Have You Heard the One About the Election That was Stolen?


That’s because no one can recall the last time an election was stolen in this country (except perhaps by the Supreme Court, in 2000).  The truth is that election fraud is extremely rare in the U.S.  Even rarer still is vote fraud:  the specific act of unqualified voters illegally casting ballots at polling places.

The way some people are acting, though, you’d think election fraud in general, and vote fraud in particular, was running wild and undermining the very foundation of American democracy.  That’s the only reasonable conclusion to draw in light of the heated passion and sense of urgency with which some state legislatures across the country are frantically passing new laws to combat vote fraud.

They’re determined to stop fraud at the ballot box – even if there’s no such fraud.

Their solution:  require people to present a photo ID when they show up at the polls to vote.

That’s bad news for people who don’t have any kind of photo ID.

Who doesn’t have photo ID?  Poor people who don’t drive and don’t go to college or work for great big companies that issue photo ID cards to their employees.

Also without photo IDs are older people who no longer drive and don’t go to college or work for great big companies that issue photo ID cards to their employees.

And then there are people who live in cities who, because public transportation is all the transportation they need, never learn to drive and also don’t go to college or work for great big companies that issue photo ID cards to their employees.

See a trend here?

Of course you do:  all of the kinds of people who are most likely to lack the kind of photo ID required by these new laws also are more likely to be registered Democratic than Republican.  And the state legislatures passing the new photo ID laws?  They’re all led – surprise, surprise – by Republicans.

This is not a coincidence.

Although proponents of such laws claim they will affect very few people, not everyone is buying this claim.  An analysis performed by the Philadelphia Inquirer, for example, found that nearly ten percent of Pennsylvania’s qualified voters do not have a state-issued photo ID card (whether a driver’s license or a non-driver’s license photo ID that’s also available).  The Inquirer launched its investigation after Pennsylvania state officials pegged the ID-less rate state-wide at about one percent of registered voters.  The U.S. Justice Department, sensing something amiss – you can’t get anything by those keen-eyed legal eagles – is now investigating.

Some numbers support the assertion that photo ID laws will be especially disadvantageous to minorities and the poor.  According to the Brennan Center for Justice, twenty-five percent of African-Americans lack valid photo ID cards; twenty percent of Asians also don’t have them, along with twenty percent of seniors, eighteen percent of Latinos, and fifteen percent of people who earn less than $35,000 a year.

Whites?  Only eight percent don’t have valid photo IDs.  (By the way:  that’s still an awful lot of potentially disenfranchised voters.)

The truth is that very, very few people have even been charged with vote fraud in recent years and convictions are extremely rare.  Even if you were going to try to fix an election, sending people to the polls to impersonate registered voters is the last thing you’d try and the absolutely dumbest way to go about it.


Because it’s the hardest way to change an election’s outcome.

Think about it.  To change an election’s outcome, you’d have to convince hundreds or thousands or tens of thousands of people – how many depends on the election you’re trying to fix – to commit crimes in front of a bunch of witnesses.  Who’s going to do that?  No, the way you rig an election is to tinker with the voting machines or get your own people involved in the vote-counting process so they can miscount or misreport votes in your candidate’s favor.

What some people call “vote fraud” usually involves someone who moved and failed to register at his new address voting instead at his old polling place.  Is that illegal?  Yes.  Is it vote fraud?  Technically, yes.  But is that what these new laws were created to stop?  No.  It’s also someone who hasn’t voted in six years showing up at a polling place, being told there’s no record of his registration, insisting that he voted just last year, swearing before a judge or magistrate that he voted last year, and being permitted to vote.  Is that illegal?  Yes.  Is it vote fraud?  Technically, yes.  But is that what these new laws were created to stop?  No again.

Some more numbers support the notion that vote fraud at the polls is a fabrication (courtesy of Mother Jones magazine.  See the sources for these figures here; The Curmudgeon knows better than to ask skeptical readers to trust Mother Jones):

  • Federal convictions for election fraud from 2002 to 2005, after the Bush administration – yes, the same Bush administration that urged its U.S. Attorneys to crack down on such crimes ­– added up to eighteen convictions for voting while ineligible, five for voting multiple times, and three for registration fraud – nation-wide!
  • When the state of Indiana was hauled before the Supreme Court to defend its photo ID law, the state’s lawyer couldn’t point to a single case of someone impersonating a registered voter – in the state’s 200-plus year history.
  • Between 2000 and 2010, 649 million votes were cast in American elections at the local, state, and federal levels.  During that time, 441 Americans were killed by lightning.  Credible cases of in-person voter impersonation?  Thirteen.

The reality is that there’s very little individual vote fraud at polling places.  The best way to steal an election is to attempt to subvert the counting or reporting of votes cast and the most publicized forms of vote fraud involve absentee ballots and voter registration fraud.  Compelling people to present valid photo IDs so they can vote won’t prevent people from subverting the counting or reporting of votes cast, tinkering with absentee ballots, or fraudulent registration.

So really, why all the fuss?  Why all the new laws?

A Republican leader of Pennsylvania’s state legislature recently put it best when he told an audience that his state’s voter ID law will “allow Governor Romney to win the state of Pennsylvania.”  See it for yourself here.

Early in his professional life, The Curmudgeon spent six years working for the Committee of Seventy, a prominent, non-partisan, highly respected election watchdog organization in Philadelphia.  In the City of Brotherly Love, allegations of election fraud are common – some of them as recent as just last week, in fact.  Virtually none of it is actual fraud.  Why are people so fixated on election fraud?  The Committee of Seventy’s executive director during The Curmudgeon’s tenure there always had a ready answer:  because to the candidates, he would explain, “No one ever lost an election.  It was always stolen from them.”

Well, if there’s one thing that’s not happening in Philadelphia, or anywhere else in the U.S., it’s elections being stolen from anyone because of vote fraud.

With so many important issues on the public policy agenda that need serious consideration and attention from elected officials, it’s unfortunate that those officials are wasting their time on this even though it’s clear that vote fraud is non-existent in anything even remotely approaching meaningful numbers.  Public officials need to ensure that the election process has integrity and inspires confidence in the legitimacy of the final tally, but at the same time, they should be tearing down barriers to voter participation, not erecting new ones.

Post a comment or leave a trackback: Trackback URL.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: