November 17, 2016

November 17, 2016 | Commentary on Elections, Rule of Law

No, Election Fraud Is Not as Unlikely as a Lightning Strike

Speaking at a partisan fundraiser in Florida last month, President Barack Obama touched on a number of issues near and dear to the hearts of liberals. It was part stump speech, part farewell-tour stop — and part chance to knock efforts at ensuring election integrity one last time.

The president just doesn’t think there is such a thing as election fraud. As he informed the assembled Floridians, “You are much likelier to get struck by lightning than to have somebody next to you commit voter fraud.”

We can’t guess how many fraudsters were in the audience that night. But we know one thing for sure: The Left loves this old lightning-strike chestnut.

It’s a claim that was debunked more than four years ago, yet progressives keep trotting it out anyway. So, it’s time to debunk it again, by turning to the National Weather Service and The Heritage Foundation’s voter-fraud database, which contains hundreds of cases of election fraud, all of which have been proven in courts of law and resulted in criminal convictions or overturned elections.

In 2012, Florida suffered five fatalities from lightning strikes. But in the election that year, Jeffrey Garcia, chief of staff to then-Democratic representative Joe Garcia, ordered the congressman’s political campaign to illegally request absentee ballots for 1,800 voters without their consent. Jeffrey Garcia pleaded guilty to orchestrating this massive fraud and was sentenced to 90 days’ incarceration.

In that same year, Massachusetts — home to senator and election-fraud denier Elizabeth Warren — did not suffer a single lightning-related fatality, yet it did endure the criminal antics of Enrico “Jack” Villamaino, a Republican candidate for the state House of Representatives. Villamaino conspired with his future wife to alter the party registrations of 280 registered Democrats in the town of East Longmeadow, and then request absentee ballots in their names. His goal was to secure additional votes for himself in the Republican primary, at the cost of nearly 300 voters’ right to participate in the Democratic primary.

In 2013, Texas suffered only two lightning fatalities. But it did see Weslaco city commissioner Guadalupe Rivera attempt to secure reelection through illegal means. Rivera initially beat his rival, Letty Lopez, by a scant 16 votes, but Lopez sued alleging fraud. A judge determined that at least 30 illegal ballots had been cast, enough to swing the election. A new election was ordered, and Lopez won. Rivera subsequently pleaded guilty, along with an accomplice, to the charge of “assisting” voters by filling out ballots on their behalf without consulting them, or in a manner contrary to their wishes — in other words, robbing citizens of their right to vote.

The entire state of North Carolina has suffered only four lightning strikes in nearly four years. At the same time, Pembroke, N.C. has devolved into chaos. In the town’s November 2013 election, 30 fraudulent ballots were cast, forcing an electoral do-over the following year. An investigation revealed that non-residents were able to cast ballots after being improperly registered during one-stop absentee voting. Ineligible voting and other irregularities marred so marred Pembroke’s 2015 mayoral vote that the town once again had to re-do an election. Ongoing legal challenges over yet more fraud have prevented officials from declaring a winner in the make-up vote, leaving Pembroke without a mayor for more than a year.

Clearly, election fraud occurs — and with far greater frequency than Americans get hit by lightning. The stories above are just the tip of the iceberg. Most instances of fraud — whether they involve vote-buying rings or noncitizens casting ballots — go undetected because states lack the tools to track them, and many overworked prosecutors do not consider these cases a priority once an election is over.

It’s time for liberals to retire this talking point. Luckily, there’s another meteorological zinger ready-made to take its place: Lightning may not strike the same spot twice, but election fraud sure does.

About the Author

Hans A. von Spakovsky Manager, Election Law Reform Initiative and Senior Legal Fellow
Edwin Meese III Center for Legal and Judicial Studies

Jason Snead Policy Analyst
Edwin Meese III Center for Legal and Judicial Studies

Related Issues: Elections, Rule of Law

This piece first appeared in the National Review Online.