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The Scourge that is in-Person Voter Fraud

Voter-ID-e1301046802166Via Wonkblog:  A comprehensive investigation of voter impersonation finds 31 credible incidents out of one billion ballots cast.  Note that the piece is written by Loyola University Law School professor Justin Levitt and is based on his research.

First, some voter fraud context:

Election fraud happens. But ID laws are not aimed at the fraud you’ll actually hear about. Most current ID laws (Wisconsin is a rare exception) aren’t designed to stop fraud with absentee ballots (indeed, laws requiring ID at the polls push more people into the absentee system, where there are plenty of real dangers). Or vote buying. Or coercion. Or fake registration forms. Or voting from the wrong address. Or ballot box stuffing by officials in on the scam. In the 243-page document that Mississippi State Sen. Chris McDaniel filed on Monday with evidence of allegedly illegal votes in the Mississippi Republican primary, there were no allegations of the kind of fraud that ID can stop.

Second, what about voter ID and in-person voter fraud?

I’ve been tracking allegations of fraud for years now, including the fraud ID laws are designed to stop. In 2008, when the Supreme Court weighed in on voter ID, I looked at every single allegation put before the Court. And since then, I’ve been following reports wherever they crop up.

To be clear, I’m not just talking about prosecutions. I track any specific, credible allegation that someone may have pretended to be someone else at the polls, in any way that an ID law could fix.

So far, I’ve found about 31 different incidents (some of which involve multiple ballots) since 2000, anywhere in the country. If you want to check my work, you can read a comprehensive list of the incidents below.

To put this in perspective, the 31 incidents below come in the context of general, primary, special, and municipal elections from 2000 through 2014. In general and primary elections alone, more than 1 billion ballots were cast in that period.

Emphases mine.

Yes:  that’s 31 votes out of over 1,000,000,000.

He further notes:

Some of these 31 incidents have been thoroughly investigated (including some prosecutions). But many have not. Based on how other claims have turned out, I’d bet that some of the 31 will end up debunked: a problem with matching people from one big computer list to another, or a data entry error, or confusion between two different people with the same name, or someone signing in on the wrong line of a pollbook.

There is not a problem being solved by voter ID laws.  Instead, these laws create costs for states while making it difficult for vulnerable populations to vote.  There is no empirically based reason to have these laws.  The evidence is more than overwhelming.

Levitt concludes with the following:

In just four states that have held just a few elections under the harshest ID laws, more than 3,000 votes (in general elections alone) have reportedly been affirmatively rejected for lack of ID. (That doesn’t include voters without ID who didn’t show up, or recordkeeping mistakes by officials.)  Some of those 3,000 may have been fraudulent ballots.  But how many legitimate voters have already been turned away?

So, the evidence shows only 31 cases out of a billion+ that would have been stopped by voter ID and yet new laws have led to at least 3,000 voters being denied the chance to vote.  There is, therefore, a near certainty that more legitimate voters have been denied the chance to vote (a lot more) than these laws could ever hope to stop.  That should give anyone who is legitimately concerned about the integrity of the system pause for thought.

More at the article (including a detailed rundown of all 31 cases).

Related Posts:

About Steven L. Taylor
Steven L. Taylor is Professor and Chair of Political Science at Troy University. His main areas of expertise include parties, elections, and the institutional design of democracies. He is the author of Voting Amid Violence: Electoral Democracy in Colombia and is currently working on a comparative study of the US to 29 other democracies. He earned his Ph.D. from the University of Texas and his BA from the University of California, Irvine. He has been blogging at PoliBlog since 2003. Follow Steven on Twitter

Comments

  1. anjin-san says:

    I don’t think our democracy has ever recovered from the time two black guys in leather jackets and berets hung around outside a polling station in Philadelphia in 2008. It was a shocking example of the ceaseless left wing war on white people and freedom.

    Highly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 29 Thumb down 2

  2. socraticsilence says:

    Does anyone outside of the dumbest of the base actually believe the whole “voter fraud” thing, I mean I thought it was clear from public statements that the entire point was voter suppression and that they only brought up voter fraud so those who want to can at least rationalize it as something more than a pure power move.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 10 Thumb down 4

  3. James Joyner says:

    It just stands to reason that absentee ballots are where the action is on vote fraud. So much easier to pull off in massive numbers and so much harder to get caught. The risk of going to jail in order to get in one measly extra in-person vote just ain’t worth it.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 12 Thumb down 0

  4. Dave Schuler says:

    I suspect that the sort of in-person voter fraud he’s investigating is quite rare but that shouldn’t be interpreted as voter fraud being rare.

