Is Voter Fraud Real? – The Voter Fraud Facts and Myths
Voter fraud is real and so is voter suppression. However, widespread voter fraud is very unlikely to occur, and convicted voter fraud in the United States is very uncommon.
A Summary on the Ways in Which Voter Fraud and Voter Suppression Happen in the U.S.
We can make the following judgments about the 2016 election and voter fraud and voter suppression in the U.S. to summarize what does and does happen:
- While voter fraud does occur in isolated incidents, there was no widespread voter fraud in the 2016 election. There was no mass of in-person voter fraud or dead people voting, but there were isolated incidents (see data in article and citations below for examples).
- Although widespread voter fraud didn’t occur, we can have a high level of confidence that widespread voter suppression and public influence campaigns meant to sway voters did. When the interest of the many is corrupted by special interests, through public influence campaigns that use either fully legal or a mix of legal and illegal means, and when free elections are suppressed by legal and grey-area voter suppression (like gerrymandering, strict voter ID, and limited voting hours) it is a big deal and big problem, but it is not widespread voter fraud.
In other words, we can have a high level of certainty or evidence of gerrymandering, we can prove public influence campaigns both legal and questionable illegal (like Russia’s use of “troll bots” in a 2016 election influence campaign; see below), and we can prove some isolated examples of actual voter fraud.
However, to state this again clearly, there is no reliable data that suggests massive voter fraud (there is no proof that, for example, Trump would have won the popular had it not been for voter fraud; although investigations done in 2017 may show otherwise, the data is not there as of yet).
This means that, in general, while fraud may occur (moving forward in 2017 and beyond), it is not likely to occur to such an extent that it could offset strong voter participation.
In other words, “voter fraud and suppression should be focal point and concern of citizens, but it is never a reason not to vote and it is not a reason to question the official election results.”
America runs on confidence, so it is important for all citizens to accept our real voter problems, care about the potential ones, and all support free and fair elections.
Below we look at known voter fraud, assumed voter fraud, and the different types of voter fraud and suppression to find out if your vote counts. We all want to know if voter fraud is real, if the election is rigged on a local, state, or federal level for local, state, or federal races. (See how voting works for more on all the races being run in a given election).
THEORY: In general Republicans tend to favor strict voter laws while Democrats tend to support everyone voting. Although this is theory, not undoubtable fact, one can look at past statements and voting records on issues like strict voter ID to see this is generally true (See: Some Republicans Acknowledge Leveraging Voter ID Laws for Political Gain). The problem with Trump’s claims of widespread voter fraud is that it plays into the Republican desire to restrict voting. Here, because this is opinion based on fact, it is a theory and not FACT. Still, it is a very important theory to grasp. If Trump’s election commission results in restricted voter laws and thus more Republican wins, then we have more evidence to back this theory up. SEE: Opinions Trump’s commission on ‘election integrity’ could instead restrict voting.
Does the U.S. have a voter fraud problem?. The election wasn’t rigged, but voter fraud and suppression do occur. However, if we overreact we could be restricting voting rights and free and open elections (the foundation a of democracy). Small scale grey-area fraud and suppression happen. Wide-spread dead people and illegal immigrant voting are far less likely. It isn’t known for sure if it happens; it’s just speculated. Stealing a Presidential election is near impossible due to the way the electoral system works, but that isn’t an excuse not to be vigilant.
TIP: “Undermining the legitimacy of our political institutions without cause” is a type of known voter suppression that happens and is a problem in this election cycle (as the above video suggests). While all types of voter fraud have the potential to occur, the real issue is legal rigging which involves things like legal media bias and influence campaigns on one hand, but more insidiously involves grey-area suppression tactics like crosschecking, voter ID, and gerrymandering on the other (it is largely why the Republicans keep taking the Senate and House and, some claim why minorities are underrepresented in the “Solid South” East politically). See the Netflix Documentary the 13th and Lee Atwater’s Infamous 1981 Interview on the Southern Strategy for how voter suppression and Southern politics are connected. Check out the movie Gangs of New York, Immigrants, Catholics, and Big City Machines, and FDR’s contested convention for a taste of Northern grey area vote suppression( although to be fair FDR is Northern and many Democrats are Southern in this time)…. Details aside, the point is that this is a real and age-old bipartisan issue, but it is not an issue of one party flat out stealing votes on a massive level to the extent that voting doesn’t matter.
