The trouble with chasing voter fraud

posted at 4:30 pm on January 14, 2012 by Jazz Shaw

By this time, most of you have probably already seen the coverage of James O’Keefe’s attempts to infiltrate the New Hampshire primary and “sting” them in a demonstration of how voter fraud could occur. This may not have been the smartest approach, particularly for a person on parole, (Business Insider explains why this may result in criminal charges) but it highlights a couple of things which should spur the national discussion.

First, if you wanted to commit voter fraud, going through the obituaries for the past month or two might not be a bad way to go. If the state doesn’t require any form of ID, the death notices of local residents and a little time on Google could doubtless give you all the information you’d need. Of course, the major failing of this plan – as one of O’Keefe’s agents found out the hard way – is that the precinct system has everyone voting essentially in their own home neighborhoods. (Not counting write-in ballots.) This means there’s a chance, as in the linked story, that you’re going to show up, announce the name of your assumed identity, Mr. Baxter, and old blue haired Mrs. Cleaver at the registration desk is going to jump out of her chair and proclaim that she just attended the funeral of her lifelong friend Mr. Baxter not two weeks earlier.

But the experiment proves, if nothing else, that it very likely could be done. Or does it? O’Keefe says that three agents went to “a dozen polling places” during this operation. If we take that as fact, they made 36 attempts and were called out by a polling place worker at one of them. How many fake ballots would you need to engineer to have any significant impact on an election across the state? If you have a failure rate of roughly 3%, it wouldn’t take long before so many incidents turned up that the entire election would be called into question. I have no idea what a state would or could do in that event, though.

But that brings us to a larger question. I personally favor voter ID laws as long as they are carefully implemented in a way that doesn’t create an unreasonable barrier to voting and doesn’t involve any sort of fee for getting a valid ID. (Which would serve as a poll tax.) And I understand some of the concerns being raised by opponents. We can have a civil and totally valid debate on that, and we should. But the most frequent defense I hear from too many opponents is, “this is a non-problem. There are so few proven instances of voter fraud that this is clearly a trumped up issue.”

Here’s why this a hollow argument to me. In order to have a record of any crimes, you have to either catch people committing the crime, attempting to do so, or at least have some mechanism for proving that a crime was committed which would prompt you to investigate it. And unless you luck out and get an eye witness protestation and report, as in the Mrs. Cleaver example above, how would one know that a crime had ever taken place? Even conducting a spot check is a logistical nightmare. Under State law, precincts are not allowed more than 2,999 voters, but that’s a lot of people. Would you have to call everyone who voted to say, “Oh, by the way, did you actually vote on Tuesday?”

You can think of it in terms of the murder rate in the country, just for one example. Yes, you can look up the data for how many people are determined to have been murdered or died under suspicious circumstances each year and determine the rate. But every law enforcement officer will tell you that this doesn’t describe the entire story. How many people die in what seem to be questionable ways but no conclusive proof is found? Far worse than that, how many people simply disappear each year? Some may have just run away, but how many are dead and the bodies are never either recovered or matched up to a missing person report? The real rate is undoubtedly much higher.

Now, coming full circle, stop to consider that people turning up dead is actually something we do care about and something we investigate every single time we find one. Who is out there identifying, recording and reporting possible incidents of voter fraud? The answer, I believe, is pretty much nobody. We run what is essentially an honor system, hoping that no significant number of people would be such a bunch of stinkers that they would try to game the system upon which rests the foundation of our democracy. Are we seriously that gullible in this day and age?

I’m not saying there are clean and easy answers here. Obviously there aren’t and it’s something that needs to be approached with care and restraint. But pretending there is “nothing to see here” seems to be intentionally dishonest. It’s time to begin closing the loop on this, and we can certainly do it in a fair, constitutionally sound fashion.

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I’m not saying there are clean and easy answers here. Obviously there aren’t

Bullhockey, Jazz. There is a *very* clean and easy answer – require photo ID to register, and to request an absentee ballot (or witnesses to the request), and to vote in-person. See how easy that was? Absolutely no need for hand-wringing squishiness.