    So, for example, I strongly suspect that multiple registrations in different states are actually quite common but the method he’s using to investigate fraud would never uncover that.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 1

  5. @Dave Schuler: But a) how does voter ID solve that problem, and b) how does one actually exploit registration in multiple states?

    In regards to point B, I suspect that there are snowbirds registered both in AZ and MN, which is problematic (indeed, illegal) but is not voter fraud, per se, unless they actually vote in both places.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 9 Thumb down 1

  6. Matt Bernius says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    b) how does one actually exploit registration in multiple states?

    This gets back to the issue of absentee ballots and their overall lack of security.

    To be fair, as was recently pointed out on another thread, the existing in-person system is definitely vulnerable to exploit. See this as an example of vulnerabilities that conservatives tend to point to as proof fraud is happening:
    http://www.wnyc.org/story/nyc-board-election-takes-heat-new-report/

    However, to Levitt’s point we have yet to see any proof of organized attempts to exploit these issues.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 1

  7. @Matt Bernius: All fair enough. But of, the bottom line issues is (and I think we agree on this): do voter ID laws solve any actual problems? The answer would overwhelmingly appear to be no, and there is collateral damage associated with solving this nonexistent problem.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 15 Thumb down 1

  8. PJ says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    But of, the bottom line issues is (and I think we agree on this): do voter ID laws solve any actual problems?

    Democrats winning elections? Especially the presidential elections?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 7 Thumb down 0

  9. Matt Bernius says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    But of, the bottom line issues is (and I think we agree on this): do voter ID laws solve any actual problems?

    We do agree btw. Any “voter security act” that doesn’t address absentee ballots is most likely politically motivated as far as I’m concerned.

    And, to that point, the collateral damage appears largely (a) intended and (b) anti-democratic. Which isn’t to say that securing the voting process through some form of ID is inherently bad, but the process by which said ID is obtained must begin with ensuring the least among us can easily obtain said ID. I’ve seen very few — if any — programs that meet said bar.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 10 Thumb down 0

  10. Another Mike says:

    @Matt Bernius:

    Any “voter security act” that doesn’t address absentee ballots is most likely politically motivated as far as I’m concerned.

    A categorical statement put forth as the truth, and then qualified by saying it is just your personal bias.

    the process by which said ID is obtained must begin with ensuring the least among us can easily obtain said ID.

    This sounds almost biblical. IDs are free in some states, but you have to go in and get it. They could be handing out 100-dollar bills to all takers, and some would complain about having to go in and get it.

    I just can’t take your arguments seriously.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 7

  11. @Another Mike: Your position would make sense if, a) IDs were free in all the states and if b) it was truly easy to obtain them.

    Neither of these things is true.

    If you are truly interested, I would suggest the work of the Brennan Center.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 7 Thumb down 1

  12. Another Mike says:

    If you are truly interested, I would suggest the work of the Brennan Center.

    Sorry, Steve, but having never heard of the organization until you mentioned it, I looked at some of their material and immediately determined that it is biased.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 7

  13. @Another Mike: My guess is that any information that would contradict your position would immediately be labeled as “biased.”

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 12 Thumb down 1

  14. Another Mike says:

    My guess is that any information that would contradict your position would immediately be labeled as “biased.”

    The voter enters the voting center.
    “ID please.”
    “What, you want to restrict my right to vote?”
    “No, I just need to see your ID.”
    “Why, so you can restrict my right to vote?”
    “No, I am just trying to verify that you are who you say you are.”
    “Like I said, you are trying to restrict my right to vote.”

    That is the mentality at the Brennen Center. It is biased. It isn’t even subtle. The data may be accurate, but the presentation is biased.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 5

  15. @Another Mike: Shockingly, data often lead to conclusions.

    If data shows, for example, that it is not easy for all citizens to get ID and if data shows that the general effect of voter ID laws is not to stop fraud but, rather, to make it difficult for vulnerable populations to have access to their rights, then it is likely that a POV might develop.

    At least it is the data that is leading to the conclusion.

    I would note that, at least in this discussion, you are allowing your conclusions to precede the data.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 12 Thumb down 1

  16. Another Mike says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    I would note that, at least in this discussion, you are allowing your conclusions to precede the data.

    Your premiss seems to be that the purpose of voter ID laws is to suppress voting. This goes to the motivation of the law and cannot be disproved merely by data.

    Photo IDs are extremely common in society today. There are lots and lots of activities that require IDs. To maintain that requiring an ID to vote today is motivated by a desire to suppress voting is an extreme position. It defies common sense, especially when one considers that the IDs are either free or cost a nominal amount.

