing his evidence (links, for example, would have been nice), but for the sake of argument, let’s go with them. He provides the following numbers:  265, 742, 765, 953, and 7,474 which sum to 10,199.  The numbers were often for multiple year–some dating back to 2000, others being more proximate to the present.  Geographically, these examples are scattered across the country.  In the scope of elections on a national scale, this is a very small number.  Even relative to local elections, the numbers cited are small.

Yes, we should work to avoid any cases of fraud or error.  But as with any policy choice we should weigh the cost and the benefit.  Should we pursue policies that could make it difficult for large numbers of voters from participating to address such a small number of examples?

Moreover, do policies like voter ID or curtailing early voters solve the kind of problems that Murdock is so concerned about?  Let’s look at some of his evidence.

For example:

  •  The Heritage Foundation’s non-exhaustive survey confirms, since 2000, at least 742 criminal vote-fraud convictions.

First, those are cases of people who were caught, so score one for the system, yes?  Second, that is a tiny number compared to one election cycle, let alone the numerous ones that have been held since 2000.  Third, the column does not tell us what types of fraud was caught  (a relevant issue if we are looking for policy solutions).

Here’s another example:

  • North Carolina announced in April 2014 that 13,416 dead voters were registered, and 81 of them recently had voted. Among 35,750 North Carolinians also registered in other states, 765 voted in November 2012, both inside and outside the Tarheel State.

Murdock does not provide links in his column, but here is one account that matches what he is referring to.    Note that dead people being registered is a clerical error, not fraud and 81 is a tiny number.  And, it ends up that of the 81 who voted, 30 appear to have died after they voted, which takes Murdoch’s number down to ~51.  From the linked piece:

 Eighty-one of those individuals, she said, died before an election in which they are recorded as having voted.

Strach cautioned that about 30 of those 81 voters appear to have legally cast their votes early via absentee ballot and then died before Election Day.

However, she said, “There are between 40 and 50 [voters] who had died at a time that that’s not possible.”

In terms of persons who are registered in two states, that is not hard to do.  Moreover, neither voter ID nor any other policy proposal that the GOP is pushing that I am aware of would solve that problem.  If we want to fix that we need a thoroughly modern, computerized voter registration system and probably some form of national ID that can be checked at the polling place (or, at least, that would remove new registrants in one state from the voters rolls of another).  This would be very expensive, and unlikely to be implemented.  If 265 people did vote in two states either a) they voted in different elections (the linked news story does not say it was the same election) or they voter in-person in one state and mailed a ballot into another.  Voter ID does not stop this outcome.

And yes:  people should not be voting in multiple places.  We are talking here about 765 examples. That is a very small number in relative terms and the odds that those votes had any ultimate effect on the elections in question is infinitesimal.   Now, again, I am in favor of finding policies to stop such outcomes, but let’s do an honest cost/benefit analysis first.

Here’s another example:

  • In May 2016, CBS2 Los Angeles identified 265 dead voters in southern California. Many cast ballots “year after year.”

I found the found the story here:  CBS2 Investigation Uncovers Votes Being Cast From Grave Year After Year

The Los Angeles County Registrar told CBS2: “We remove 1200 to 2000 deceased records from the database per month.”

But the news station checked all of the dead voters from LA County on the Registrar’s website and found 212 of the 215 were still registered and eligible to vote in next month’s presidential primary election.

This is a clerical issue.  The fix here is a better means of communication between those who keep death records and those who keep the voter rolls.  A national ID and database would do that, by the way (at least more efficiently than it is done now, but any system is going to have errors).  Beyond that, I would note that the population of LA County is over 10 million.  The information provided, therefore, seems to actually be pretty impressive from a error-rate point of view.

Also, there is this:

“The problem is California has been the most derelict state in the country in implementing statewide databases that are required under federal law. They just blew it off for over a decade,” said Adams.

Fiscal conservatives take note:  a lot of these problems are the result of inadequate funding.

It is unclear from the piece if any of the dead voters were in-person fraud cases.  At least some of them were mail-in:

But the Los Angeles County Registrar confirms they have signed vote-by-mail envelopes with her mother’s name for the 2014 and 2012 election, though she died 10 years ago.

Again:  this is a problem, but it is not a problem solved by most (any?) of the GOP, voter-fraud-hysteria fueled policy proposals.

To summarize:  First, Murdoch is incorrectly stating that critics of GOP efforts don’t take these kinds of errors seriously.  This is not true (certainly not for me).  The issue is how to solve them and whether it is worth the cost.  No system, especially one this complex, is going to be perfect and error-free.

Second, the GOP solutions do not match these problems.  Voter ID does not fix flaws in mail-in voting.  Curtailing early voting does not address errors in voter rolls.    Worse, the purported remedies tend to make voting more difficult.  The fact that the voters who are most inconvenienced by these policies tend to be Democratic constituencies is, no doubt, coincidental (yes, I am being sarcastic).

Third, any analysis of this situation needs to have a better sense of the relative numbers involved.  While perfection would be nice, we are talking here about evidence that is largely insignificant in the grand scheme of things.