If you have a failure rate of roughly 3%, it wouldn’t take long before so many incidents turned up that the entire election would be called into question.

Only if those failures actually were reported – especially in aggregate. If one or two got a news blurb here or there, the liberals could still claim that “well, yes, someone tried, but they didn’t succeed – this is why we don’t need… blahblahblah.”

doesn’t involve any sort of fee for getting a valid ID. (Which would serve as a poll tax.)

No, it wouldn’t, Jazz. Because that ID would be used for all sorts of other things, as well. And, nobody is talking about IDs that cost any more than $5-10. In this day and age, that can hardly be called a “barrier”. (Especially since all sorts of organizations would be happy to pay that fee for the indigent.)

GWB on January 15, 2012 at 8:02 AM

I might also add that some states, such as Washington, have a standard of Proof that makes it impossible to do more than prove a onsey twosey fraud.

If you have a priecinct with 2,000 registered voters, and 2,500 people voted, that does NOT prove fraud by the Washington State standard. You must find the actual 500 individuals who voted fraudulently, and prove each case INDIVIDUALLY.

jaydee_007 on January 15, 2012 at 9:34 AM

In florida it has long been suspected that people who owned condos voted both at home and in florida. I would love to see voter roles compared from south florida and new york. The greater access to mail in ballots has only exacerbated the problem. The reason we all vote on one day is prevent fraud since it is hard to be two places on the same day. I can guarantee you there are people voting in ten places somewhere in this country.

aniptofar on January 15, 2012 at 11:10 AM

jd3181 on January 15, 2012 at 12:39 AM

Your entire response to me was premised on the notion that people who would participate in the process of “same day registration” of voters are risking serious criminal sanctions. My point is that there is little or no such risk involved, and for several obvious reasons.

First, election day in any jurisdiction where “same day registration” is permitted, is manifestly hectic – especially in Minnesota. No one is “collecting evidence” or even remembering anything about the people who are being shuttled through. These are election day workers, or volunteers, who are there for that one day to rush people through – they are there to make sure they get them into the voting booth. Good citizens all, few if any of them would be reliable witnesses if after the election a complaint was filed about even one case, let alone five, or ten, or whatever.

They would simply be uncertain, for example, if you (who perhaps registered just one month before in that precinct) walked in with an unregistered voter with NO ID, and said something like the following:

“Hi, this is my acquaintance, Michael J. Mouse. He just moved into my apartment building. Michael has no ID whatsoever, but he is my neighbor for sure! Here, I just signed this form affidavit your co-worker gave me to that effect. Please give him a ballot.”

The harried day worker or volunteer sitting behind the desk knows from his or her training that he or she is obliged to comply, under penalty of law. By operation of law – which I cited to you before — they MUST accept that story and move on to the next person in line. A slew of people are still waiting in line, perhaps beginning to get upset because it is taking so long. So Michael J. Mouse is handed a ballot, and he immediately votes. Because he had to supply no ID, Mouse’s real name could be Smith, or Jones, or even Franken. He could have even voted the same way in 9 other precincts within the same city that same day, and no one could ever prove it because there is no evidence collected, and he cannot be identified!

There is no way a successful prosecution could arise.

Then, if you were so inclined, you could step outside, and bring in another “new neighbor” of yours, this one named Donald J. Duck. You could lead “Donald” through the same process. And, you could personally and legally “vouch” for several other new voters in the course of the day, and a van could be waiting outside to load up the “iterate voters” so that they could move on to the next precinct, and do it again with a “new” registered voter to “vouch” for them.

That is how easy it is!

When you make it that easy to cheat, people will do it. And every time they do, they are stealing my legitimate vote, or your legitimate vote, and fully corrupting our political system.

There is an easy solution. Require photo identification, such as a DL. Most state DMV offices currently will supply a valid photo ID to anyone who applies, and if they really cannot afford to pay for it, they will be given that valid photo ID for free. As many others have pointed out here, we are required to have ID for just about anything else we do in this life. Why not to protect the sanctity of the ballot?

Back in 2007, the City of Duluth, up in St. Louis County, MN, which has been declining in population, had an estimated (Census) population of about 84,397, including about 22-23 percent of who were under the age of 18. Therefore, there were approximately 65,830 people in the eligible voter pool. Going into the election – as of election day morning – there were about 61,000 registered voters. Now, some had moved on or passed away, no doubt, but that is an extremely high registered percentage in anyone’s book! In the months, weeks and days leading up to the election, voter registration teams like ACORN and others had combed the area, bringing in new voters and getting them registered, as they did everywhere. So the 61,000 figure attested to their success.

But the fact is, according to the numbers at the Sec’y of State’s website, on election day 2008, the day workers and volunteers in the City of Duluth processed 10,833 NEW voters – people who registered to vote on election day itself! And many of them were done through that “vouching” process. It happened in spite of the huge voter registration efforts during the lead-up to the election!

On average, hundreds of NEW voters registered in each and precinct in the City! And they all voted. You seriously think there was any risk of prosecution to anyone participating in that fiasco?

Don’t make me laugh.

Trochilus on January 15, 2012 at 1:10 PM

I’ve worked as an elections clerk in Pennsylvania twice during municipal elections. Approximately 5% of the people who showed up to vote were at the wrong precinct. Part of this is due to the fact that precinct boundaries run through the middle of many streets in the township. Given the high percentage of individuals who come to the wrong precinct, it wouldn’t be unthinkable for a person to appear at a precinct with the names of the recently deceased and try to vote under their names. If the deceased’s names were stricken from the voter rolls after they passed away, the voter can just pretend like they went to the wrong precinct and avoid any suspicion of voter fraud.

PA’s voter ID law only requires new voters to show their ID the first time that they show up. So long as there is no ID requirement in PA for returning voters, there is no way to know for sure if the person voting is who they claim to be. The only real check on this is the voter’s birthdate and signature. These safeguards are insufficient for three reasons. First, during the morning, lunchtime, and evening rushes, the pressure to process everyone as quickly as possible makes it impossible to verify the signatures sufficiently and compare listed age to physical appearance. Second, the comparison signature is right next to blank voter signature block and can be roughly copied. The elections clerks are not handwriting experts. Third, the listed age can only give elections officials a rough idea as to whether the person is who they say they are. It is only possible to detect fraud by this method if a 18 year old tries to cast a ballot as a 75 year old or vice versa. The close cases usually just get ignored.

blammm on January 15, 2012 at 4:57 PM

Here is why the bottom line on why an investigation of “vouched for” voters without ID could never meaningfully go anywhere:

Because there is no way to ID the fake voter, there is consequently no way to prove that the “voucher” indeed vouched for someone who was ineligible.

The title Jazz Shaw gave to this post — “The trouble with chasing voter fraud” — is actually spot-on. But I don’t really understand why he seems so timid and cautious . . . so damned intent on having a long debate about it.

People’s voting rights are being stripped because of voter fraud. And they have been for years now. Enough is enough.

Ultimately, Jazz is correct that there really is no percentage in chasing after fraud after it has obviously occurred. It’s like Humpty-Dumpty . . . “All the King’s horses, and all the King’s men . . .

So, what is needed is corrective State legislative action to keep it from occurring in the first place . . . and one very good way to do that is for States to implement photo ID laws. We have a lot of States in Republican hands right now. I say, go for it.

If the Holder Justice Dept. tries to stop the States using the bogus legal argument arising out of the “Voting Rights Act” — claiming it suppresses minority voting — then the individual States should be willing to take them into Federal Court over it to protect the sanctity of everyones’ rights.

Americans should no longer be willing to have their voting system corrupted by certain Democrats who persist in using any means necessary to undermine the integrity of their elections.

Trochilus on January 15, 2012 at 4:58 PM

blammm on January 15, 2012 at 4:57 PM

Excellent point about the “comparison” signature.

Same thing in NJ.

And the day workers or volunteers who work the polls are not even remotely qualified as handwriting experts . . . not by any stretch of the imagination!

