You’ve seen the headlines. Voter fraud is “everywhere”. President Trump and members across the government have continuously made claims of voter fraud, planting fear and doubt about the integrity of the US election process. Yet rest assured, a quick look at the facts makes it clear that fraud is not only extremely rare, “but does not happen on a scale even close to necessary to “rig” an election”.
In a study by the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University Law School, a bipartisan law and public policy institute found that most reported incidents of voter fraud are actually traceable to other sources, such as clerical errors or bad data matching practices. The report found incident rates so tiny that it’s more likely an American “will be struck by lightning than that he will impersonate another voter at the polls.” If that isn’t enough to convince you, Loyola Law School professor, Justin Levitt, found just 31 credible instances of impersonation fraud from 2000 to 2014, out of more than 1 billion ballots cast.
Experts do say fraud in mail-in voting is slightly more common than in in-person, but it's still so uncommon it's not even statistically meaningful. In an op-ed in The Hill, Amber McReynolds, a former Colorado election official and now the CEO of the National Vote at Home Institute, and Charles Stewart, director of the MIT Election Data and Science Lab, put the numbers in context. Over the past 20 years, more than 250 million mail-in ballots have been cast nationwide, and there have only been 143 criminal convictions for election fraud. That averages out to about one case per state every six or seven years, or a fraud rate of 0.00006%!
Many of the claims of voter fraud simply aren’t true. It’s important to dispel the myths so that every eligible voter feels confident casting their ballot - in person or by mail. Read on for a Q&A on the basics of voter fraud.
What is voter fraud?
In essence, voter fraud is the act of manipulating election results. This can be done by rigging the votes by increasing the vote share to a specific candidate or depressing the vote to another candidate. This could be done through voter impersonation, voting twice, or tampering with mail-in ballots. Here’s an example. In August, President Trump advised voters in North Carolina to vote twice: one time in person and one time via mail. Not only is voting twice illegal and classified as voter fraud in itself, but the penalties are steep - large fines or even jail time.
What about mail-in voting?
According to election officials and the FBI, it is almost impossible to successfully get away with voter fraud via mail-in ballots. Americans have been voting by mail for more than 150 years with a historically insignificant rate of voter fraud. There is no reliable evidence that mail-in ballots will increase voter fraud because there are strong security safeguards in place. For example, printing a fake ballot is nearly impossible because replicating barcodes is so challenging, according to a former chief information security officer, Mike Hamilton. From figuring out who requested mail-in ballots to intercepting the ballot to forging accurate signatures, voter fraud for mail-in voting is a difficult process to actually accomplish.
Is voter fraud really happening?
Recently, voter fraud is said to be a big problem for elections but the number of actual incidents is minuscule. With .01% (a tenth of one percent!) of fraudulent ballots cast, federal election outcomes are basically left unaltered. Smaller, local city or state elections are more likely to be impacted by voter fraud yet it’s still very unlikely. Those who commit voter fraud aim to impact the election results, so this difficult process must be done on a large scale!
Ok so voter fraud isn’t happening, what’s the big deal?
While voter fraud doesn’t pose any real threat to altering election results, many election officials worry about a different threat, that of voter misinformation campaigns. Simply making claims of voter fraud has spread fear and distrust that has had negative effects on elections. By delegitimizing the integrity of the voting system with voter fraud myths, election results are likely to be impacted in a different way. These false claims lead to stricter voting laws that can disenfranchise voters as well as decrease public trust in the voting system.
Don’t be dismayed. Don’t let the headlines and soundbites confuse you. Get out there and vote. And while you’re at it, be sure to demystify voter fraud for your family and friends. And register to vote. #IGNITEthevote