Skip Navigation

Election 2016 Controversies: What the Law and Facts Say on Voter Fraud, Election Observers, and Technology

It’s important to protect the integrity of our elections. But advancing myths of fraud and rigged elections undermines faith in our democracy. What is the truth behind these claims?

September 7, 2016

New York, NY – After recent claims the Novem­ber elec­tion will be “rigged,” some politi­cians, includ­ing Repub­lican nominee Donald Trump, have called on law enforce­ment and citizen volun­teers to monitor polling places, serving as “elec­tion observ­ers” to root out fraud.

What’s the truth behind these claims?

As part of a new “Elec­tion 2016 Contro­ver­sies” series, the Bren­nan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law released several brief­ing memos to explain:

  • Why over­whelm­ing evid­ence makes clear voter fraud is virtu­ally nonex­ist­ent.
  • How “ballot secur­ity” oper­a­tions can lead to illegal intim­id­a­tion, discrim­in­a­tion, or disrup­tion at the polls.
  • What offi­cials can do to safe­guard elec­tronic voting systems ahead of Novem­ber, in light of reports of foreign hack­ers.


  1. Debunk­ing the Voter Fraud Myth. Sensa­tion­al­ist claims of “rigged” elec­tions due to nonex­ist­ent voter fraud threaten to intim­id­ate voters and under­mine the integ­rity of our elec­tions. Fraud is vanish­ingly rare. Multiple stud­ies and courts over the past decade found most alleg­a­tions of in-person voter imper­son­a­tion turn out to be base­less. Instead, these claims are used to push restrict­ive laws that block legit­im­ate voters.
  2. The Dangers of “Ballot Secur­ity” Oper­a­tions and Voter Intim­id­a­tion. Deploy­ing non-offi­cial, private actors to chal­lenge voters’ eligib­il­ity can lead to illegal intim­id­a­tion, discrim­in­a­tion, or disrup­tions at the polls. This analysis outlines the threat, explains what is and is not allowed under the law, and high­lights what can be done to protect against harm­ful activ­ity in Novem­ber.
  3. Voting System Secur­ity in 2016. After the DNC hack, some fear Amer­ica’s voting system could also be at risk. The FBI recently discovered foreign hack­ers gained access to voter regis­tra­tion data­bases. This memo describes what the risks to our voting system secur­ity really are — and what states, local­it­ies, and voters can do to prevent success­ful attacks against the integ­rity of our elec­tions.

“It is crit­ical to take steps now to protect the integ­rity of our elec­tions. But advan­cing myths of fraud and rigged elec­tions will only under­mine faith in our demo­cracy,” said Wendy Weiser, director of the Demo­cracy Program at the Bren­nan Center for Justice. “New restrict­ive voting laws could make it harder than ever for millions of Amer­ic­ans to cast a ballot this Novem­ber. We can’t make it even more diffi­cult by intim­id­at­ing citizens at the polls.”

Over­all, 14 states will have new voting restric­tions in place for the first time in a high-turnout pres­id­en­tial elec­tion this year, accord­ing to a Bren­nan Center analysis.

This summer, courts struck down or rolled back voting restric­tions in five states — Kansas, North Caro­lina, North Dakota, Texas, and Wiscon­sin. Judges found little evid­ence of fraud — and substan­tial evid­ence of disen­fran­chise­ment. In several cases, courts ruled the states passed restrict­ive meas­ures with surgical preci­sion to exclude certain voters, includ­ing minor­it­ies, students, and the elderly.

Elec­tion 2016 Contro­ver­sies” will assess the conten­tious issues related to demo­cracy, justice, and the rule of law ahead of Novem­ber. The series includes Bren­nan Center brief­ing memos, research, opin­ion pieces, and relev­ant news stor­ies.