The GOP’s “voting fraud” fable

Today, 70% of Republicans believe voting fraud is “a widespread problem.” (Story here.) In fact, it’s “vanishingly rare.” (Story here.) How did this divergence between perception and reality happen?

It was deliberately created. Republican policies, which generally are anti-worker, anti-consumer, and favor big business and the rich, aren’t popular with a majority of Americans, and with changing demographics also against them, to win elections they resort to tactics designed to keep the majority from voting as much as possible.

Let me be clear: This isn’t about legitimate “election integrity.” These are dirty tricks targeting people who are legally entitled to vote. For 35 years, Republicans had what amounts to a protection order against them in place in federal courts, analogous to the kind of order domestic abuse victims are granted against their abusers. (Details here.)

The idea of prevalent voting fraud is a fabricated myth that is used to justify voter roll purges, onerous ID laws, and other voter suppression tactics. If you think about it, it makes sense that actual voting fraud is very rare, because all election departments use security measures to ensure ballot integrity which have withstood the test of time and experience.

Now let’s examine a couple of the most commonly floated methods by which voters are said to cheat in elections.

1. Voter impersonation. Republicans use this as a justification for voter ID laws, but voter impersonation is a chimera, and those laws have an ulterior purpose. A legal expert who tracks such cases found 31 actual cases out of more than 1 billion ballots cast from 2000 to 2014, with almost no cases in states with mail-in voting (for obvious reasons). The real purpose of these laws is to erect another barrier to voting. For example, elderly people are less likely to have driver licenses, and they may be in setting (e.g., a nursing home) where it’s extremely difficult to obtain a photo ID. The real purpose of these laws sometimes is transparent, as in Texas, where a gun permit is acceptable for voting but a University of Texas student ID is not. Students are often target for voter suppression, along with the elderly and minorities, because they’re thought to be more likely to vote Democratic.

2. Double voting. There are two obvious ways this conceivably could happen. One is that a voter dies and a relative uses that person’s ballot. Sometimes the relative sees nothing wrong with this. But this obviously could only work with an absentee or mail ballot. The other is that a person votes absentee, then goes to the polls to vote again. Neither is likely to succeed, because voters must sign in at polling places and sign mail ballots, and the signatures are checked. Also, when a voter requests an absentee or mail ballot, the voter’s name is removed from the polling place list, and the voter won’t be able to sign in to vote at the polling place. Election officials also keep track of who has voted. And, of course, this type of double voting is impossible in states with all-mail voting.

Thus, in reality, impersonating another voter and double voting just doesn’t happen much.

But Republicans have a vested interested in keeping those stories alive. Mythical voting fraud is used by Republicans to justify wholesale purging of voter rolls. All voter rolls are routinely purged; people die or move away, and keeping voter rolls current is part of every election department’s routine works. What I’m talking about here is purges, usually carried out by Republican office holders in charge of elections, that knowingly and intentionally remove eligible voters from the rolls. Often the voters targeted are minorities, or live in heavily minority neighborhoods (and therefore are assumed to be minorities). At minimum, getting purged forces these voters to go to the trouble of re-registering, and some won’t. More often, they don’t know they’ve been de-registered until they go to vote and are told they can’t. By then, it’s too late to re-register for that election.

Republicans use a specific tactic called “caging” that involves sending a registered letter to a voter’s address, which must be signed for; if it’s returned, as such letters often are, they’ll submit that to an election department as “proof” the person doesn’t live there (more info here). It’s no such thing. People don’t have to sign for registered mail, and often don’t thinking it’s a legal summons or something of that nature. In addition, mail is delivered during the day, when most people are at work. The tactic is especially odious when used against black members of the military on overseas assignments; it is legal for them to be registered to vote at their stateside addresses, and that’s where the caging letters are sent, but they’re obviously not there to sign for them. (See this story.) “Caging” is one of the practices that was outlawed by the 1981 consent decree, although Republicans continued to use it anyway. (For some other examples of Republican dirty tricks, see this article.)

One of the ironies of Republican voting fraud claims is that when it does occur, it’s usually Republicans who commit it, as in the 2018 North Carolina 9th congressional district election that was thrown out (story here), and the case of a Wisconsin health insurance executive who was convicted of voting multiple times (story here).

If illegal voting does occur, it’s vastly more likely to be inadvertent than intentional, but Republicans try to inflate innocent mistakes into “fraud” to bolster their claims that widespread voting fraud exists when it doesn’t. An example of inadvertent illegal voting is provided by the 2004 Washington governor’s election, which was decided by 129 votes, in which an estimated 1,100 ex-felons were thought to have voted illegally. Essentially all of these individuals believed they were eligible to vote; in many cases, parole officers and/or election officials told them they could. The reason behind this was a confusing law (since changed) that even the election officials misinterpreted.

