Yesterday, I read yet another story about a Republican politician droning on and on about what a big problem voter fraud is, again without any evidence of it. We all need to have the facts and figures to combat this persistent myth.
The GOP has long trumpeted the idea that thousands, even millions, of people have cast illegal votes in election after election. I’m sure you’ve heard them say this. They’ve so frightened people that they’ve passed Voter ID laws to combat the fraud. Here’s the thing: The only type of voter fraud that ID requirements can prevent is impersonation fraud. And its really, really rare.
Impersonation fraud is when someone pretends to be a registered voter at the polls and casts a vote in that person’s name. The reason why impersonation fraud is so rare is that the risk of getting caught is high, the penalties are harsh, and there’s no payoff.
Just imagine: You stand in line to vote at the polls. You have to know the name of the registered voter you’re going to claim to be. Once you get to the desk, you give the name of the person you’re impersonating. You have to hope that 1) that voter isn’t already at the polls, 2) that person hasn’t already voted and signed the register, 3) and that the local poll worker doesn’t know that voter (or you). You’re risking 5 years in prison and $10,000 in fines. If you’re a non-citizen, you’ll be deported. That’s a lot of risk to add 1 vote.
I’ll get into how incredibly rare these types of voter fraud are in a minute. The problem is, the GOP has been parroting this myth for two decades and a significant amount of the population believes it. A fairly recent survey found that a third (!!) of all Republican voters in Wisconsin thought that thousands of illegal votes get cast every election.
Let’s get into the numbers. Has anyone done any major studies on the incidence of voter fraud? Why, yes they have. What they have found:
A Washington Post study found 31 credible instances of voter impersonation fraud from 2000-2014, out of more than 1 billion ballots cast.
An ASU study found zero successful prosecutions for impersonation fraud in five states from 2012-2016.
The Brennan Center found incident rates between 0.0003% and 0.0025% for the elections they studied.
Don’t just take my word for it. You can read through all the studies yourself. They are collected here.
What about the courts? What have they turned up as voter suppression cases worked through the system?
The 5th Circuit found there were only two convictions for in-person voter impersonation fraud in Texas out of 20M votes cast in the decade.
The 4th Circuit noted that North Carolina “failed to identify even a single individual who has ever been charged with committing in-person voter fraud.”
Even Kris Kobach, Kansas’ current Secretary of State and former head of the doomed Trump commission on voter fraud, himself testified that of 84M votes cast in 22 states, it yielded 14 instances of fraud referred for prosecution (0.00000017%).
There’s so many studies, and reports, and court cases and they all say the same thing. The incidence of voter fraud is infinitesimally small.
Widespread voter fraud is a GOP myth. But it is widely believed, so it makes our work all that much harder. We must work to restore and expand Voting Rights and fight against Voter Suppression tactics.