New Research Exposes Myths About Voter Fraud

19256103_1d9eb61fbd_zWhile Texas Attorney General (and gubernatorial candidate) Greg Abbott (R) celebrates the Supreme Court’s decision to allow his state’s discriminatory voter ID laws to go into place—citing a “voter fraud epidemic” as just cause for the rule—new research from the Government Accountability Office shows that voter fraud is, in fact, an imaginary problem.

The GAO reviewed academic studies, investigative reports by state governments and data from the Department of Justice on the incidence of voter fraud over the last decade. (“Election crimes,” including voter fraud, are defined as “intentional acts or willful failures to act, prohibited by state or federal law, that are designed to cause ineligible persons to participate in the election process; eligible persons to be excluded from the election process; ineligible votes to be cast in an election; eligible votes not to be cast or counted; or other interference with or invalidation of election results.”)

The GAO found that there were no cases of in-person voter fraud charged by the DOJ anywhere in the country from 2004 to the present. (For context, the Texas courts convicted just two voters of in-person fraud between 2002 and 2011—not exactly a crisis of “epidemic” proportions.)

Researchers also examined a study out of South Carolina in which that state investigated 200 alleged fraudulent ballots cast in-person in 2010 and found that,

all but five of the questioned votes could be attributed to errors by state or local officials—including clerical errors, data matching errors, errors in scanning voter registration forms and the issuance of absentee ballots in the wrong name—or to applications for absentee ballots by voters who died before the election. For the remaining five allegations, the study could not conclusively determine whether in-person voter fraud occurred.

To Abbott and his ilk who chirp about how “voter fraud is real [and] it must be stopped,” we say: Get with the program. Voter ID laws like the one passed in Texas—which requires voters to show one of seven approved pieces of ID (a concealed handgun licensed counts; a student card does not)—are discriminatory and most often penalize poor voters, those of color and women who have changed their names. In fact, as Mother Jones reports, the new Texas law could disenfranchise more than 600,000 voters, most of them black and Latino.

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Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg drove that point home in a scathing dissent to the recent Supreme Court decision:

Texas will not accept several forms of photo ID permitted under the Wisconsin law the court considered last week. For example, Wisconsin’s law permits a photo ID from an in-state four-year college and one from a federally recognized Indian tribe. Texas, under Senate Bill 14, accepts neither. Those who lack the approved forms of identification may obtain an “election identification certificate” from the Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS), but more than 400,000 eligible voters face round-trip travel times of three hours or more to the nearest DPS office. Moreover, applicants for an election identification certificate ordinarily must present a certified birth certificate … [which] can be obtained only at significant cost—at least $22 for a standard certificate sent by mail.

She added,

A voter whose birth certificate lists her maiden name or misstates her date of birth may be charged $37 for the amended certificate she needs to obtain a qualifying ID. Texas voters born in other states may be required to pay substantially more than that.

When will the Supreme Court stop allowing, as Ginsburg said, “purposefully discriminatory” laws to take effect?

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Photo courtesy of Flickr user Dean Terry licensed under Creative Commons 2.0



Stephanie hails from Toronto, Canada. She is a Ms. writer, a master of journalism candidate and a hip hop dancer/instructor/choreographer. She got her start in feminist journalism at the age of 16 when she was a member of the first editorial collective at Shameless magazine—and she has never looked back.