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Alleged registration fraud

Published: November 10, 2007

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:

The first type of allegation concerns individuals intentionally submitting forms in the name of someone (or something) ineligible in order to make a point or have some fun. Most of the infamous stories of dogs on the rolls fall into this category: Cocoa Fernandez, Barnabas Miller, Parker Carroll, Holly Briscoe. Attempting to register Mickey Mouse or Donald Duck is in this category as well. Most of the time, these forms are discovered and investigated by local officials before they make it onto the rolls. There are no reports that we have discovered of votes actually cast in the names of such registrants.

The second type of allegation concerns “fraud” that is not actually fraud at all. This includes registration forms submitted by eligible voters, but with errors or omissions. Such mistakes are relatively common, but do not represent fraud. Similarly, there are many jurisdictions in which the registration rolls are inflated with the names of eligible voters who have moved or died or otherwise become ineligible. These lingering entries also do not represent fraud; furthermore, as states build and improve the statewide voter registration databases now required by federal law, it will become easier to remove ineligible voters from the rolls while maintaining safeguards for eligible registrants.

The third type of allegation concerns registration drive workers, who may be paid for their time or on the basis of how many forms they submit, and who intentionally submit fraudulent forms. The allegations may involve forms submitted in the names of fictional voters, as in the case of “Jive Turkey,” or with the names of actual voters but a false address or a forged signature. Most of the cases of registration fraud that are prosecuted fall into this category. If voter registration drives have enough time and are allowed by law to review the forms submitted by their workers, they can often catch these forms—a small portion of the forms processed by most registration drives—and draw them to the attention of local elections officials. Though subsequent press reports often emphasize the identity of the registration drive employing the renegade workers, faulty forms actually defraud the drives themselves, which compensate workers on the expectation that their time will be spent registering new and eligible citizens. Moreover, the forms are not used as placeholders for fictional voters; a renegade worker is interested not in manipulating an election’s outcome, but in getting credit for work she didn’t do. When drives are able to flag these forms for elections officials, the forms are investigated, not processed, and the worker can be investigated and prosecuted. There are no reports that we have discovered of votes actually cast in the names of such registrants.

Finally, the fourth type of allegation involves individuals who change or manipulate the registration of an eligible voter to frustrate their ability to vote. Like the deliberate destruction of forms, these incidents are rare and most often committed by partisan actors. Most states criminalize the intentional destruction of registration forms or fraudulent submission of forms. Like the allegations of fraud by election officials, these incidents do not concern allegations of fraud by individual voters, and we do not address them in detail here.