The Heritage Foundation, "Does Your Vote Count?" Heritage Foundation. Copyright © The Heritage Foundation. All rights reserved. Reproduced with permission.
The Heritage Foundation is a conservative think tank that conducts research and promotes public policies in support of its core principles of free enterprise, limited government, strong national security, and traditional American values.
The US Constitution guarantees that free and fair elections are the basic right of every American. Voter fraud, however, is a serious concern and a threat to the integrity of the electoral process. There are many types of voter fraud including impersonation at the polls, buying votes, duplicate voting, and more. Voter ID laws can help prevent voter fraud and are supported by the majority of Americans.
Preserving the great experiment that is the American Republic is dependent upon free and fair elections. Whether you are selecting a city councilor or the President, every American must be able to trust the process and the result, or the democratic system breaks down. Election integrity is an essential part of free and fair elections. As an eligible citizen, you must be guaranteed the right to vote—and it must be guaranteed that your vote is not stolen or diluted by thieves and fraudsters....
But why would someone steal your vote? Elections are avenues to political power and prestige. So long as they are, there will be those who would rather steal a vote than leave their ambitions vulnerable to your opinions. Chicago saw this firsthand in 1982, when 100,000 fraudulent ballots were cast in a massive effort to swing an election. Some who oppose measures intended to prevent election fraud claim there is not enough fraud to justify such election integrity efforts, but as the National Commission on Federal Election Reform said, the problem "is not the magnitude of voter fraud. In close or disputed elections, and there are many, a small amount of fraud could make the margin of difference."
There are many different forms of voter and election fraud that can be used to steal votes or change the outcome of an election.
How Long Has Voter Fraud Been a Problem?
The U.S. Supreme Court has said that "flagrant examples" of voter fraud "have been documented throughout this Nation's history by respected historians and journalists." The instances of such fraud uncovered over the years "demonstrate that not only is the risk of voter fraud real but that it could affect the outcome of a close election."
Coordinated attempts to commandeer election results are not a modern invention. Instances have been documented in the United States dating as far back as the early 19th century. New York City's infamous political organization, Tammany Hall, was synonymous with election fraud—in one election in 1844 there were 55,000 votes recorded even though there were only 41,000 eligible voters. Those early traditions of voter fraud have continued and grown ever more inventive. In 1984, a state grand jury report released in Kings County, New York detailed a 14-year-long successful voter fraud conspiracy in Brooklyn that resulted in thousands of fraudulent votes being cast in New York legislative and congressional elections through impersonation fraud and false registrations.
Types of Voter Fraud
There are many different forms of voter and election fraud that can be used to steal votes or change the outcome of an election. These include:
- Impersonation Fraud at the Polls—Voting in the names of other legitimate voters and voters who have died, moved away, or lost their right to vote because they are felons, but remain registered.
- False Registrations—Voting under fraudulent voter registrations that either use a phony name and a real or fake address or claim residence in a particular jurisdiction where the registered voter does not actually live and is not entitled to vote.
- Duplicate Voting—Registering in multiple locations and voting in the same election in more than one jurisdiction or state.
- Fraudulent Use of Absentee Ballots—Requesting and voting with absentee ballots without the knowledge of the actual voter; or obtaining the absentee ballot from a voter and either filling it in directly and forging the voter's signature or illegally telling the voter who to vote for on the ballot.
- Buying Votes—Paying voters to cast either an in-person or absentee ballot for a particular candidate.
- Illegal "Assistance" at the Polls—Forcing or intimidating voters—particularly the elderly, disabled, illiterate, and those for whom English is a second language—to vote for particular candidates while supposedly providing them with "assistance."
- Ineligible Voting—Illegal registration and voting by individuals who are not U.S. citizens, or are convicted felons, and therefore are not eligible to vote.
- Altering the Vote Count—Changing the actual vote count either in a precinct or at the central location where votes are counted.
- Ballot Petition Fraud—Forging the signatures of registered voters on the ballot petitions that must be filed with election officials in some states for a candidate to be listed on the official ballot.
Recommended Ways to Protect Your Vote
There are several steps that can be taken to improve the integrity of both the voter registration and voting processes. These procedures will not stop all forms of fraud practiced by vote thieves, but when implemented and enforced in combination, they can be a powerful weapon to deter and prevent many types of voter fraud—and they do not prevent eligible citizens from voting.