    State legislators have the duty and the power to protect the voting process. If a legislature decides to require IDs — which most people already have, then that is their prerogative. Legislators can weigh the added security and appearance of security of the voting process against the added inconvenience for a small number of citizens.

    Your position is to hold back the hands of time. The age of the ID card has long arrived.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 3

  17. Rob in CT says:

    @Another Mike:

    Your premiss seems to be that the purpose of voter ID laws is to suppress voting.

    Voting by people who lean Dem, that is. And yes, that’s exactly what the purpose of these laws is. Also on that front: limiting polling station hours in specific districts. In cities. Hmm, whatever could that be for? :eyeroll:

    It’s a non-problem. However, if we wish to solve the non-problem equitably, then these laws would always make sure the state bends over backwards to help folks get their ID in order. As many such laws do not do that, the intent is obvious.

    Your position is to hold back the hands of time. The age of the ID card has long arrived.

    Right, then. National ID card, issued by the SSA, paid for via federal tax dollars (zero user fee). Done.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  18. @Another Mike:

    The age of the ID card has long arrived.

    Well, if by that you mean it is time to have a free, universal ID, I can get behind that proposal.

    If, however, you think that this situation has already arrived then that is why you need to look at the actual research and data.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 0

  19. @Another Mike: Also, you are missing a really important fact: the issue is not what the motivations are for these laws. The issue is what the actual effects are. The data clearly show that the effects are to make it more difficult for some voters to access the polls while at the same time they show that these laws are not stopping fraud.

    This strikes me as information worth keeping in mind when assessing said laws.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 0

  20. Louis Wheeler says:

    Simply because a form of security works doesn’t mean that it is unnecessary. There are a host of protections against bank robbery, such as the Lucite barriers between customers and bank employees. They work. Criminals must find other ways of robbing banks. Security is an unending problem.

    Do voters have a responsibility to prove that they are legitimate? Sure, they do. Is getting photo ID for citizens difficult? No. There are plenty of liberal agencies intent on registering them. Why aren’t those agencies responsibility to help them have photo ID?

    There are 12+ million illegal aliens in America. They are often given state ID cards or drivers licenses. Some people have parlayed those into getting registered. Falsely registering to vote should be against the law. Registering in multiple state should also be fined, because it implies an intent to commit a crime.

    Liberals would rather take a chance on voter fraud if the person doing so would vote for their candidate. It is up to the state government to police its registration roles, but often the states are lax in their responsibilities. Allowing felons to register or not removing the dead is a reoccurring problem. Citizen action committees should have access to the roles to keep the election honest. The left would promote hysterically nonexistent voter suppression at the price of encouraging voter fraud.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 3

  21. Rob in CT says:

    @Louis Wheeler:

    Liberals would rather err on the side of protecting citizens right to vote. These laws, aimed at a problem so small it can barely be detected, have “unintended” consequences that are larger than the problem they are supposedly addressing.

    Simply put, Conservatives don’t like high turnout, and never have. They’re convinced that if they lose an election, the result must have been illegitimate (not just the public making a poor choice, but rather fraud of some kind). This happens on both sides of the ideological spectrum (the liberal version tends to be stuff like the whole “Diebold! Ohio stolen in ’04!” thing. Allegations of mis-counting votes, not allegations of the wrong people voting. That said, lots of people don’t like accepting defeat). Anyway, the spectre of voting fraud is a powerful boogeyman. A very useful one, too, if one wants to supress Dem-leaning votes.

    Make the ID free and super easy to get, and my objection is really just about the cost (the more you do to make sure folks can get their IDs the more it will cost, and as we’re fighting a nonexistant problem, that’s wasteful). But when pressed, funnily enough, Conservatives almost always resist doing that. Why, it’s almost like they don’t really care about the “integrity” of elections, but rather about winning them.

    The left would promote hysterically nonexistent voter suppression at the price of encouraging voter fraud.

    In-person voting fraud is so rare that the odds of it changing the result of an election are astronomically small. There are other potential forms of fraud (most obviously, monkeying around with the count, or absentee fraud) which are much more likely to compromise an election.

    But do carry on. Eventually you’ll slip and the subtext will become text.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 1

  22. Rob in CT says:

    There are plenty of liberal agencies intent on registering them. Why aren’t those agencies responsibility to help them have photo ID?

    I love, btw, how it’s on liberals to help register voters, apparently. I’m doubt you realize how revealing that is.

