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The Truth About Voter Fraud

Key Fact: It is more likely that an American “will be struck by lightning than that he will impersonate another voter at the polls.”

  • Justin Levitt
Published: November 9, 2007

Alleg­a­tions of elec­tion-related fraud make for enti­cing press. Many Amer­ic­ans remem­ber vivid stor­ies of voting impro­pri­et­ies in Chica­go­land, or the suspi­ciously sudden appear­ance of LBJ’s alpha­bet­ized ballot box in Texas, or Governor Earl Long’s quip: “When I die, I want to be buried in Louisi­ana, so I can stay active in polit­ics.” Voter fraud, in partic­u­lar, has the feel of a bank heist caper: roundly condemned but tech­nic­ally fascin­at­ing, and suffi­ciently lurid to grab and hold head­lines. Perhaps because these stor­ies are dramatic, voter fraud makes a popu­lar scape­goat. In the after­math of a close elec­tion, losing candid­ates are often quick to blame voter fraud for the results. Legis­lat­ors cite voter fraud as justi­fic­a­tion for vari­ous new restric­tions on the exer­cise of the fran­chise. And pundits trot out the same few anec­dotes time and again as proof that a wave of fraud is immin­ent.

Alleg­a­tions of wide­spread voter fraud, however, often prove greatly exag­ger­ated. It is easy to grab head­lines with a lurid claim (“Tens of thou­sands may be voting illeg­ally!”); the follow-up – when any exists – is not usually deemed news­worthy. Yet on closer exam­in­a­tion, many of the claims of voter fraud amount to a great deal of smoke without much fire. The alleg­a­tions simply do not pan out.