The future of this republic is in the hands of the American voter.
The fight for the right to vote is a storied part of America’s heritage. From the revolutionary cry of “no taxation without representation,” to the marches of the suffragettes, to the struggle against Jim Crow laws, America’s successful efforts to expand and defend the right to vote are some of our nation’s greatest triumphs. Every citizen’s vote is sacred. The vote is how we guarantee that our government remains of the people, by the people, and for the people. The successful campaigns of the past cannot be taken for granted. We must continue the fight to expand and defend Americans’ right to have their votes count.
Thankfully, we now live in a time when no serious person would dare to claim that any group of people should be denied the right to vote based on their race, sex, or any other immutable characteristic. But celebrating that triumph does not mean that the fight to defend the vote is finished. Our fight today is to preserve the integrity of each vote against fraudulent attempts to erase it. Every vote is worth fighting for because, as Dwight D. Eisenhower said, “The future of this republic is in the hands of the American voter.” We fight for the integrity of every vote to preserve the extraordinary victories of our past.
Recognizing the importance of each individual vote, we must prevent any vote from being erased by a fraudulent vote. Fraudulent votes effectively disenfranchise voters by offsetting and diluting their votes. Although we know that election fraud occurs, it is impossible to measure its full extent and impact. But as the U.S. Supreme Court said in 2008 in Crawford v. Marion County Election Board, “flagrant examples of [election] fraud…have been documented throughout this Nation's history by respected historians and journalists…[that] demonstrate that not only is the risk of voter fraud real but that it could affect the outcome of a close election.” And we have many close elections in this country, particularly local and state elections, where the margin of victory can depend on a relatively small number of votes.
Moreover, we know that the incentive to cheat is always present. The vote gives power, and the desire for power corrupts. To preserve a government where every person has an equal vote, we must therefore eliminate avenues for bad actors to cheat.
Right now, there are many vulnerabilities in our system that make election fraud easy to commit and hard to catch either before or after the fact. Not only does fraud diminish voters’ say in their government, but it also diminishes their faith in the integrity of our unique American experiment. Thomas Jefferson noted that “we do not have a government by the majority. We have a government by the majority who participate.” To increase participation, we must protect Americans’ faith that their votes matter. Fraud makes votes not matter; to continue our tradition of defending the right to vote, we must therefore eliminate fraud.
Americans need and deserve elections that they can trust. Legitimate voters should be able to vote in privacy without being harassed, secure in the knowledge that their vote will not be lost, stolen, altered, or negated by a vote cast by an illegitimate voter. Americans need and deserve a transparent system in which fraud can be easily detected and false allegations of fraud can be easily dispelled. Americans need and deserve a system in which it is easy to vote and hard to cheat.
The Heritage Foundation’s Election Fraud Database shows that election fraud occurs all too frequently in American elections. Each case in the database ended in a finding that an individual or multiple individuals engaged in wrongdoing in connection with an election hoping to affect its outcome or that the results of an election were sufficiently in question to be overturned.
While the database is regularly updated with new cases as individuals are convicted and courts or state agencies report their findings, it contains just a sampling of recent instances of election fraud from across the country. It is not an exhaustive or comprehensive list and does not capture reported instances or allegations of election fraud, which may or may not be meritorious, that are not investigated or prosecuted. And, of course, it cannot catch fraud that goes undetected. But it confirms that the temptation to cheat is powerful; that there are bad actors who will give in to that temptation; and that to defend the right to vote, we must deny them the chance to do so.
Mistakes by election officials and shoddy election procedures make fraud possible. Whether committed through innocent but avoidable errors or through malfeasance, these vulnerabilities in election procedures must be eliminated so that every legitimate vote counts.
In 2012, the Pew Foundation released a report on the voter registration systems maintained by the states. The report found that:
- Approximately 24 million—one in every eight—voter registrations were either no longer valid or significantly inaccurate.
