Missouri, 2001

November 10, 2007

The St. Louis primary election for mayor is generally considered the guarantor of success in the general election. In 2001, various irregularities led to inflated claims of widespread fraud. Many of these fraud claims were later used to support the call for restrictive ID requirements. We examined each of the allegations of fraud by individual voters -- the only sort that ID could possibly address -- to uncover the truth behind the assertions.

The allegations yielded absolutely no substantiated cases of individuals knowingly casting invalid votes that counted. Accordingly, none of these problems could have been resolved by requiring photo ID at the polls.

The analysis below examines the allegations of fraud in more detail.

The rate of substantiated fraud:

  • The allegations of fraud related to the 2001 primary election for St. Louis mayor, in which 86,122 votes were cast.
There were no cases -- not even an unproven allegation -- of individuals knowingly casting invalid votes that counted. Accordingly, none of these problems could have been resolved by requiring photo ID at the polls.

The allegations:

  • At least nine individuals submitted at least 3,800 allegedly invalid registration forms, in the names of fictitious individuals, deceased individuals, from invalid addresses, in the names of individuals rendered invalid by convictions, and in the names of real individuals but without their authorization. One hundred other individuals already on the registration list were allegedly registered from invalid addresses.
  • 42 voters cast absentee ballots allegedly falsely claiming that they could not vote because they were employed as election workers.

Questioning the allegations:

  • Duplicate registrations: Although duplicate registrations – two registration cards submitted in the name of the same individual, with the same information -- are often cited as evidence of fraud, there is nothing either illegal or improper about them. Given the rate at which forms are improperly rejected or questioned, an individual may simply seek to increase the chances that a valid form is validly registered. Or an individual may forget that he or she has already registered to vote. In any event, two (or more) registration cards with the same information lead to one and only one opportunity to vote.
  • Improper addresses: For several reasons, allegedly improper addresses may not show fraud. Apartment numbers may be incorrectly read as part of a street address by computerized matching systems, causing the system to reject an accurate address. A typographical or other data entry error may make a legitimate address appear fictitious (or appear to be located outside of the relevant precinct). A voter may be registered as living in a building that has been demolished since the registration was processed; if the voter moved within the same precinct, she may not be required to re-register. In addition, an individual (e.g., a site manager of a business) may actually live at what appears to be an invalid business address.

The facts:

  • Voter registration applications: Seven individuals were convicted of submitting fraudulent voter registration applications; at least 500 applications had been found to be fraudulent. The director of the program was convicted of perjury, and one additional individual has been charged in connection with the incident. The individuals were apparently paid for delivering a certain number of registration cards. No invalid votes were cast under these registrations.
  • Absentee ballots: 42 voters cast absentee ballots claiming that they could not vote because they were employed as election workers; the election board rejected the ballots after determining that the voters were not election workers.

Coverage by existing law:
Proper implementation of existing law would address most of the allegations. Missouri now prohibits compensation based on the number of voters registered or registration forms collected. Moreover, the Help America Vote Act (HAVA) requires states to create statewide electronic voter registration lists with each eligible voter listed uniquely to remove duplicate registrations, and to coordinate those computerized lists with agency records on death and conviction in order to remove ineligible voters. Although the obligation to maintain these cleaned lists predated HAVA, the computerized registration rolls -- if implemented with suitable controls for accuracy -- offer a new and efficient means to do so statewide. Like most states, Missouri did not have a HAVA-ready statewide database up and running in 2001, but now that it does, the database should allow the state to sharply reduce even the small number of allegedly improper registrations.

Sources:
Robert Patrick, Woman Is Sentenced to Service, Meditation in Vote Fraud Case, St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Apr. 1, 2006.
Robert Patrick, Jury Finds Montgomery Guilty in Vote Fraud Case, St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Feb. 11, 2005, at B1.
Robert Patrick, 6 Plead Guilty in Vote Fraud Case, St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Dec. 17, 2004, at B1.
Jo Mannies, Furor Centers on Naming Names, St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Nov. 16, 2003.
Jo Mannies & Doug Moore, Green Denies Having Role in Destroying Vote Cards, St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Nov. 7, 2003.
Mark Schlinkmann, 3 Workers Are Accused of Turning in Fake Voter Cards, St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Mar. 5, 2002, at A1.
Carolyn Tuft, City Election Runs Smoothly, Under Monitors’ Careful Watch, St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Mar. 7, 2001, at A1.
Stephanie Simon, In St. Louis, Dead Are Causing Lively Debate With Their Votes, L.A. Times, Feb. 28, 2001, at A1.
Carolyn Tuft, Community Group Ferrets Out Suspicious Voter Registrations, St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Feb. 17, 2001.
Carolyn Tuft, Voter Registration Fraud is Alleged, St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Feb. 13, 2001, at A1.

Other sources:
Mark Follman, Alex Koppelman & Jonathan Vanian, How U.S. Attorneys Were Used to Spread Voter-Fraud Fears, Slate, Mar. 21, 2007.