You scribble something inside the lines that even looks something like a signature, and you’re good to go.

Trochilus on January 15, 2012 at 5:09 PM

There is no way a successful prosecution could arise.

Nonsense. A successful prosecution arises if someone later on looks at the affidavit and finds that the person voting does not live at the address specified.

When you make it that easy to cheat, people will do it.

Not if there is no benefit, and immense, lifelong possible cost. And even if you were so concerned about this, you could simply remove the affidavit option from same-day registration. A new voter could present something like a utility bill.

Your example is nothing more than one in a long line of examples of posters citing a general election problem and then stating that the only way to solve it is a general voter-ID law.

In-person voter identity fraud is a non-problem, and is merely a pretext used to disenfranchise the 6-11% of the population IDs (which “coincidentally” happen to skew Democratic). Many in this group cannot easily get to any DMV, and cannot easily obtain the types of identification required to get an ID (which often themselves require a photo ID to get).

This is precisely why Governor Walker tried to shut down 10 DMVs in mostly Democratic precincts immediately after he signed into law his voter ID law, why Texas allows a gun permit (but not a government-issued student ID) to vote, etc. It is really little different than the Pennsylvania proposal to ensure that a Democrat would lose most of Pennsylvania’s electoral votes even if they win the majority of votes cast in the state. They are afraid that the will lose a fair election, so they change the rules to make sure that doesn’t happen.

While Holder should be complimented for shutting down South Carolina here, that move is not sufficient. States not covered by the VRA will still be able to enact these kinds of electorate-composition-changing laws.

What is really needed is for a future Supreme Court to reverse Crawford v. Marion. If a state wants to enact a law that will make it harder to vote for a segment of the population, it can prove that the problem it is solving is actually a problem, and that the law is actually narrowly tailored to solving that problem. While this is unlikely any time soon with the the current court, the court will eventually change.

jd3181 on January 16, 2012 at 12:34 AM

You bitter clingers are just paranoid…

(George Soros + Secretary of State Project)

scituate_tgr on January 16, 2012 at 10:22 AM

A successful prosecution arises if someone later on looks at the affidavit and finds that the person voting does not live at the address specified.

jd3181 on January 16, 2012 at 12:34 AM

I think you forgot to realize that someone looking at the affidavit “later on” cannot identify who, in fact, committed the crime. I don’t know what the procedures are where you vote, but I don’t have to get my picture taken by elections officials each time I go to cast a ballot. [Imagine the ACLU’s response if that procedure were enacted.] With so many strangers going through the polls on the same day, it would be highly unlikely that the suspected individual will be remembered by face alone. [Remember they are presenting themselves to the elections official under a false name.] As the saying goes, it isn’t a crime if you don’t get caught.

Even if an elderly elections worker does catch the discrepancy at the polling place, as we saw with the backstory behind O’Keefe’s video, it is nearly impossible to apprehend the individual. At least in PA, police officers are not allowed into polling places. Constables need to make any arrests that take place at the polls. But their numbers are small and they have their regular official duties to attend to as well on election day. When I worked at the polls, the constable appeared early in the morning and gave us his business card and told us to call him if we needed any help. As a consequence, detection and apprehension of voter fraud is entrusted to the elections judges and clerks, both of which are typically retirees who can afford to work an entire weekday.

blammm on January 16, 2012 at 10:24 AM

The Coalition of New Hampshire taxpayers has been tracking vote fraud for years. (They have a binder full of it.)

The problem isn’t just that we have vote fraud in New Hampshire, it is that no one empowered to stop it has ever had much interest in doing so.

I tired to sum up the problem in a comment at, where we are working this issue daily. (I blog there).

“”When 1700 college students admitted to voting illegally in NH, the Democrats solved that problem by making it legal for (out of state) college students to vote illegally becasue they tend to vote Democrat.

And when the left figured out that we might be using same day registration cards to verify residency and track down illegal same day voters, they watered that down because…those people were voting Democrat.

