President Trump recently claimed millions voted illegally in the 2016 election, and called for a “major investigation” into fraud in our election system. His remarks come after years of battles in the states over voting laws that make it harder for many citizens to participate in our elections. Yet the clamor over voter suppression should not obscure a fundamental shared truth: American elections should be secure and free of misconduct. This paper outlines a six-part agenda to target fraud risks as they actually exist — without unduly disenfranchising eligible citizens.
This report was originally published January 19, 2016. It was updated February 1, 2017.
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In the weeks before the 2016 election there were charges of election rigging, attacks on state voter registration databases, and concerns of manipulation of our election results by Russian hackers. Even months after the election, and despite his attorneys’ claims to the contrary, President Donald Trump has claimed that millions of people voted illegally. On January 25, 2017, he stated that he would request a “major investigation” into voter fraud. Trump’s remarks follow on the heels of many pitched battles in the states in recent years over the right to vote. Since the 2010 election, about half of the states have passed new laws making it harder for voters to access the ballot box, with proponents asserting these laws were justified because of the need to combat voter fraud.
To no surprise, many of these allegations, and policies supposedly justified by them, have met vigorous and vocal opposition. Opponents, including the Brennan Center, argue that many of these laws are unnecessary and harmful, placing burdensome obstacles in the path of law-abiding citizens who want to exercise their franchise.
The clamor should not obscure a fundamental shared truth: Our elections should be secure and free of misconduct. Throughout American history, political actors have tried to bend the rules and tilt the outcomes. The dangers come not so much from voter fraud committed by stray individuals, but from other forms of election fraud engineered by candidates, parties, or their supporters. Fraud, when it exists, has in many cases been orchestrated by political insiders, not individual voters. Even worse, insider fraud has all too frequently been designed to lock out the votes and voices of communities of voters, including poor and minority voters.
Election integrity need not be a euphemism for voter exclusion. Those who care about securing the right to vote and enhancing democracy in America care deeply about ensuring the honesty of elections, and avoiding misconduct. All who are eligible to vote should be able to do so in free and fair elections — but only those eligible to do so. It is vital that we protect voters from the real threats to the integrity of elections. Fortunately, it is possible to protect election integrity without disenfranchising eligible voters. This report proposes solutions that vary in approach. All target fraud risks as they actually exist. None will unduly disenfranchise those who have the right to vote.