FACT: A comprehensive 2014 study published in The Washington Post found 31 credible instances of impersonation fraud from 2000 to 2014, out of more than 1 billion ballots cast. The most damaging example involved as many as 24 voters in Brooklyn who tried to vote under assumed names. There are almost no elections in which 24 votes make a significant difference, especially at the federal level. In-person voter fraud is highly unlikely to affect the integrity of elections.
Is the Election Rigged?
The election isn’t illegally rigged in any known wide-scale way, although cases of small-scale illegal fraud have been proven and some other types of more wide-scale illegal fraud suspected but not proven. However, the election is legally rigged in some known ways. This is true for all local, state, and federal elections and ballot measures, although elections with more voters like the Presidential election are less susceptible to rigging due to the many districts and states who participate in the process with oversight.
What we mean by the statements above is:
- The election is legally rigged, so to speak, by redistricting or gerrymandering, politicians running unopposed, voter ID, and the general spreading of propaganda instead of facts. Anyone paying attention knew this before the election, and it is going to take our votes to change this.
- Meanwhile, the election is not rigged on a grand scale by known illegal means such as someone switching votes on a large scale, double voting on a large scale, non-citizen voting on a large scale, multi-state electronic vote tampering, or dead people voting on a large scale.
- However, there have been cases of suspected large-scale illegal voter fraud. These cases include controversy surrounding “black box voting,” which has been well known since 2004, see here, but which as been mostly debunked, see here, and which Congress has taken measures against, see here. There is a lack of credible sources to back this theory up, which was from the Bush years. The accusation back in 2004 was of Republicans “rigging” the election. In 2016, the accusation was first that the Democrats are “rigging” the election, but since Trump’s projected win it has switched to Republicans “rigging” (for instance this article). Did Republicans hack electronic voting machines and steal the election at a regional level? Did Democrats get 1.5 million dead people to vote regionally? The problem is that without hard evidence these are suspicions and claims, not known voter fraud! This is the type of accusations to expect in any election, and the type of fraud that can occur, but unlike with gerrymandering, voter id, and “fake news” these items are much more elusive and much less actionable.
- Suspicion of large-scale fraud may be disturbing and captivating. However, it is unproven and unlikely, which makes it a poor point of focus for those who want to enact real change today.
- Suspected, but unproven, large-scale voter fraud aside, small-scale regional voter fraud is known. Someone in a small town may engage in ballot stuffing; a politician may be colluded against by a political power; protesters may be bused in to make a ruckus. Mistake-based fraud like one case of electronic vote flipping is also known. They are proven reasons to be vigilant on a local and state level.
Nothing is impossible. Still, with the Federal Election Commission and other entities overseeing the voting process, and with the integrity of the United States on the line, it is very unlikely that we will see any voter fraud upset federal or key state elections for 2016.
To Conclude the Above
Taking into account all the points made above, we can conclude:
- “Your vote counts.” It just counts in odd ways that differ by election type and can be offset by red state/blue state politics,
- The election isn’t “rigged” illegally. However, widespread legal voter fraud and suppression like gerrymandering and voter ID regulations are real and significant. Small-scale regional illegal voter fraud has also been proven to have happened.
TIP: See a list of controversial elections for instances of suspected or known voter fraud. Also, see Wikipedia’s page on electoral fraud for all the different types of voter fraud that have occurred in various countries over elections.
How politicians rig elections. Most Americans think elections are rigged, and they’re right in some ways at least. Vox editor-in-chief Ezra Klein explains how gerrymandering works, and how to fix it.
Russian Hacks, Emails, and More, “Oh Dear”
Before moving on, let’s quickly clear up some confusion from the 2016 election so we can focus on things like gerrymandering, strict voter ID, and claims of deceased people voting.
Is Russia “Hacking the election”?