And when poll workers were rightly challenging same day registrants observed at the polls, to ensure they were really residents, (becasue the new rules did nothing to prevent fraud) the (then) Democrat (majority) passed laws make it impossible to observe people registering and tried to make challenging same day registrants for proof of residency a crime against the election observer.

So now that we have evidence of more fraud I guess (the Democrats) will have to submit a bill legalizing the transfer of voting rights of the recently deceased to whomever (must be a Democrat) claims them first. Or how about this. Whoever you are, just show up and grab a ballot. Look Ma, no Voter fraud.”

nhsteve on January 16, 2012 at 11:14 AM

Jazz, this post makes a lot of sense. I always enjoy your reasoned, anti-ideological approach to stories. I am a political science PhD student and we covered voter ID/voter fraud issues briefly in a class last semester. One of the profs (it was co-taught) really emphasized the “nothing to see here, this isn’t a problem, this is just political” view.

In addition to your refutation, which I think is sound, I pointed out in class in response to this professor that she was missing something key: perceptions. EVEN IF the reality is that very few instances of voter fraud occur, the fact that a significant chunk of people (on the left or right, depending on who loses the election) will cry fraud in a close election. So, voter-ID laws and laws that try to prevent voter fraud may be just as important for their effects on perception.

Publius 2.0 on January 16, 2012 at 11:25 AM

There is no way a successful prosecution could arise.

Nonsense. A successful prosecution arises if someone later on looks at the affidavit and finds that the person voting does not live at the address specified.

When you make it that easy to cheat, people will do it.

Not if there is no benefit, and immense, lifelong possible cost. And even if you were so concerned about this, you could simply remove the affidavit option from same-day registration. A new voter could present something like a utility bill.

. . . .

jd1381 on January 16, 2012 at 12:34 AM

You are wrong, jd1381, and you know it! For the sake of an ongoing civil discussion, I’ll presume you are just in denial.

blammm on January 16, 2012 at 10:24 AM, just above, has it exactly right, having reiterated to you the obvious point that you just keep ignoring, to wit: “I think you forgot to realize that someone looking at the affidavit “later on” cannot identify who, in fact, committed the crime.”

The crime[s], of course, consisted of casting unlawful votes and thereby stealing my vote, your vote — corrupting the elections system.

That was also what I was trying to say when I posted this comment, above: “Because there is no way to ID the fake voter, there is consequently no way to prove that the “voucher” indeed vouched for someone who was ineligible.”

If, under the procedures currently in effect in MN, you “vouch” by affidavit for someone (or for several people, as is allowed) who are NOT eligible voters, and who provide NO ID at all, you simply could not be prosecuted for anything because the prosecution would not be able to prove key elements — including that the “vouched for voter” was not eligible.

Legal cases are not about what happened; they are about what you can prove happened. Criminal cases are the most difficult to prove. I think you know that.

By definition, no one knows who the “vouched for voter” was — they don’t have any ID! All they had to do was give a fake name, and they would be completely untraceable. As for checking on them afterward, they could (and would) have “moved out” the next day. All the affiant was swearing to is that to his knowledge and belief, the “voter” lived at an address in his neighborhood (or Apartment building) on election day. Try to prove that is wrong, Mr Prosecutor!

“Gee. That’s what he told me. He must have moved out, huh?, sez the affiant. “Maybe was living in the building with his girlfriend. But I don’t know her name, or what she looks like.”

Cold case file. And prosecutors are appointees, my friend. You seriously believe they are going on a mission to expose the hidden corruption in the system that helped put the man in office who, in turn, appointed them?

That is the kind of corruption of the voting rolls that is current available to exploit in the State of Minnesota, and which is indeed being exploited.

In 2008, following a summer and fall loaded intense with voter registration efforts by EVERY leftie organization known to man, including ACORN, suddenly 10,833 NEW PEOPLE showed up to vote in Duluth on election day, a city with just under a 66,000 voting age population, and that already had a 90% voter registration rate, going into election day!