In their lawsuit contesting that election, the GOP claimed these illegal votes changed the result. But the judge concluded there was no way to know, because ballots are cast secretly, and the GOP lost the lawsuit. The best anecdotal evidence came from 10 of those ex-felon voters who agreed to talk with a newspaper reporter. Of those 10 voters, 9 males and 1 female, all 9 males voted for the Republican candidate, and the female voted for the Democratic candidate. This was consistent with studies showing that felons and ex-felons, who are predominantly male, strongly lean Republican. This made it very difficult to plausibly argue the Democratic candidate benefited from the ineligible felon votes cast in that election, and the judge didn’t buy the GOP’s theoretical arguments based on modeling with data from New Jersey, a state with different demographics.

It’s another example of how Republicans mythologize voting to create barriers to voting and sow doubt about election results. (For a more detailed article about Republican voting fraud mythology, click here.) The 2004 Washington governor’s election passed into conservative lore as a “stolen” election; it was no such thing, simply an election their candidate lost. Trump has famously made known that he won’t accept as legitimate any election he doesn’t win, and his followers will buy into that hokum because, well, because they’re his loyal followers. They’ve been conditioned to believe that Democrats cheat and if they lose it must be because there was illegal following. Many of these people also believe science is bunk, climate change isn’t real, Covid-19 is a hoax and Covid-19 death figures are made up, the Sandy Hook school shooting didn’t happen, and the world will end any day now.

They may be right about the last one, especially if Trump gets re-elected.

Photo: This billboard in a minority neighborhood is intended to scare people away from voting. It’s an example of the tactics used by Republicans to suppress Democratic voter turnout.

Return to The-Ave.US Home Page

0 Comments Add Yours ↓

  1. Mark Adams #

    Yet neither party will make the day a Federal election is happening a Federal Holiday. Neither will require all voters to at least show up or turn in a blank ballot, or be removed from the polls or pay a fine if they did not vote and wish to remain on the polls.

  2. Roger Rabbit #

    Democrats introduced a bill in January 2019 to make election day a federal holiday. ( McConnell called it a “power grab” and killed it. (

  3. Mark Adams #

    Good partisan politics. So much fun. And the result is the result that most of our elected officials in Congress really want. No self interest in this issue, none at all, please do not feed the possum with the little self interest sign pointing at this here office. Will the Democrats introduce the same bill should they actually win majorities in both houses and have a President that would sign the bill?
    I really do think election day should be a holiday and should have been made one a century ago when frankly it was an unofficial one in many towns and cities. We really should have a couple more federal holidays such as liars bench day or something more dignified like Moon Landing day. Americans work far too much, but it is an American tradition. Always works well for the corporations.

  4. Roger Rabbit #

    Gee, who woulda thought politics is partisan?

  5. Mark Adams #

    I am reading a lot on how all this mail in voting and a sudden inability to count will prevent states from being able to verify the Presidential election in time. Could happen. Almost did in Florida once upon a time. Of course if that had happened and Florida had not cast any electors vote then the House and Senate would have had to select the President and Vice President.
    Assuming that this years election is so screwed up that some states miss the deadline to certify and get their information to the Archivist and no candidate receives half the votes plus one. (Well a tie is possible, just extremely unlikely.) Then yes the House gets to choose, but it is each states delegation getting a single vote. Of course they get to choose from the top three vote getters. Could citizens in some state be so annoyed with the whole process they vote for someone not with the two major parties. Could some rascal in the electoral college put in a name other Trump or Biden. Could that person become a true dark horse and become President after many many votes in the House? My dreams suggest President Carrot Top. Ok nightmare. Or there is the possibility of a Republican President and a Democratic Vice President. Tat could be fun. I suppose these thoughts are all for naught as I suspect states will somehow manage to stumble through and verify their votes and hold their portion of the electoral collage, that will decide who the next President of the United States. Probably not starting the next American civil war. I suspect my two possibilities are more realistic than another American Civil War…will mushrooms be served?

  6. Roger Rabbit #

    You can count on Trump and his minions to do everything they can to screw up this election so goes to the House, where Republicans have a 26-24 edge. If your improbable scenario of a write-in from neither party came to fruition, I suspect the Democrats and Republicans would gang up to impeach and remove that person, probably the only time they’d ever cooperate on anything.

Your Comment