Vote Early and Vote Often: Voter Fraud in the United States

Lexi, Kyle, Adam, and Lauren

Voter fraud takes place when there is some sort of “illegitimate interference in an election” (Ballotpedia). It has existed since the very first of elections and was a huge part of elections in the colonial era, when, among other manipulations, people were often bribed for their votes. The common saying “vote early and vote often”, which is mainly attributed to Al Capone and organized crime in the early 1900s, originated from the large amounts of people who would vote once, and then put on a series of disguises to vote again. There are numerous types of voter fraud, and as the United States has progressed, there have been more comprehensive efforts to eliminate voter fraud. One of the main issues, is that certain efforts, passed off as preventative measures against voter fraud, can lend themselves to the disenfranchisement of minority voters.

Types of Voter Fraud

One type of voter fraud is known as ballot stuffing or double voting, which is the case when one person votes more than once in an election. Another possibility is voter impersonation, which occurs when someone pretends to be another individual and casts a vote in his/her name. Going along with this topic, sometimes people use the names of deceased voters to cast extra ballots in the election. Other types of fraud include registration fraud, vote-buying, or fraud by election officials (throwing out ballots, casting fake ballots, etc.). Providing misinformation, or confusing ballot questions can also be forms voter fraud. In fact, fliers were distributed at Bates this year that had false information surrounding the voting in the 2016 election, a type of misinformation fraud. Voter suppression is another type of voter fraud, which is a more controversial issue. Physical harassment, like that which took place against African Americans after the Civil War, is clearly seen as an illegal and immoral form of voter suppression.  But, there is a larger spectrum of opinions when it comes to other issues of voter suppression. Restrictions on polling hours, absentee voting, and early voting, as well as requirements of ID can all be manipulated to prevent certain groups from voting.  Studies have shown that voter fraud in the United States is often exaggerated, in fact, a study by News21, published in the Wall Street Journal, found that there were only 2068 cases from 2000 to 2012 (Media Solutions – Voter Fraud Facts). Although there are very few proven cases of voter fraud, this does not stop the media and candidates, like Trump, from claiming that there is extensive voter fraud in the United States. One survey found that as of October, 41% of people believed that voter fraud could “steal” the Presidency from Donald Trump, but now that Trump has won, it is Jill Stein that is calling for recounts in certain states (The Daily Wire).


(Wall Street Journal)

Past Cases of Election Uncertainty:

Gore v. Bush 2000

In the 2000 presidential election of Bush v. Gore, Florida was an extremely tight race that was inaccurately called for each candidate.  Gore actually conceded on election night, but then un-conceded upon learning just how close the election was. The extremely small margin of victory for Bush, which ended up being 537 votes, prompted an automatic recount under Florida state law.  Adding controversy to the case was issue of hanging Chads and butterfly ballots, which brought into not only the re-count of ballots, but questions regarding the interpretation of voter intentions.  Gore’s camp appealed the claim to the Florida Supreme Court, and Bush subsequently appealed to the U.S Supreme Court, which ruled that the requested manual recount was unconstitutional.  Ultimately, the originally result was confirmed, giving Bush Florida and the presidency.

This case became relevant when Donald Trump said that if he lost, he would refuse to accept the result of the election as transparent and fair.  When he received backlash about undermining a peaceful transition of power, Trump’s camp cited the Democrats’ actions in the 2000 election as precedent of election criticism.  Journalists have argued that Trump’s comparison was baseless because the Democrats were fighting over how the votes were counted, not about a rigged election (USA Today).  Further, after the legal matters were resolved, Gore did peacefully concede to Bush and congratulated him on his victory.  While the underlying petitions in each election may not be the same, the elections of the 21st century have led to the questioning of presidential legitimacy.  In 2000, Bush won the presidency without winning the popular vote. Obama’s presidency has been undermined by questions surrounding his citizenship. Now, Trump looks to have won the presidency without winning the popular vote.  The question is whether recent discussion of recounts is truly an attempt to get the democratic process right or is a sign of growing political tensions as a result of an increasingly divided population.

Voter Fraud 2016

In Indiana, there has been major suspicion over false voter registration. Indiana State Police are currently investigating the Indiana Voter Registration Project, which registered 45,000 minority voters in Indiana. Suspicion has also been raised at the state’s voter file at large. An investigation found 837,000 outdated addresses, 4,556 doubly registered, 3,000 with no date of birth, and 31 underaged registered voters (LA Times).

Virginia is also under suspicion. 19 dead people were re-registered to vote in Harrisonburg Virginia by a group called HarrisonburgVOTE, although none of them apparently voted. Local police and the FBI are currently investigating.

As for Trump’s numerous claims:

Trump has claimed that “people that have died 10 years ago are still voting”, based on a study that found 1.8 million dead people on voter registration rolls. However, the study itself found no evidence of wrongdoing, and the dead were just registered, not actually voting.

Trump also claims illegal immigrants are voting, and that without them, he would have won the popular vote as well as the electoral vote. He cited a study by two professors at Old Dominion, Richman and Earnest. However, the study has been debunked by the managers of the database it was based on, the Cooperative Congressional Election Study. The managers of the CCES say the entirety of the findings of the Old Dominion professors are caused by measurement error. By checking back in future years, it turned out that “non-citizens” who had voted had simply accidentally checked the wrong box on the survey. If any non-citizens had voted, it would have been a negligible amount (


Do Voter ID Laws Prevent Voter Fraud?

In theory, voter ID laws are supposed to enhance public confidence in the legitimacy of democracy across the country; if in the case that an individual actually commits voter fraud, his vote won’t be a heavy influence in the race because, simply, the law may prevent this at from occurring in the first place. However, voter fraud is an extremely rare action. According to a Washington Post article from 2014, an investigation found that only thirty-one credible incidences of voter impersonation occur out of one billion ballots cast (“A Comprehensive Investigation of Voter Impersonation Finds 31 Credible Incidents oOut of One Billion Balllots Cast”). Therefore, although some individuals believe voter ID laws prevent voter fraud from happening, in reality, it happens so rarely to begin with that one cannot conclude that voter ID laws alone stop voter fraud from happening.

Furthermore, voter fraud that could be prevented by voter ID laws happens on such a small scale within an election that the fraud alone is very unlikely the decisive factor of a race. In August of 2016, Justin Levitt, a professor at Loyola University Law School found 31 cases of documented, in-person voter fraudulence which could have been prevented with stricter voter identification laws at polling places (“The Disconnect between Voter ID Laws and Voter Fraud”). The most severe instance Leavitt found was one that occurred in Brooklyn, NY where as many as 24 voters tried to vote under assumed names. He then plotted general election results that were considered “close” from 2006 to 2012 with voter margins plotted against votes cast.



(dark colored dots represent races with margins less than 500 votes-from Washington Post article “The Disconnect between Voter ID Laws and Voter Fraud”)


In doing so, Leavitt tried to illustrate the rarity of close elections and to disprove the notion that voter fraud could be the most influential determinant in an election.


Ultimately, the in-person voter fraud that voter ID laws would target happens so infrequently and with a very miniscule influence that as Sen. Cory Booker, D-NJ, explained in a 2015 interview, one is more likely to be struck by lightning in Texas than commit in-person voter fraud (“Lightning Strikes More Common in Texas Than In-Person Voter Fraud”).



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