People seem to be misunderstanding the subject of Russia, emails, and the U.S. elections. Since it is related to this topic, let’s clarify it.
There is no claim that Russia was tampering with elections by tampering with ballots or hacking machines, or that the Russian state was interfering with U.S. electoral process directly in that way.
Instead, an official report (and other official statements) makes a judgement with a high degree of confidence (but still uncertainty) that Russia tried to influence the election via influence techniques (including obvious and legal ones like RT, grey area ones like “troll bots,” and potentially illegal ones like participating in hacks and leaks).
In other words, there is high confidence Russia aspired to help President-elect Trump’s election chances when possible by discrediting Secretary Clinton (their main target was Clinton). It is also speculated that they were behind the leaks (including but not limited to Wikileaks and DCLeaks); and if they weren’t, someone with similar intentions was.
However, while there is confidence that Russia tried to influence our election, divide our country, and prevent a Clinton win, there is no claim that Trump wouldn’t have won, that Trump colluded, or that every hack, leak, or influence campaign was Russian.
TIP: See: Russia Interfered with the 2016 U.S. Election.
Do the Leaked Emails Prove Voter Fraud?
The leaks noted above show evidence of some legal, but underhanded, tactics used by the DNC, which is a private organization like the RNC.
This fits in what has been long known. Some members of both parties are willing to stoop to shady practices at times on small scale, and not every tactic in politics is altruistic.
Anyone who has read the father of political science Machiavelli knows this.
Even the most scathing third party articles end up telling a rather ordinary story of mundane political tactics in-line with what one would expect.
That which isn’t grey-area suppression tends not to be about voter fraud or suppression. Anyone who reads about the history of elections knows both sides have historically “gone low” at times.
The DNC and RNC are giant political machines; they aren’t official government entities.
The General Tactic
Actors aside, the general tactic is the same, and that is “divide and conquer.”
One can’t take America or a major party down with a direct hit, so manipulating the frustration Americans feel and using social media to funnel that frustration toward “the establishment” is a simple tactic that anyone can effectively employ to “divide the house.”
In this way, the idea is to indirectly tamper with elections by corrupting public interests.
So, who am I accusing of corrupting the interests of the people? I am not accusing anyone, I am relaying data and letting you draw your own conclusions.
However, I think we should all clearly be able to see what entities are engaged in public influence campaigns with the object of dividing America into red-team blue team and taking out key players (HINT: There is more than one guilty “party” here).
TIP: America is actually rather purple. Any country will see parties disagree, but when we take a step back form divisive media messages and conflict, we find that we agree on many points and that all types of voter live in all regions.
Bottomline on Party Politics, Foreign Powers, and Public Influence
Nothing about the election news cycle regarding Russia, the emails, or the leaks hints at a widespread voter fraud.
Instead, the news cycle on the left and right reinforces the main point of this page, which is underhanded tactics, especially divisive propaganda media meant to mold public opinion, wherever it may originate, and a lack of a participatory informed electorate is causing major problems in U.S. elections.
The best way to combat this problem is to get out and vote (and to un-indoctrinate yourself from bias media, Russian or otherwise). Only 40%+ are coming out in off-years.
There is a saying in Russia that goes something like this, “if you are dumb enough to let me trick you, then you deserve to get tricked.” We did get tricked, I don’t like being made a fool, do you? No, right? We need to take foreign propaganda campaigns seriously, but if we let the facts on what happened divide us, then those who seek our division win anyway. It is a complex problem, born from a complex manipulation tactic.
TIP: The ironic part is that the main reason politicians get away with legal voter fraud and suppression is due to low voter turnout. When people believe in the system and come out as an informed participatory electorate, it is near impossible to rig local, state, or federal elections. John Oliver did a whole very watchable segment on the importance of participating in local and state elections, check it out. In other words, you CAN do something about any of this, from public influence to gerrymandering, it is called using your logic and reason and staying politically active in resisting corruption (without becoming overly divisive).
Last Week Tonight with John Oliver: State Legislatures and ALEC (HBO). John Oliver explaining ALEC and some of the ways in which your vote matters in state and local elections. Once it sinks in how many uncontested seats are out there and how much this affects our Federation of 50 sovereign states you’ll never skip an election again.