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About Steven L. Taylor
Steven L. Taylor is Professor of Political Science and Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at Troy University. His main areas of expertise include parties, elections, and the institutional design of democracies. His most recent book is the co-authored A Different Democracy: American Government in a 31-Country Perspective. He earned his Ph.D. from the University of Texas and his BA from the University of California, Irvine. He has been blogging since 2003 (originally at the now defunct Poliblog). Follow Steven on Twitter

Comments

  1. al-Ameda says:

    This is what happens when you turn over the entire federal government to a political party that hates the government they’re empowered to run.

    Prior to 1991 I lived in 3 other locales, and was registered to vote in each locale. I would not be surprised if my name was still on voter rolls in any of the those places. Did I vote 4 times in each of the last, say, 5 national elections? No, but that would not prevent many of the toxic scum on the Right from counting that possibility as evidence of actual fraud.

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  2. Just 'nutha ig'nint cracker says:

    They look at it this way, just as it is better for 10 guilty parties to go free to avoid one innocent party being convicted (a proposition that most conservatives do not seem to accept BTW), it is also better that 1000 voters be disenfranchised to avoid one fraudulent vote.

    Protecting the integrity of the system is the goal here just as in justice.

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  3. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @Just ‘nutha ig’nint cracker:

    Protecting the integrity of the system is the goal here just as in justice.

    BWAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA…… You funny. “Protecting the integrity of the system by gutting it.” indeed.

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  4. Andre Kenji says:

    In Brazil there is reason to believe that the high number of absenteeism in elections can be explained, at least in part, due to dead people that are still in voter rolls. And in Brazil I have to present ID before voting, I vote alone in the room, with three people looking at what I’m doing.

    That does not mean anything. And I think that the ideal for the United States would be a federal jurisdiction for elections.

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  5. An Interested Party says:

    I wonder if Murdock and people like him actually believe the bull$hit they’re peddling…as with dealing with grifters like the Trump clan or phony “Christians” in the GOP, how can compromise and moderation be reached with such people who are bald faced liars or living in fantasy land or both…

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  6. steve says:

    We do know that there is some voter fraud, and we know where it is, mostly in absentee voting and at the machines when they are tampered with. The idea people voting occurs mostly because of bad clerical work, and when the absentee ballot is sent o the house, the remaining spouse just votes the way they think their deceased partner would have wanted to vote. Since we know how the elderly vote, we can also deduce why none of the voting reforms proposed by the GOP would attempt to fix this.

    Steve

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  7. gVOR08 says:

    @steve: Same with people who own homes in two states, vote absentee in one and in-person in the other. I could easily establish residence and register in two states. This actually happens, but I’ve never heard a word about it from Rs. Snow Birds are also presumed Republican.

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  8. Joe says:

    @Andre Kenji:

    That does not mean anything. And I think that the ideal for the United States would be a federal jurisdiction for elections.

    I disagree. A single system would be more efficient, but also far more susceptible to hacking and being gamed.

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  9. Scott says:

    I happen to know that I have multiple registrations. Why? Because I moved. I don’t know of anyone who goes through the effort of deregistering when they move.

    As for dead people voting, I’m sure that may happen. I also am pretty sure that people counted as dead are not really dead. Clerical errors work both ways.

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  10. teve tory says:

    @Scott: Several of trump’s own people have 2 and even 3 registrations because of moving. Everyone with 2 brain cells to rub together knows that’s not voter fraud. The point is to be able to yell “We found 80 bazillion instances of registration fraud among democrats.” because low-info half-wits, i.e. trump supporters, will take it as gospel. It’s cynical, and it will probably work.

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  11. Matt says:

    @Scott: I moved to a new state some time ago. About 5 years after the move I was summoned for jury duty in my old state. Despite me having surrendered my old driver license and all the usual stuff (car title transferred etc)f. So I wouldn’t be surprised if I was still registered to vote there. I certainly had a pain of a time trying to prove that I was unable to attend jury duty from 1200 miles away…

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  12. de stijl says:

    There is working the refs and then there us buying out the school that trains the refs, firing all the existing refs, and just making up new rules that benefit the team you wish to win.

    IOW, this is not normal politics. This is skewing the system – i.e., working against constitutional safeguards. Original Intent, my butt.

    I used to try to shame Joyner with R voter suppression shenanigans. The Rs are clearly trying to push the outcome their way in an immoral an undemocratic way using sleazy, racist messaging.

    I was more subtle than that, but that was the message. How can you condone this? Silence is complicity.

    Oddly, he never responded.

    There is virtually zero in-person voter fraud. Comparatively, there is “massive” vote-by-mail voter fraud. A very small amount, but in relation to what Rs are saying they wish to prevent, a order of magnifold difference.

    They are hell-bent on preventing people who are citizens voting because those citizens are more likely to vote against them.

    The stated goal is to eliminate fraudulent votes. The real goal is to prevent valid voters from legally voting.

    The math works out to something like let’s prevent one fraudulent vote by eliminating 10,000 valid, legal and legitmate votes.

    That is shameful and wrong.

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  13. de stijl says:

    Order of magnitude not order of magnifold.

    Grr! GD autocorrect.

    Actually, that is pretty funny.

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  14. al-Ameda says:

    @de stijl:

    Grr! GD autocorrect.

    Someday, in the not-so-distant future, auto-correct will be the cause of a war.

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  15. de stijl says:

    @al-Ameda:

    The inevitable iOS vs Android war?

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