Voter Fraud: Is It Real?
September 19, 2016
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Voter fraud can be defined as “the intentional corruption of electoral process by voter”. It can be disputed however if this crime is an actual occurring thing in American society and weather or not it is worth putting time and effort into pressing charges against offenders. The conviction of fraudulent voters is very rare, and the reason for that is partially due to how little evidence is able to be put on it and many cases of go undetected. On top of that, many cases of voter’s fraud have come up due to false allegations and others have ended in the release of suspects because they did not intend to fraudulently vote. So is it actually worth worrying about?
First, what is voter fraud? What qualifies as voter’s fraud?
It falls into a sub-category of crime called election fraud which the U.S. Department of Justice’s defines as the “conduct that corrupts the process by which ballots are obtained, marked, or tabulated; the process by which election results are canvassed and certified; or the process by which voters are registered.”
There is, in fact, no definite definition of voter fraud because different states treat it differently and have unique understandings of what the crime actually is. Depending on which states a case is being studied in, voter fraud can be described as illegal voting, registering to vote with false info, casting multiple votes in the same election, and sometimes not considered a crime at all.
It is also important to know what voter fraud isn’t. One cannot be convicted of the crime if there is no evidence to support that they had intentions of corrupting the electorate system.
The Department of Justice manual adds onto this where it describes a few characteristics of voter fraud while instructing how to identify and prosecute for the crime.
“there are several reasons why election crime prosecutions may present an easier means of obtaining convictions than do other forms of public corruption.” They are, 1) “election crimes usually occur largely in public,” 2) “election crimes often involve many players,” and 3) “election crimes tend to leave a paper trail.”
Most cases of voter fraud end up being passed as a mistake on the voter’s or administrator’s part resulting many suspects being released. It cannot be committed by elected officials, candidates, or advocacy groups but any electoral corruption caused these groups or individuals would be categorized under election fraud the same way voter fraud is.
Next, how important and prevalent is voter fraud?
There is a minuscule amount of information and statistics about arrests and convicted cases of voter fraud. It is so rare in fact, that the FBI does not have it listed as a routine crime nor do states keep records of voter fraud activity. The only statistics that are kept of voter fraud are kept by the federal government, and they show that the crime is rarely committed nation-wide. Between the years of 2002 and 2005, only 24 people were convicted of or pleaded guilty to voter fraud.
Though it may seem that state and federal governments do not focus on prosecuting or acknowledge that voter fraud is even a crime— which some believe to be the reason for their lack of statistics— they do. Many states do go into detail when describing voter fraud as a felony in their constitutions and include many different types of voter and election fraud. In 2002, the Attorney general of the U.S. Department of Justice announced the crackdown on the crime with the department’s Ballot Access and Voting Integrity Initiative project. He stated that they “made enforcement of election fraud and corruption offenses a top priority.” This crackdown resulted in the numbers of convicted voter fraud felons mentioned earlier.
Another point that people use to defend the theory of hidden voter fraud is the idea that law enforcement is not motivated or fit to catch violators and allow many of them to go undetected. This can be refuted by stating that law enforcement can only convict suspects when evidence in the case proves them guilty. This often does not happen in voter fraud cases since they are usually ruled off as mistakes or unintentional. It is also highly unlikely that so much of one type of crime can be committed repeatedly by a large number of people and somehow go unnoticed by the U.S. Justice system.
Building on voter fraud case outcomes, many charges against suspects are dropped due to lack of evidence as well as ignorance by the one being charged. For example:
In a review of votes cast in a 2000 Milwaukee election conducted by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, 361 votes turned up to be illegal votes. They were cast by felons for other crimes on parole which went against a state law that prohibits them to vote. The newspaper then interviewed the illegal voters and all of them claimed that they were unaware of the law — which was known by the state government for often being “misunderstood” in the first place. Ninety percent of the 361 were African-Americans. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel made a prediction of how many other possible voters state-wide could have voted in this election based of the rate of illegal voters in Milwaukee. The number they came to was 1,100. It can be inferred that they voted for Al Gore since 92 percent of the African-Americans in the state voted for him. This means that these illegal votes could have been what swung the election in Gore’s favor since he won by such a close victory. It was later found out through probation and parole procedures that none of the voting felons were ever informed of the law. Three others were charged with voter fraud but those charges were dropped when there was no evidence that they were aware they were not abiding by state law.
This case displays the effect that illegal votes could have on an election and the lack of evidence most cases have. Along with the information before it, it shows that voter fraud is not a problem in U.S. society today, though there may be a few actual cases of it here and there. The real significance that voter fraud has in society today is its use in politics.
Voter fraud became prominent in the 1896 election when immigrants, poor farmers, freed blacks, and working class came into the picture. The upper class Democrats became fearful of losing power when they became the minority of the electorate after all the new voters poured in. Municipal reformers wanted to change voting registration policies, deeming that these new voters lacked the moral and political capabilities to decide who was to have power. Local parties also had much more power in this era due to funding which was closely linked to electoral fraud back then. They controlled social institutions and owned franchises that they now do not have which led to the toppling their means of committing voter fraud.
Fraud claims as political intimidation came back however, with the reforms during the civil rights movement such as Voting Rights Act of 1965. There was debate over how voting rights should be protected. Opposing forces argued weather having government protection of voting rights or a less strict voting registration system would bring about less voter fraud cases. The conflict came back during the Reagan administration when they wanted to extend the Voting Rights Act and again over the National Voter Registration Act.
During the civil rights movement, violence spread intimidation to prevent blacks from voting and fraud claims are a modernized, more subtle version of it. It is used to thin out other marginalized groups of people from participating in elections today for the benefit of a party.
Voter registration drives, which came about in the 1960s, helped and encouraged many marginalized groups including African-Americans to become registered voters. These drives can also be known to have fraudulent registration information because they are put together and run by volunteers. Because it is done privately and not by state government, there is more room for error to happen which the Republicans can use to make fraud allegations
Voter fraud is often used as a political tactic against an opposing party. They used fraud allegations to change the rules and add regulations in their favor. Voter registration for these marginalized groups is acquired more easily in today’s terms. The Democrats now use it to help them get power away from the Republicans by expanding their base. The Republicans fight back with baseless voter fraud allegations. It has become the signature move for Republican activists to gain partisan advantage and defend against the expanding Democratic base. These fraud allegations came from the competition of race, party, and class that existed throughout American history for the past couple hundred years. In this sense, voter fraud is more of a real way the U.S. political system functions than a real crime.