TIP: There are many local, state, and federal races that occur in a given election. People are typically thinking about the Presidential election when they think about voter fraud, but this is the least likely election to be impacted by voter fraud due to the sheer number of voters participating in different regions and states. Fraud and suppression are more likely to occur on a local level, especially considering factors like gerrymandering. Learn more about how voting works.
Election Basics: Crash Course Government and Politics #36. If you don’t know how voting works, you can’t understand how voter fraud and suppression do and don’t happen.
The Schools of Thought of Voter Fraud and Voter Suppression
Now that we have covered the basics, it is important to understand that there are three conflicting schools of thought on voter fraud and voter suppression. They can be summarized as:
- In person voter fraud very rarely happens according to both studies and court rulings. The real issue is voter suppression like voter ID and gerrymandering. This stance tends to be taken by liberals, the Brennan Center for Justice, President Obama, and many politicians. See Debunking the Voter Fraud Myth.
- In person voter fraud is a problem. Things like voter ID aren’t forms of voter suppression; that is a myth created by liberals. Groups like ACORN are a threat to the electoral process and voter ID is needed to ensure against real voter fraud that often goes unnoticed. This stance tends to be taken by conservatives. See Voter Fraud Is Real. Here’s The Proof.
- Both voter fraud and voter suppression are rampant; the major two parties work to suppress the vote of third party candidates and favor the establishment. Both major parties cherry pick facts and work together against third parties. Like Julian Assange says, “the establishment won’t let X political win.” This is the stance taken by some independents, libertarians, radicals, and progressives. Many people have theories. See Here’s A Rundown of Election Fraud in the 2016 Presidential Race So Far and No, voter fraud isn’t a myth: 10 cases where it’s all too real.
While my research shows that the first claim is the most correct (according to studies and court rulings), I’d argue that all sides have valid points. We won’t pick a side here. Instead, we will just present facts and some points you need to know to understand the debate better.
How Political Parties Rig Elections. One of those “independent” videos.
TIP: Types of voter fraud and voter suppression may occur in all races and on behalf of any party. Neither major party in the United States has a monopoly on voter fraud or suppression. So while voter fraud and voter suppression are real, it is a mistake to pin the blame on any one party. Probably the most disturbing part of 2016 is the laser focus on vicious personal attacks. If only one party controlled things, then only one party would win. We just got done with 16 years of Reagan and the Bush family and 16 years of Clinton and Obama combined. We are at a 50/50 split here. See our breakdown of the ideology of every past President for some reconfirmation that neither party as a monopoly on the highest office, let along House, Senate, or state or local offices.
Is Voter Fraud a Problem?
As noted above, voter fraud isn’t an official problem according to published studies and court cases. The number of convicted instances of voter fraud has historically been low, for example:
“Out of the 197 million votes cast for federal candidates between 2002 and 2005, only 40 voters were indicted for voter fraud. Only 26 of those cases, or about .00000013 percent of the votes cast, resulted in convictions or guilty pleas”.
In other words, convicted instances of voter fraud are rarer than UFO sightings. Of course many suspect, with good reason, that most instances of voter fraud go unnoticed.
BOTTOM LINE: Known in-person voter fraud is not a major problem. That statement needs to be taken with the nuances of this page in mind, but it is cold hard fact when phrased that way. You are more likely to get struck by lightening than see a conviction of in-person voter fraud.
EARLY AMERICA VOTING: In early America, only “freeholders” (a free, adult, male resident of his county and a member of the predominant religious group) could vote. Up to 75% of the wealthier white adult males of mainstream religions qualified as voters in most colonies. After eliminating everyone under the age of 21, all slaves and women, most Jews and Catholics, plus those men too poor to be freeholders, the colonial electorate consisted of perhaps only 10-20% of the total population. After the Constitution was signed and all white males could vote. The 3/5ths of each slave and some natives were counted, but unable to vote themselves. Only a small fraction of the population voted in practice. Today a solid 60%+ of voters come out for Presidential elections. Less voter suppression and fraud happen than ever. It is progress, not perfection.
