Voter Fraud Evidence: Statistics show the problem is hardly as big as some claim


Those getting their news from the Donald Trump administration likely believe voter fraud is a big problem. The president has repeatedly talked about illegal voting, and his claims were recently backed up by adviser Stephen Miller, who falsely claimed during a television appearance that voter fraud in New Hampshire was "very real."

In reality, however, voter fraud isn't the problem Trump wants us to believe it is. Voter frauddefined as "the intentional corruption of the electoral process by the voter" — does exist, whether through the casting of multiple ballots, voting by noncitizens or the impersonation of others at the polls. But the practice is so overwhelmingly rare compared to the total number of votes cast that it doesn't have a statistical impact on elections.

"The best facts we can gather to assess the magnitude of the alleged problem of voter fraud show that, although millions of people cast ballots every year, almost no one knowingly and willfully casts an illegal vote in the United States today," Rutgers University professor Lorraine Minnite wrote in The Myth of Voter Fraud.

Here's just some of the evidence demonstrating why voter fraud isn't the problem some claim it is.

Nationwide instances of voter fraud

In the cases where voter fraud has been tracked nationwide, it's become abundantly clear it isn't much of a problem. A 2014 analysis of voter fraud studies by the Government Accountability Office concluded the studies "identified few instances of in-person voter fraud."

The Brennan Center for Justice at the New York University School of Law conducted a nationwide investigation of voter fraud in 2007, concluding "it is more likely that an individual will be struck by lightning than that he will impersonate another voter at the polls." In the specific cases examined, the Brennan Center study found voter fraud rates ranging between 0.0003% and 0.0025% of votes cast.

LM Otero/AP

In 2014, the study's lead author, Justin Levitt — a Loyola Law School professor and the deputy assistant attorney general for the Department of Justice's civil rights division under former President Barack Obama — outlined his findings on voter fraud in the Washington Post. Levitt reported 31 credible instances of voter fraud since 2000 — out of more than 1 billion total ballots.

The Department of Justice even proved how comparatively minuscule the issue is when the George W. Bush administration established the Ballot Access and Voting Integrity Initiative in 2002 to address the issue of voter fraud and election crimes. The department revealed that between October 2002 and July 2006, 119 individuals were charged with voter fraud infractions, of which just 86 were convicted. Many of the individuals charged, the New York Times reported, had misunderstood the rules or mistakenly filled out registration forms, versus explicitly intending to commit fraud.

While there have been studies showing a higher rate of voter fraud, their findings have often been questioned. 

A 2014 study, for instance, used data provided by the Cooperative Congressional Election Study to conclude that noncitizen participation in U.S. elections "has been large enough to change meaningful election outcomes." The study's authors reported their results in a blog for the Washington Post, which has been cited by administration officials as a source of Trump's illegal voting claims.

That study, however, has since been debunked by professionals from the CCES, the source of its data. In a separate 2015 peer-reviewed study specifically condemning the original study's findings, CCES professionals noted the 2014 study was skewed by "low-level measurement error" that resulted in "large prediction errors." 

In reality, the debunkers noted, "the likely percent of noncitizen voters in recent U.S. elections is zero."

Statewide instances of voter fraud

Voter fraud isn't a major problem at the state level, either.

A review of 207 cases of voter fraud in the 2010 election by the South Carolina Elections Committee found that 197 of the votes were not cast fraudulently and "10 cases had insufficient information in the record to make a determination." A 2013 voter fraud investigation in Colorado identified more than 100 suspects but resulted in only one conviction. 

In 2012, Florida Gov. Rick Scott spearheaded an effort to remove noncitizens' names from the state's voter rolls, a move that was later deemed to violate federal law. Though roughly 180,000 suspect names were initially compiled, the Tampa Bay Times reported, only 85 were ultimately removed and only one noncitizen was convicted of fraud.

Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, who has been a leader in the GOP crusade against voter fraud, became the first secretary of state with the power to prosecute illegal voting charges in 2015. Though Kobach claimed there were 100 cases of "double voting" he wanted to prosecute upon receiving his expanded powers, he went on to prosecute just six cases of voter fraud between July 2015 and May 2016, of which only four led to convictions.

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In addition, Kobach separately investigated 84 million votes cast in 22 states to find cases of fraudulent double registrations, the Washington Post reported. He ultimately referred just 14 cases for prosecution — 0.00000017% of the total votes. 

Voter fraud and voter ID laws

Republicans have often made charges of rampant voter fraud to justify discriminatory voter ID laws that disenfranchise minority — and traditionally Democratic — voters. But when these state voter ID laws appear in court, it becomes even more clear how rare voter fraud is. 

In a 2016 opinion striking down Texas's voter ID law, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit noted there were "only two convictions for in-person voter impersonation fraud out of 20 million votes cast" in the decade before the law took effect. 

The Fourth Circuit, in an opinion on North Carolina's election law, commented that "the State has failed to identify even a single individual who has ever been charged with committing in-person voter fraud in North Carolina."

The U.S. Supreme Court ultimately upheld Indiana's voter ID law, but still noted there was "no evidence of any [in-person voter impersonation] fraud actually occurring in Indiana at any time in its history." One of the judges who ruled in favor of the Indiana law, Seventh Circuit Judge Richard A. Posner, now says he regrets his decision. 

In his book, Reflections on Judging, Posner wrote that voter ID laws like Indiana's are "a type of law now widely regarded as a means of voter suppression rather than of fraud prevention."