Is The “Threat” Of Voter Fraud Real?

For years, Donald Trump has falsely claimed voter fraud is pervasive within our electoral process. The truth is the exact opposite.
Donald Trump and Melania Trump voting. (Reuters: Carlo Allegri)

Donald Trump and Melania Trump voting. (Reuters: Carlo Allegri)

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What is voter fraud?

Voter fraud, also known as “electoral fraud”, is a means of interfering in the results of an election. There are a variety of ways a person can commit voter fraud. Some include:

  • Registration Fraud: Registering under a name and/or address that is either fictional or stolen. This can also include registering under a jurisdiction where the voter doesn’t live and isn’t allowed to vote.
  • Misusing Mail-in/Absentee Ballots: Voting using someone else’s mail-in ballot without their knowledge, either by directly impersonating the voter or using their ballot under another name.
  • Vote Buying: Bribing voters in order to amass votes for a preferred candidate.

Since the 2016 election and as recently as April, President Trump has repeatedly denounced voter fraud as an imminent threat to the upcoming election, calling mail-in ballots “rampant with fraud” and “very dangerous” (Ironically, the President himself voted with an absentee ballot in the 2018 midterms). However, while it certainly exists at a very low level, the current risk of voter fraud is being magnified and exaggerated. Cases are in reality quite rare, and there is little proof to suggest that it will have a noticeable impact on any upcoming elections.

Does mail-in voting increase voter fraud?

In 2012, one thorough report compiled by News21 found that since 2000 there had only been 2,068 cases of voter fraud. About a quarter of the alleged voter fraud cases were from fraudulent absentee ballots. This was the most prevalent type of voter fraud found. However, the report also stated that thirty-five percent of all allegations resulted in either an acquittal or no charge. In other words, minuscule.

There are some noticeable ways that mail-in ballots provide an opportunity for fraud:

  • Ballots could be secretly caught en route and then forged.
  • Voters writing ballots at home might be coerced by friends or relatives.
  • Ballots could be illegally stockpiled and sent en masse via “ballot harvesting”.

It stands to be pointed out, though, that unlike voting machines, mail-in ballots cannot be
hacked into or tampered with electronically. That’s one weakness stay-at-home voters
don’t have to worry about.

Something important to remember is that millions of Americans make use of mail-in ballots each election–the system is a crucial enabler for many people. In fact, in Colorado, Hawaii, Oregon, Utah, and Washington, all votes are now cast by mail. These states also have minimal findings of voter fraud. California is now sending mail-in ballots to all of its voters ahead of the 2020 election. In the past two federal elections, approximately one in four votes were from mail-in ballots. If one thing is clear, it is that mail-in voting is a tool helpful–not harmful–to a large group of the American public.

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How often does voter fraud happen?

Voter fraud has been proven numerous times to be a very scarce occurrence. As for the true fraud cases, MIT professor Charles Stewart III told The New York Times, “They’re stories, they’re dramatic, they’re rare.” It turns out that some instances often end up being entirely unmalicious and unintentional: studies show that many cases first considered fraud are discovered to have been mistakes due to confusion, ignorance, or other kinds of human error.

After voicing his frustration about illegal voters in the 2016 election, President Trump himself commissioned an investigation in the hopes of discovering a large number of fraud cases. Instead, the commission was disbanded in January 2018, when the investigative team was unable to find sufficient evidence to justify continuing their work. For all the claims online and on TV, the President has yet to produce any verifiable proof that systemic voter fraud is having a significant impact on our elections.

Why do Republicans keep alleging voter fraud?

Emphasizing the threat of fraud will help convince politicians to support heavier registration requirements. The ideal situation would be an increase in pressure to hold voting IDs. Republicans have fought long and hard to make voter ID laws more commonplace, despite evidence that there are almost no instances where owning an ID would help prevent fraud. Unfortunately, this push for stronger restrictions stems from a much larger history of the Republican party passing laws that have resulted in a growing feeling of voter disenfranchisement from minorities, and in particular, African Americans.

The Rantt Rundown

As of right now, nearly three out of four Americans support the idea of a required mail-in ballot. This is how important safety amidst COVID-19 is to a significant number of voters. Provided that states are careful in how they process ballots, mail-in voting’s benefits clearly outweigh its risks as a practical solution to help people stuck at home maintain their right to vote.

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Rantt 101 // 2020 / Donald Trump / Elections / Voting