Secondly, I would also remind you that none of this has nothing to do with minority voting rights — Minnesota has less than half the percentage of black population that the nation as a whole has — [MN – 5.2%; USA – 12.6%] and it has only about 1/4th of the Hispanic or Latino population of the nation as a whole – [MN – 4.7%; USA – 16.3%]. Facts.

The extraordinarily high number of same day registrants in several jurisdictions in MN during the 2008 election, made it clear that that was exactly what was going on.

I cited the facts for Duluth, which you made no attempt to refute. Why? Because they were facts too. But there were other examples in smaller jurisdictions in MN where the number of people who ended up actually voting that day actually exceeded the number of people 18 years of age and over living in the jurisdiction, i.e., more people voted than were actually eligible to vote!

Why? The employment, in certain jurisdictions, of voter fraud that is virtually impossible to prosecute. In the very close Senatorial election that year, I have no doubt that voter fraud was what put a certain clown over the top — and I am not being a name caller by saying that. That was his qualification and career profession — clown.

Yet back in late May of 2011, the Democrat Governor of Minnesota, Mark Dayton, vetoed reform legislation which would have eliminated “vouching” and would also have provided a system of photo ID for voting to protect the voting rights of everyone.


Take a wild guess!!

Trochilus on January 16, 2012 at 1:09 PM

Publius 2.0 on January 16, 2012 at 11:25

I’m not sure I get your point. The old wheeze goes like this . . . “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”

Are you now proposing a corollary?

You seem to be suggesting: “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, unless a lotta folks jes think it’s broke, then you should maybe fix it a little bit, ’cause perception trump reality . . . or whatever.”

First, instances of the “voting dead” is not the only form of voter fraud, as several of us here have tried to make clear. It may not even be the most egregious form.

Second of all, there is a lot of voter fraud in certain places. Your co-instructor may have been in denial, or perhaps she is an unreconstructed partisan who really does not want reform that would protect the voting rights of all.

While the “voting dead” may not even be anywhere near the most widely employed form of voter fraud these days, I think the reality depends a lot on the specific jurisdiction, and their local laws. If there is no robust requirement in a given jurisdiction to purge voting rolls in a timely fashion of those who have passed away, then the “voting dead” will indeed crop up as a problem, sooner or later.

I’ve pointed out that in MN, for example, that “voting imposters” may well be their biggest problem.

No one in their right mind tries to bust down the front door of a bank during the day, and in plain sight. But if a crook notices that the back door is regularly left ajar, and also knows that the safe lock might just as well have been obtained from a box of Cracker Jacks, ALL the money will be gone by morning. But if it is the window that is left ajar, then he’ll go in that way, and the result will be the same.

The available evidence very strongly suggests is a significant hole in the MN voting system, one (among others) that the legislature tried to plug less than a year ago — i.e., “vouching” for otherwise unidentified voters on election day.

The Democrat (DFL) Governor, Mark Dayton, vetoed that bill back in late May, risibly claiming that, even though the current MN system was, “the best in the nation” he would work for “reform” legislation that had a “broad bipartisan consensus.” He had to say “broad” because a few Democrats DID vote for the bill.

He’s a laugh a minute, that man! And voters rights are being stolen.

So, here’s another applicable bromide that seems to fit . . . “One size does not fit all.”

Trochilus on January 16, 2012 at 2:51 PM

nhsteve on January 16, 2012 at 11:14 AM

I love it! . . . “treated it like the red-headed step child . . . perfect!

And, excellent comment above. I know it is sad, but you do understand how the legislative system can sometimes “work.” I drafted legislation for the NJ legislature for years.

The reality is that it is up to us to ensure that our elected representatives are acting as representatives, and not as something else. Looks like you are really working on that.

Good for you!

Maybe we should ask publius 2.0 to read it carefully and then pass it on to the gal who “co-taught” the seminar he mentioned — the one who took the “nothing to see here, this isn’t a problem, this is just political” approach.

Hmmm . . . maybe we just did.

Voter fraud is NOT just about appearances, and it is very, very real.

Trochilus on January 16, 2012 at 3:39 PM