    I happen to agree as a matter of tactics that the Democratic Party should pour some extra money into voter registration efforts (along with political messaging about “don’t let them take away your right to vote!” which might increase turnout).

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 7 Thumb down 0

  23. Another Mike says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    This strikes me as information worth keeping in mind when assessing said laws.

    Our differences are probably not overcomeable. I see the state legislature as having the lawfully constituted power to pass laws as it sees fit unless the law infringes upon the constitutionally protected rights of its citizens. Some laws are more advisable and smarter than other laws, but that is just part of how the law-making process works.

    You probably believe that legislatures require the approval — or at least the blessing– of some elite body of academics and intellectuals to authenticate their laws. It just irks you that legislatures can make laws that you don’t like.

    In regard to a national ID card, I am opposed to that. I might approve of everyone of majority having a state ID card.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 3

  24. Rob in CT says:

    In regard to a national ID card, I am opposed to that

    But of course you are.

    State ID cards are ok, but National ones are not, because reasons. Fascinating reasons, I’m sure.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 0

  25. @Louis Wheeler:

    There are plenty of liberal agencies intent on registering them. Why aren’t those agencies responsibility to help them have photo ID?

    Well, several things come to mind:

    1) It is possible for groups to directly aid citizens in registering to vote. Not so with getting IDs/

    2) While a group might seek to aid persons in obtaining an ID, the government has a responsibility to ensure all citizens have equal access to their rights. This goes well beyond what a given group can accomplish.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 1

  26. @Another Mike:

    I see the state legislature as having the lawfully constituted power to pass laws as it sees fit unless the law infringes upon the constitutionally protected rights of its citizens. Some laws are more advisable and smarter than other laws, but that is just part of how the law-making process works.

    Indeed–and one of the things that citizens should do is point out when a given law is improperly functioning.

    And part of the problem with many voter ID laws is that they create an undue burden on some citizens (while at the same time solving a nonexistent problem). The basic cost/benefit logic does not line up.

    I am not opposed, in principle, to voters have an ID. I am opposed to a system that simultaneously costs more, denies some citizens reasonable access to the polls, and fails to solve a real problem.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 1

  27. Janis Gore says:

    @Another Mike: My mother didn’t have a driver’s license. She didn’t drive.

    She was well into her fifties before she obtained a Tax ID card.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 1

  28. Janis Gore says:

    @Janis Gore: I don’t know what agency she went to, but in a city the size of Dallas that sort of transaction can require the better part of a day, and strictly on government office hours, which usually run from 8-8:30am to 4-4:30 pm. Monday through Friday only.

    It’s harder than you think.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  29. @Janis Gore:

    It’s harder than you think.

    This is precisely the point (and what the research shows).

    A main problem in these discussions is that the proponents of voter ID laws as they currently exist typically come from a POV where having a driver’s license is taken for granted (and it was easy for them, surely it must be easy for everyone). However, it is demonstrably not easy for everyone and that is the central issue.

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  30. I would point Another Mike (and anyone else interest) to a post of mine on this topic from a while back, as well as to the following (from the aforementioned Brennan Center), which details some example of the problem in question:

  31. Offices without Regular Business Hours: In Wisconsin, Alabama, and Mississippi, less than half of all ID-issuing offices in the state are open five days a week.
  32. Reduced Business Hours in Areas with High Concentrations of People of Color: Many of the offices with limited hours are in areas with high concentrations of minority voters. In Texas, 40 ID-issuing offices are open three days per week or less; the majority of these are in the rural border region, home to a heavy concentration of eligible Hispanic voters. In Georgia, Mississippi, and Alabama, many of the ID offices with limited hours are located in the areas with the highest concentrations of black voters.
  33. Idiosyncratic Hours: Some ID offices maintain hours so bizarre that it is necessary to consult a calendar to determine when the office is open. The office in Sauk City, Wisconsin is open only on the fifth Wednesday of any month. But only four months in 2012 have five Wednesdays. Other offices in Wisconsin are open only once every two months: For example, the office in Phillips is open only on the first Wednesday of February, April, June, August, October, and December. In Alabama, the Rockford office is open only on the third Thursday of the month. In Mississippi, the Woodville office is open only on the second Thursday of each month.
  34. Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 1

  35. Janis Gore says:

    Transportation was the big issue for my mother. Her husband worked as a carpenter. He rarely took hours off. She didn’t live on a bus line. Money wasn’t the problem.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  36. Janis Gore says:

    She was born in 1919.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  37. Janis Gore says:

    I know Woodville. It’s between Natchez and Baton Rouge.

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