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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.