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New York, 2004 and 2002

Published: November 10, 2007

Two reporters attempted to probe the accuracy of New York’s voter rolls by comparing them with death records and with the rolls of other states. The reports led to inflated claims of widespread fraud, of the sort commonly used to support restrictive identification requirements for voters at the polls. 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.

In a review of at least four different elections, the allegations yielded only two substantiated cases of individuals knowingly casting invalid votes that counted – two voters who voted twice. Given the number of votes cast in these elections, this amounts to a rate of 0.000009%. Neither 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:

In a review of at least four different elections, there were two substantiated cases of individuals knowingly casting invalid votes that counted – two voters who voted twice. Given the number of votes cast in these elections, this amounts to a rate of 0.000009%. Neither of these problems could have been resolved by requiring photo ID at the polls.

  • Dead voters: The allegations of dead voters covered at least the 2002 and 2004 general elections, in which 11,970,327 votes were cast in New York. Zero cases of fraud have been substantiated. Even given allegations that were unsubstantiated, the rate of possible fraud remains low. The analysis below lays out the allegations, reasons to question each, and the facts that we know. But assuming that all 2,593 of the remaining cases in fact involved fraud, the total rate would be 0.02%.
  • Double voters: The allegations of double voters appear to cover at least elections in 1996, 1998, 2000, and 2002, although the exact extent of the matching exercise is unclear. In these elections, there were 22,388,009 votes cast in New York, and 20,796,946 votes cast in Florida. Two cases of fraud have been substantiated; at two votes apiece, that amounts to a rate of 0.000009%. Even given allegations that were unsubstantiated, the rate of possible fraud remains low. The analysis below lays out the allegations, reasons to question each, and the facts that we know. But assuming that all 999 of the remaining cases in fact involved fraud, the total rate would be 0.005%.


The allegations:

  • 2,600 votes were alleged to have been cast in the names of dead voters -- in 2002 and 2004, at least -- according to attempts to match voter rolls to the Social Security Administration’s "death master file."

  • Between 400 and 1,000 voters were alleged to have voted twice -- once in New York and once in Florida -- according to attempts to match New York voter rolls to Florida voter rolls.


Questioning the allegations:

  • Dead voters: Attempts to match records of deaths to current voter rolls are often used to buttress claims that the dead are voting, but the matching enterprise is unreliable. Two list entries under the same name – even the same name and birthdate – may indicate different individuals. Even more often, the lists themselves are flawed: because of a clerical error or faulty information, an individual is marked as voting when she did not in fact cast a ballot, or an individual is shown as deceased when she is actually very much alive. Finally, it is possible that the match is accurate but reveals nothing illegal about the vote: the voter has died, yes, but after casting her ballot.

  • Double voters: The fact that the same name is listed as voting on two different voting rolls does not necessarily mean that one person voted twice: often, what looks like the same person listed twice turns out to be two different individuals with the same name. In other cases, as with dead voters, clerical errors are responsible for the double listing.


The facts:

  • Dead voters: The journalists conducting the list matching followed up on seven alleged deceased voters. "Each one was either a database mismatch or an accounting error." At least two eligible voters were incorrectly marked by election workers in the place of deceased citizens; one voter’s daughter mistakenly signed in her dead mother’s spot.

  • Double voters: The journalists conducting the list matching actually contacted “more than a dozen” people implicated, some of whom allegedly voted twice. One indicated that she had moved back and forth between New York and Florida, and was registered in both locations, but had not voted twice in the same election. Three others could not confirm that they had not voted twice. Two confirmed that they had voted twice – one because he thought a late absentee mailing would be voided, and one because he did not trust that one of his votes would count.


Coverage by existing law: The federal Help America Vote Act (HAVA) requires states to create statewide electronic voter registration lists, and to coordinate those computerized lists with agency records on death in order to remove ineligible voters. Although the obligation to remove deceased voters from the rolls 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, New York did not have a HAVA-ready statewide database up and running in 2002 or 2004, but once it does, the database should allow the state to cut down on the number of deceased citizens who are still on the rolls.

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Sources:
John Ferro, Deceased Residents on Statewide Voter List, Poughkeepsie Journal, Oct. 29, 2006.
Russ Buettner, Exposed: Scandal of Double Voters, Daily News (N.Y.), Aug. 22, 2004.
Fla. Dep’t of State, Division of Elections, Election Results.
N.Y. State, Board of Elections, Election Results.