Statistically, voter fraud in the United States is extraordinarily rare. Yet 34 states have some type of voter identification law to prevent impersonation at the ballot box. President Donald J. Trump and the majority of Americans support these laws, but many others believe the laws are designed to prevent people from voting, in particular people of color and lower-income Americans.
Trump announced on Thursday that he will disband the commission tasked with investigating voter fraud in federal elections. The Commission of Electoral Integrity was established in May 2017 after Trump claimed that at least 3 million people voted illegally in the 2016 presidential election, which he says enabled Hillary Clinton to win the popular vote by 2.9 million votes. Trump did not cite any official statistics or sources when making this claim.
Trump said a lack of cooperation from “Democrat States,” which refused to provide state election data to the commission, was the reason behind the decision. The president continues to believe that there is “substantial evidence of voter fraud.”
“Rather than engage in endless legal battles at taxpayer expense, today President Donald J. Trump signed an executive order to dissolve the Commission,” reads the statement issued by the White House.
The committee wasn’t able to prove Trump’s claims on voter fraud. Several studies have already researched the topic (Brennan Center). None of these investigations found non-eligible residents voting at a significant level. Certainly nothing close to the 3 million illegal ballots suggested by the president.
Study findings at odds with common beliefs
Voter fraud does occur in limited numbers. News21, an investigative project headquartered at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University, found 10 cases of in-person voter impersonation between 2000-2012. This works out to roughly 1 in every 15 million voters. The Brennan Center for Justice compiled a list in January 2017 of additional studies and court cases that found similar figures.
While voter fraud is rare, many states have voter identification laws aimed at preventing impersonation. The National Conference of State Legislatures tallied 34 states with laws that require showing some form of ID at the ballot box. Seven states have strict government-issued photo ID requirements.
Voter ID legislation affects only in-person voting. The purpose is to prevent people who disguise their identity at the polls from casting ballots.
Though still rare, fraud is actually more of a problem with mail-in absentee ballots. The same News21 investigation found 491 cases of fraudulent mail-in votes between 2000 and 2012, as opposed to the previously referenced 10 cases of in-person impersonation.
Voter ID laws do not prevent voter registration fraud. News21 found 400 cases in which a person submitted false information when registering as a voter. This includes providing incorrect name, place of residence and/or legal status. The study does not say how many people, if any, voted after a false registration.
Democrats tend to be the fiercest critics of voter ID laws. They don’t believe that voter fraud is a serious problem and view voter ID laws as purposefully targeting Democratic voters. They say typically Democratic voters, such as voters from lower-income communities and communities of color, are less likely to be able to afford the fees and time needed to obtain a government ID.
“As Republican politicians try to make it harder to vote, Democrats are working to expand access to the polls,” reads an official Democratic Party statement on voter ID.
The Democratic Party, however, is largely fighting against popular belief. A 2016 Gallup poll found that 80 percent of Americans support photo ID in order to vote. A large number of Americans also believe that voter fraud exists.
APNORC, a research project led by the Associated Press and the University of Chicago, polled 1,022 adults in 2016 to gauge their thoughts on the integrity of federal elections. One-third of participants believed that there is a “great deal” of voter fraud. More than one-fourth said that there is “some fraud.”
How can WikiTribune continue to cover this topic? What have you always wondered about the conversation behind voter fraud?
- Investigate ‘why’ and ‘how’ voter fraud happens, even if it’s rare. Profile the handful of people who’ve been caught. (Idea from community-member Mark Wasson).
- Focus on the difference between voter registration fraud and actual voter fraud. Perhaps compare it to the UK and other countries. (Idea from community-member Jonathon Cardy).
- Election law, and possible fraud, in other countries.