As the national election races to the finish line, one issue that has made its way to the top of the debate is voter “fraud.” It is stated frequently and consistently that voter fraud is a huge problem that could undermine the results of the national elections.
Nothing could be further from the truth.
National experts say that credible allegations that someone may have pretended to be someone else at the polls are incredibly rare. The most comprehensive review of these allegations found only 31 different incidents (some of which involve multiple ballots) since 2000–anywhere in the country. Included in that analysis were all general, primary, special, and municipal elections from 2000 through 2014. In general and primary elections alone, more than 1 billion votes were cast in that period.
While some of these 31 incidents have been thoroughly investigated (including some prosecutions), many have not. The author of the study guessed that some of the 31 were just honest mistakes, but he wanted to err on the side of caution.
And that conservative approach still found only 31 credible allegations out of over 1 billion votes cast.
Hardly sounds like a widespread problem.
Yet, the relentless message that somehow there is a widespread problem with election fraud is having an impact on the nation. According to one recent poll, nearly half of Americans believe that voter fraud (defined in the poll as “like the same person voting multiple times or someone voting who is not eligible”) is a problem.
Nearly half of Americans believe that there is a problem, when the research says there is none.
What evidence do proponents of the “voter fraud” myth use to advance their cause? While the charges are usually based on anecdotes, a recent study issued by the independent think tank, the Pew Research Center, which estimated that there are approximately 24 million—one of every eight—voter registrations in the United States that are no longer valid or are significantly inaccurate. This is an argument proponents like to use.
But that report, “Inaccurate, Costly and Inefficient: Evidence That America’s Voter Registration System Needs An Upgrade,” was an examination of the problems with voter registration. It wasn’t a report that looked at voter fraud. Ironically, it also found that over 50 million eligible voters were not registered.
That seems like a much bigger problem.
There is evidence that the use of the term “voter fraud” is just an attempt to suppress the vote – particularly among young voters, other first time voters, and voters of modest means – including voters of color.
A national – or even statewide – debate over voting in America should be based on the facts, not overblown – or false – allegations.
Efforts to suppress the constitutional right to vote is much more of a problem than voter fraud. Candidates for office should use their time to advance measures to protect and expand that constitutional right, not dream up ways to sow public unease for their own narrow partisan advantage.
Here in New York our voter registration and voter participation rates are anemic. A U.S. Elections Project analysis showed New York to have among the five worst turnout rates in the nation among eligible voters. New York must take immediate action to address systematic problems that disenfranchise voters and remove barriers that suppress voter turnout. Here’s a checklist of three reforms that would help:
- Allow automatic voter registration and automatic updates to enrollment information of citizens interacting with all state and local government agencies.
- Allow voters to register and vote on Election Day. In the interim, New York State should shorten the registration and change of enrollment deadlines to 10 days before the election, the current minimum under the State Constitution.
- Eliminate the patronage-controlled Boards of Elections, starting with the merit selection of permanent Board employees across the state.
Reforms are needed, but they must remove obstacles to registration and voting, not respond to myths that are easily debunked.