The History of U.S. Elections (1964-2016). A discussion on realigning elections. These votes counted in these elections. Don’t think yours won’t moving forward.
Why Don’t we Convict More People of Voter Fraud if it is Suspected of Happening?
There is a pertinent question here. It is, “if we suspect voter fraud is occurring, why aren’t there more convictions?” The answer is possibly simple and can be explained by a few points, which are a theory, not fact.
- America has a two-party system in practice, a political duopoly, born from the fact that majorities are needed to win elections. In America, our two parties are very powerful entities filled with citizens, interest groups, and powerful elected and unelected leaders. It is hard to stand against such a powerhouse.
- America is also a Republic with respect for tradition and a desire for unity. We get our mentality from the British. If it is any clue, it took them decades to apologize for the anti-LGBT discrimination figures like Oscar Wilde and Alan Turing faced. It’s an honor-based, Victorian, “don’t ask; don’t tell” position. The stability and order of the nation are placed above acknowledging mistakes.
- When we focus heavily on the voter fraud that occurs, it causes our citizens to lose faith in elections, and that makes it harder for our leaders to lead. Downplaying voter fraud is probably a matter of practicality at its root.
The above truisms result in a culture in which Presidents are pardoned like when Ford pardoned Nixon, and upstanding opponents conceded to each other like when Bernie Sanders conceded to Hillary Clinton or when Gore conceded to Bush.
When a candidate doesn’t win by a clear margin, the cultural norm is to concede and not contest. FDR had a contested convention, but we customarily accept judgments in a tight race although recounts are allowed for, and decisions can be contested.
If the U.S. won’t accept the 2016 election results and starts infighting we weaken ourselves and present an opening for others to pick at us while we aren’t united. It is a bad idea for the United States not to be united given our position as a hegemonic power currently helping to keep world peace. The point of the separation of powers and Republic isn’t just to make things fair internally; it is to ensure against the tyranny of the majority and infighting.
PROOF that elections are rigged!! Video confession! Sometimes voter fraud does happen and we don’t talk about it to keep the peace. Still, it isn’t going to happen with a clear majority. It is going to happen in a close race where some unsavory character in the background can hit the panic button.
TIP: We have all heard about ballot stuffing, throwing provisional ballots out, Diebold voting machines, and straight up worse and less talked about voter fraud Gangs of New York style. None of this can override a strong majority due to the way voting works in the United States. Each of the 50 states and the many districts within the states handles votes. No single region is immune to voter fraud, but widespread voter fraud is very uncommon.
VOTER FRAUD IN HISTORY: Voter fraud and suppression have been occurring in America since day one. According to a 2008 article in Slate, “In colonial America candidates would promise land for votes,” and officials would “manipulate poll locations, voting times, and voter qualification” or change election results unilaterally and intimidate various voters. George Washington won his seat in the Virginia House of Burgesses in 1758 by spending 40 pounds on alcohol for his neighbors. Drinking around polling stations was banned because of these practices. Voter intimidation by “bosses” used to be very common.
Is Voter Suppression a Problem?
Voter suppression is a much more widely known problem than voter fraud, but it is also a much more contested subject. If we consider voter intimidation, misinformation, and making it difficult to cast a ballot voter suppression, then it is rampant in most historic elections.
In the U.S. we have two major problems, and both are legal: Gerrymandering and Voter ID laws.
- Gerrymandering or redistricting, is when lines are drawn to create red regions and blue regions or in the worst cases to ensure all red or all blue states by carving up regions tactically.
- Voter ID is a double-edged sword; it is the requirement that a certain type of ID must be obtained to vote. This prevents some types of voter fraud like falsely recording of votes, buying votes, or casting ballots of dead voters. It can easily be considered voter suppression when it causes fewer minorities, college students, and seniors to vote as it is harder for them to get IDs and get to polling places, each for a different reason.
Gerrymandering: Crash Course Government and Politics #37.
Voter Suppression Is Real & Now We Have Mathematical Proof.