Several states ... have implemented voter ID laws in recent years to prevent and detect voter fraud.
Preventing fraud in the first place is much easier than trying to detect, investigate, and prosecute it after it occurs. Without proper procedures in place, detecting voter fraud is an extremely difficult undertaking. Moreover, prosecutors faced with burgeoning caseloads often give a very low priority to prosecuting election fraud, especially after the election is over.
Procedures that election officials can and should implement to secure your vote include:
- Photographic, Government-issued Identification to Vote—Photo IDs should be required for both in-person voting and absentee balloting. With absentee ballots, voters should be required to provide either a photocopy of the ID when they mail in the absentee ballot or the identification number of their state-issued driver's license or photo ID card. For the small percentage of individuals who do not already have an ID, states should issue free ID cards for voting.
- Proof of Citizenship to Register to Vote—Anyone registering to vote should be required to provide proof of U.S. citizenship such as a birth certificate, naturalization papers, or other documents including those that the federal government requires all employers to check before hiring a new employee.
- Jury Forms and Department of Homeland Security Databases—All state and federal courts should be required to notify local election officials when individuals summoned for jury duty from voter registration rolls are excused because they are not U.S. citizens. All state voter registration databases should run frequent comparisons with noncitizen databases maintained by the Department of Homeland Security to detect individuals who have registered to vote but who are not citizens.
- Interstate Voter Registration Crosscheck Program—The State of Kansas initiated a program to compare state voter registration rolls to detect individuals who are registered in more than one state and may have voted unlawfully in the same election in different states. All states should participate in this program to increase the accuracy of voter registration information and detect possible fraud.
- Accuracy Checks of Voter Registration Information—All states should verify the accuracy of their voter registration information by comparing it with other information databases such as Department of Motor Vehicle driver's license and Social Security Administration records, as well as tax and other county and state records.
Several states, including Alabama, Georgia, Indiana, Kansas, Mississippi, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Texas, have implemented voter ID laws in recent years to prevent and detect voter fraud.
Studies of past elections support the conclusion that voter ID laws have not reduced the turnout rates of minority voters.
Critics of voter ID laws claim that requiring the presentation of a valid ID can only prevent impersonation fraud at the polling place. Voter ID laws, however, can also prevent the misuse and theft of absentee ballots if identification is required for both forms of voting. Such laws can also prevent individuals from voting under fictitious voter registrations or voting by aliens, whether they are present legally or illegally in the country. In some instances, voter ID laws may prevent double voting by individuals registered in more than one state or locality if the information on their ID does not match their registration information or they try to use an ID from another state to vote.
Perhaps the biggest myth about voter ID laws is that they depress turnout, especially by minority voters. Years of turnout data from states that have photo ID laws show the opposite. Wherever photo ID requirements have been implemented, they have not reduced turnout. In fact, minority turnout has gone up in photo ID states. For example, in 2008, after implementing new voter ID laws, both Georgia and Indiana experienced larger increases in turnout, including of minority voters, in the presidential election than many states without a photo ID requirement. In Georgia, the turnout of both Hispanics and Africans Americans increased dramatically in both the 2008 presidential and 2010 midterm congressional elections when compared to the 2004 presidential and 2006 congressional elections when there was no photo ID requirement in place.
The U.S. Census Bureau conducts a survey of turnout after every federal election and provides a table detailing turnout by race in every state. According to the Census, in the 2012 presidential election, the black turnout rate in Georgia was higher than white turnout even with its voter ID requirement in place. In 2012, in Indiana, which has one of the strictest voter ID laws in the country, black voter turnout was 10 percentage points higher than white voter turnout. In 2012, in Tennessee, which had just implemented its voter ID law, black voter turnout was three percentage points higher than white voter turnout.
Other studies of past elections support the conclusion that voter ID laws have not reduced the turnout rates of minority voters. One such study concluded that "concerns about voter identification laws affecting turnout are much ado about nothing."
Polling shows that requiring ID to vote (as well as requiring proof of citizenship to register) is consistently supported by a majority of Americans no matter their race, ethnicity, socioeconomic status or party affiliation. That is no doubt because they know that they need an ID in their everyday lives to cash a check, buy alcohol or tobacco, purchase cold medicine or get a prescription filled in some states, see their doctor, take the SAT, buy a gun, check into a hotel, get a fishing or hunting license, open a post office box, board an airplane, obtain a marriage license, or get into many government buildings.