- More than 1.8 million deceased individuals were listed as voters.
- Approximately 2.75 million individuals were registered in more than one state.
In 2017, the Government Accountability Institute (GAI) published a report, America the Vulnerable: The Problem of Duplicate Voting, in which it found that thousands of votes cast in the 2016 election were illegal duplicate votes from individuals who had registered and voted in more than one state. The GAI obtained voter registration and voter history data from 21 states. It then supplemented those data by using commercial databases in order to obtain unique identifiers such as Social Security numbers on each registered voter. Using an extremely conservative matching program, the GAI concluded that almost 8,500 voters had cast ballots in more than one state in that election. The GAI also found more than 15,000 individuals had registered to vote at prohibited, nonresidential addresses “such as post office boxes, UPS stores, federal post offices, and public buildings” as well as “gas stations, vacant lots, abandoned mill buildings, basketball courts, parks, warehouses, and office buildings.”
In 2020, the Public Interest Legal Foundation (PILF) released a similar report, Critical Condition: American Voter Rolls Filled with Errors, Dead Voters, and Duplicate Registrations, using an even bigger database of voter registration and voter history information obtained from 42 states covering the 2016 and 2018 elections. Like GAI, PILF supplemented the state registration information by using other commercial and government databases such as credit agencies and the Social Security Administration’s Master Death Index to obtain unique identifiers and sift out as many “false positives” as possible when comparing the data.
PILF’s comparison of the state data, also using a conservative matching program, revealed that:
- 8,360 individuals registered and voted in two different states during the 2018 election.
- Votes were recorded for 7,890 deceased individuals in the 2016 election and 6,718 deceased individuals in the 2018 election.
- 43,760 individuals who registered more than once at the same address in the same state voted twice in the 2016 election, and 37,889 individuals registered more than once at the same address cast two votes in the 2018 election. Thousands of these duplicate votes were cast using mail-in or absentee ballots.
- 5,500 individuals registered at two different addresses in the same state and voted twice in the 2018 election.
- Votes were recorded in the 2018 election for 34,000 individuals who were registered at nonresidential, commercial addresses such as gas stations, casinos, and restaurants.
Although there is no complete information on the extent of these problems in all 50 states and the District of Columbia, it is clear that there are vulnerabilities across the states as well as problems inherent in the ways states are administering their voter registration and election systems.
In order to help voters, state legislators, election officials, and all Americans who are interested in ensuring a fair and secure election process, The Heritage Foundation has published this Election Integrity Scorecard, which compares the election laws and regulations of each state1 that affect the security and integrity of the process to the Foundation’s best-practices recommendations. These recommendations were created by analysts at The Heritage Foundation in consultation with a wide variety of outside election experts.
As former President Jimmy Carter, a Democrat, and former Secretary of State James A. Baker III, a Republican, wrote in 2005 when they co-chaired the Commission on Federal Election Reform:
Elections are the heart of democracy. They are the instrument for the people to choose leaders and hold them accountable. At the same time, elections are a core public function upon which all other government responsibilities depend. If elections are defective, the entire democratic system is at risk.
We could not agree more. This Scorecard is intended to help ensure that the defects in our election process are fixed so that, in the words of President Carter and Secretary Baker, Americans can have “confidence in the fairness of elections.” As Jimmy Carter and James Baker did in 2005, The Heritage Foundation urges all Americans, particularly state legislative and executive branch leaders, “to recognize the urgency of election reform and to seriously consider the comprehensive approach” outlined in this Scorecard to improve the conduct and administration of elections in their states.
 While we recognize that the District of Columbia is not a state, pursuant to the Twenty-Third Amendment, the District now casts three electoral votes for President. We have therefore included it in this Scorecard. Accordingly, for the sake of simplicity and clarity and because of the District’s unique constitutional status, any reference to a “state” should be interpreted to include the District of Columbia. The Heritage Foundation does not endorse the District of Columbia becoming a state.