FACT: The Fifth Circuit, in an opinion, found that Texas’s strict photo ID law is racially discriminatory. The court noted that there were “only two convictions for in-person voter impersonation fraud out of 20 million votes cast in the decade” before Texas passed its law.
Types of Voter Fraud and Voter Suppression
The best thing to remember when researching voter fraud and voter suppression aside from the key points noted above, is to remember that there are many different types of voter fraud and suppression. The list below is from voterfraudfacts.com with permission.
- Electorate Manipulation- Manipulation of Demography and Disenfranchisement.
- Intimidation- Violence or the Threat of Violence, Attacks on Polling Places, Legal Threats, and Economic Threats.
- Vote Buying- Rewarding a voter for voting (or not voting) in a specific way.
- Misinformation- Presenting false information about the process of voting or the issues of an election.
- Misleading or Confusing Ballot Papers- Presenting confusing or misleading ballot papers. Like, vote “yes” to vote “no” on “not legalizing marriage equality.”
- Ballot Stuffing- The submission of multiple votes by one person.
- Misrecording of Votes- The process of incorrectly counting votes or attributing a vote incorrectly.
- Misuse of Proxy Votes- Tampering or misrepresentation in the process of proxy voting.
- Destruction or Invalidation of Ballots- The process of destroying or hiding ballots.
- Tampering with Electronic Voting Machine- Just as it sounds, the process of tampering with an electronic voting machine in anyway before or after the voting process.
- Gerrymandering– The act of redistricting for political advantage.
- Voter Suppression– Suppressing eligible voters by any legal or illegal means in local, state, or federal elections.
Are you looking for more sources on voter fraud? We suggest the U.S. Election Assistance Commission, Department of Justice, the Heritage Foundation, and the Brennan Center for Justice.
Election includes more complex methods to fraud than those that have been mentioned here.
100% agree. Feel free to offer suggestions in the comments and we will cover them.
Sure. As noted above. Voter fraud is real.
The fear today is that one party will use the truism in an effort to commit the other type of voter fraud… the legal grey area one that happens at a state and federal level like gerrymandering. We can expect the Republican frenzy to result in strict voter ID laws and other things that hurt minorities.
Prove me wrong, come to my defense when my rights are being taken away, or simply share with us more citations. I won’t shy away from truth, but don’t get so caught up in the frenzy that you sacrifice your countrymen on a pious alter of righteous anger. To what extent our votes don’t count is to the extent our democracy is threatened.
Our founders did not envision such things for us, when we stray from their wisdom we start down a slippery slope.
Also, North Carolina is a red state…AND the quote is: “Could it be voter fraud? Sure, it could be voter fraud,” Strach said. “Could it be an error on the part of a precinct person choosing the wrong person’s name in the first place? It could be. We’re looking at each of these individual cases.”
So can’t report unknowns like they are knowns. Especially if we are going to tighten up voter laws over this. Because a truly great system would give each of our sovereign one vote regardless of class. Meanwhile, a system designed by the GOP will be restrictive and focus on the white middle class who votes them in. This is of course, not “fair”.
i know of several times there has been voter fraud, and that is just me. i had a good friend who sent her children to Marquette Univ. during the Bush-Gore election. The children told me they not only voted many times each for Gore, but that they were encourged to use the library computers to do so. They said it was easy, and that they knew of quite a few other students who also did so. I admonished them, but they weren’t concerned about their fraud, and didn’t see it as such.
Very interesting. I have no doubt that in-person voter fraud occurs. I only doubt that it is a wide-spread problem that is hurting one party more than the other one. There is this sentiment that Democrats are cheating via in-person voter fraud and thus we need strict voter ID laws… but that is a fix that specifically helps Republicans. So for me that doesn’t address the issue, but just does more of that grey area legal voter suppression that the article is about.
Don’t crucify our Democracy based solely on the fear that “illegal immigrants are voting”. That just sounds too much like the justification for the Poll tax or something. One citizen, one vote. Anything that does less, any gerrymandered district and aggressive voter ID policy, it just spits in the face of the intent of Democracy. That is my opinion, but it I think is hard to argue against as an American who truly care for our values.
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