Case Studies by Issue

November 10, 2007

Photo ID

Much of the hue and cry about voter fraud is accompanied by calls for restrictive ID requirements, like laws requiring voters to show particular photo ID documents at the polls. Some of this may be a sincere, if mistaken, belief in the need for restrictive ID measures. But this clip from a May 17, 2007, Houston Chronicle article suggests another rationale:

Among Republicans it is an 'article of religious faith that voter fraud is causing us to lose elections,' [Royal] Masset[, former political director of the Republican Party of Texas,] said. He doesn't agree with that, but does believe that requiring photo IDs could cause enough of a dropoff in legitimate Democratic voting to add 3 percent to the Republican vote.

We have analyzed more than 250 claims of fraud submitted by those supporting the respondents in the Supreme Court's photo ID case, Crawford v. Marion County Election Board. We find absolutely no proven cases of fraudulent votes that could be prevented by the restrictive ID law being challenged.

Other case studies collected here by issue and state also analyze the limited degree to which restrictive ID requirements could possibly remedy the fraud alleged in each instance.

We also collect commentary discussing the purported link between voter fraud and calls for restrictive ID requirements.

Election Assistance Commission

The following resources concern the research conducted by the Election Assistance Commission on allegations of voter fraud:

U.S. Attorneys

The following resources concern the connection between the U.S. Attorney purge and allegations of voter fraud:

More resources here.

Alleged double-voting

There are a handful of known cases in which pollbook entries and absentee or provisional ballots stubs indicate that one individual has actually voted twice. These cases are extremely rare, in part because the penalty (criminal prosecution) is so severe, and the payoff (one incremental vote) is so minimal.

It is far more common, however, to see allegations of epidemic double-voting that are unfounded. Such claims are usually premised on matching lists of voters from one place to another, but upon closer inspection, the match process shows error. Sometimes the interpretation is flawed: two list entries under the same name -- even the same name and birthdate -- indicate different individuals. Sometimes the lists themselves are flawed: because of the occasional clerical error by overworked and undertrained election workers, an individual is marked as voting when she did not in fact cast a ballot. Sometimes it's both.

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Alleged voting by the dead

There are a handful of known cases in which votes have been cast in the names of individuals who have died before the vote was submitted.

It is far more common, however, to see allegations of epidemic voting from beyond the grave, with a chuckle and a reference to Gov. Huey Long’s quip ("When I die, I want to be buried in Louisiana, so I can stay active in politics.") or Rep. Charlie Rangel’s update (same idea, but takes place in Chicago).

Here, too, flawed matches of lists from one place (death records) to another (voter rolls) are often responsible for misinformation. Sometimes the interpretation is flawed: two list entries under the same name -- even the same name and birthdate -- indicate different individuals. Sometimes the lists themselves are flawed: because of the occasional clerical error by overworked and undertrained election workers, an individual is marked as voting when she did not in fact cast a ballot. Sometimes it's both.

Or, sometimes the match is accurate but reveals nothing illegal about the vote: the voter has died, yes, but after casting her ballot.

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Alleged voting from improper addresses

There are a handful of known cases in which votes have been cast from improper addresses.

It is far more common, however, to see claimed epidemics of voting from allegedly flawed addresses that later turn out to be legitimate. These claims are often based on postcards that are returned undelivered or undeliverable – but the postcards are an unreliable indicator. Typos during the registration process may cause mail to be misdirected. Or individuals may receive mail at an address different from the legal residence they list as their registration address.

Other unsupported claims are based on attempts to screen registration addresses against lists of vacant lots, or against zoning regulations to find locations dedicated to non-residential use. Here, too, typos may cause legitimate addresses to be flagged as suspicious. Sometimes the underlying lists are flawed: supposedly vacant lots actually have houses. Sometimes the voter’s actual legal residence is non-traditional: for example, a manager lives on-site at a storage facility.

Finally, a variant of the above claims concern allegations that large numbers of votes are all tied to one address. Yet there is nothing inherently suspect about multiple votes from one address if multiple eligible voters live there, whether the address is a college dormitory or nursing home or any other group housing arrangement.

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Alleged voting by noncitizens

We are not aware of any documented cases in which individual noncitizens have either intentionally registered to vote or voted while knowing that they were ineligible. Given that the penalty (criminal prosecution and deportation) is so severe, and the payoff (one incremental vote) is so minimal for any individual voter, it makes sense that extremely few noncitizens would attempt to vote, knowing that doing so is illegal.

Although there are a few recorded examples in which noncitizens have apparently registered or voted, investigators have concluded that they were likely not aware that doing so was improper. In one highly publicized case, for example, noncitizens were given voter registration forms by a group helping them through the naturalization process, as immigration officials stood and watched. These individuals most likely mistakenly thought it their obligation and privilege to complete the paperwork, and most likely did not intentionally fabricate their citizenship status in front of federal officials who knew that they were noncitizens.

Far more common than these incidents of noncitizen voting are allegations of noncitizen voting that prove unfounded. Other claims are premised on matching lists of voters from one place to another, but upon closer inspection, the match process shows error. Sometimes the interpretation is flawed: two list entries under the same name -- even the same name and birthdate -- indicate different individuals. Sometimes the lists themselves are flawed, with an individual listed with an outdated or inaccurate citizenship status, or marked due to a clerical error as voting when she did not in fact cast a ballot. Sometimes it's both.

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Alleged registration fraud

There are almost no known cases in which individuals have filled out registration forms in someone else’s name in order to impersonate them at the polls. And most reports of registration fraud do not actually claim that the fraud happens so that ineligible people can vote at the polls.

Instead, when registration fraud is alleged, the allegations generally fall into one of four categories:

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