Preserving the great experiment that is the American republic is dependent upon free and fair elections. When selecting a city councilor or the president of the United States, every American must be able to trust the process and the result, or the democratic system itself breaks down.
Election integrity is essential and the security of the ballot box cannot be left to a simple honor system.. It is incumbent upon state governments to safeguard the electoral process, and ensure that every voter’s right to cast a ballot is protected.
The history of voting in the United States
Contrary to the claims of many liberals, the problem of voter fraud is as old as the country itself. As the U.S. Supreme Court noted when it upheld Indiana’s voter identification law, “flagrant examples” of voter fraud “have been documented throughout this Nation’s history by respected historians and journalists.”
Attempts to commandeer election results have been documented dating back to the 19th century, when New York City’s infamous Tammany Hall was synonymous with political corruption and election fraud. In one New York election 1844, 55,000 votes were recorded even though there were only 41,000 eligible voters. Decades later, these efforts have continued and determined fraudsters have become only more creative in their efforts to fix the outcome of elections.
Different types of election fraud
There are many ways for criminals to steal votes and change the outcome of an election. These include:
- Impersonation fraud at the polls:Voting in the name of other legitimate voters and voters who have died, moved away, or lost their right to vote because they are felons, but remain registered.
- False registrations: Voting under fraudulent voter registrations that either use a phony name and a real or fake address or claim residence in a particular jurisdiction where the registered voter does not actually live and is not entitled to vote.
- Duplicate voting: Registering in multiple locations and voting in the same election in more than one jurisdiction or state.
- Fraudulent use of absentee ballots: Requesting absentee ballots and voting without the knowledge of the actual voter; or obtaining the absentee ballot from a voter and either filling it in directly and forging the voter’s signature or illegally telling the voter who to vote for.
- Buying votes: Paying voters to cast either an in-person or absentee ballot for a particular candidate.
- Illegal “assistance” at the polls: Forcing or intimidating voters—particularly the elderly, disabled, illiterate, and those for whom English is a second language—to vote for particular candidates while supposedly providing them with “assistance.”
- Ineligible voting: Illegal registration and voting by individuals who are not U.S. citizens, are convicted felons, or are otherwise not eligible to vote.
- Altering the vote count: Changing the actual vote count either in a precinct or at the central location where votes are counted.
- Ballot petition fraud: Forging the signatures of registered voters on the ballot petitions that must be filed with election officials in some states for a candidate or issue to be listed on the official ballot.
Can illegal votes actually affect election outcomes?
Liberal groups often claim that known instances of voter fraud are inconsequential when compared to the total number of ballots cast in American elections. However, as the National Commission on Federal Election Reform has stated, the problem “is not the magnitude of voter fraud. In close or disputed elections, and there are many, a small amount of fraud could make the margin of difference.” The U.S. Supreme Court has concurred with this assessment, noting that known instances of fraud “demonstrate that not only is the risk of voter fraud real but that it could affect the outcome of a close election.”
Indeed, recent elections bear this out. In 2015, a city council election in the New Jersey town of Perth Amboy was decided by a mere 10 votes. A judge overturned the election and ordered a new one after it was revealed that at least 13 illegal absentee ballots had been cast. The 2003 mayoral primary in East Chicago, Indiana, was overturned by the state Supreme Court after evidence of widespread fraud was revealed. The new election resulted in a different winner. Numerous convictions for election fraud resulted from this election, and are documented in The Heritage Foundation’s Voter Fraud Database.
Who is responsible for ensuring the integrity of elections?
Each state is generally responsible for the administration of its own electoral systems, including elections for federal office. State governments must take this responsibility seriously and adopt policies sufficient to secure their elections against fraud, including efforts by noncitizens to vote, and by citizens registered in multiple states.
The Heritage Foundation has outlined several policies states should adopt, including requiring government-issued identification and proof of citizenship to vote. States should enter into interstate voter registration crosscheck programs to identify voters registered in multiple states. They should verify the accuracy of their voter registrations, by comparing voter rolls with jury forms, DMV files, and other government records to identify noncitizens so that they can be removed from voter rolls. The federal government should cooperate with state efforts to clean up their registrations, and make Department of Homeland Security and other databases available to state officials for this purpose.
In recent years, some proactive secretaries of state across the country have taken the lead in securing American elections. Kansas’ Interstate Voter Registration Crosscheck Program has identified hundreds of thousands of potential duplicate registrations in the 30 states participating in the initiative, as well as evidence of double voting. At the same time, more states have passed voter ID laws to detect and deter fraud.
There are now 34 states that have laws requiring voters to show some form of identification at the polls, although not all require photo identification or proof of citizenship. A small number of states have extended that ID requirement to absentee ballots, a requirement that all states should implement.
Examples of election fraud cases across the country
Heritage’s Voter Fraud Database contains a sampling of voter fraud cases from across the country, all of which have resulted in either a criminal conviction or an overturned election. The Heritage Database is not representative of the full scope of the problem. Unfortunately, too often voter fraud goes undetected, and when it is discovered, overburdened prosecutors seldom prioritize these cases.
Here are 11 examples from the database: