Before delving into the nitty gritty details of voter fraud, it's important to understand what it is. According to Wikipedia, "the term is sometimes used to describe acts which are legal, but considered morally unacceptable, outside the spirit of an election or in violation of the principles of democracy." In other words, voter fraud doesn't have to be illegal to be considered fraud - it is simply anything that hinders the fair voting process.
While the definition is straightforward, Both leftists and rightists accuse the other of tampering with the voting process, grabbing for statistics that will resonate with their supporters. To make sense of the statistics, we first need to understand what people mean when they say "voter fraud." Very often, they mean in-person voter fraud and voter ID laws. While this is the major talking point for politicians, it's important to realize that voter fraud comes in many forms with in-person voter fraud being the least concerning type. When politicians and the media throw statistics around, we need to ask where they come from and whether they really support the solutions they propose.
Voter fraud doesn't exist. As a general concept, voter fraud is real and happens in different ways, on different levels. The myths perpetuated in the media and by politicians, however, tend not to be about the existence of voter fraud, which has been happening ever since the word "election" became a concept. The myths tend to be in the realm of exaggeration of certain types of voter fraud by using statistics covering a wider range of voter fraud to promote a solution.
Voter fraud is when someone shows up at the ballot box pretending to be someone else. This is probably the most common misconception. Voter fraud is not any one thing - in fact, credible in-person voter fraud cases are quite rare (although remember George W. Bush's presidential election and remember the importance of a few votes...). However, Russians showing up at the ballot box to interfere with the American voting process is not the only case constituting voter fraud. Voter fraud includes but is not limited to absentee ballot fraud, voter registration fraud, voter intimidation and suppression, deceased voters on voter registration list and/or voting, multiple voting, felons voting, non-citizens voting, vote buying, deceptive practices, and fraud by election officials.
Hundreds of thousands of illegal aliens vote in elections. Truth be told, we really have no way of knowing how many illegal aliens vote in elections. Could be ten. Could be millions.
Now that we have a more informed understanding of voter fraud, we can take a more critical look at the statistics. Understanding the statistics of voter fraud provides insight into the types of voter fraud that occur and their prevalence and shapes a more rational discussion about how to protect the sanctity of our elections.
In-person voter fraud. In reality, in-person voter fraud is extremely rare in the US. In one investigation from Justin Levitt of Loyola Law School in LA, they found only 31 credible instances of voter impersonation out of 1 billion votes cast between 2000 and 2014. So while it does occur, it is certainly not an overwhelming problem. Later on, however, in the proposed solutions section of this article, we note that while its rarity makes it a non-issue, its rarity can make it be an integral part of the solution to other types of fraud.
Absentee ballot fraud. This type of fraud comes in two forms. The first is where someone uses absentee ballots in more than one election. The second is where someone will vote for someone else using their absentee ballot card. There are also cases where campaign workers will collect absentee ballots with the intention of not turning in the ballots that vote for the opponent. This type of collection is also known as ballot harvesting and is legal in California (although selectively turning in ballots is not legal). In a study of 2608 cases of alleged voter fraud, 491 cases have been found due to absentee ballot fraud.
Voter registration fraud. This is a more difficult issue to discuss, since indicators of this type of fraud could also be due to innocent mistakes void of criminal intentions. For example, almost 3 million Americans are registered to vote in more than one state. But someone moving to a different state and registering to vote there without deactivating their previous registration shouldn't be assumed to have criminal intentions. In addition almost 2 million deceased people remain listed as voters, and while this opens the door to fraud, it doesn't indicate how often it actually happens. Between 2002 and 2005, five people falsely claimed voter eligibility as felons, and 14 as non-citizens.
Election official fraud. This includes ballot stuffing, voter intimidation, and preventing voters from casting their votes. A study conducted over five years found 3 cases of voter fraud by election officials.
Campaign worker fraud. This includes buying votes and misleading voters about actual election details. A study conducted over five years found 31 convictions of campaign workers for voter fraud and 10 convictions of government officials.
The statistics above paint half the picture needed to reach the right solutions to voter fraud. The other half of the picture is less statistics and more political, coming in various forms of voter suppression and fraud encouragement.
For example, voter ID laws suppress votes, especially considering statistics that suggest over 10% of American citizens, mostly lower income earners, don't have IDs, suggesting that the fees for getting IDs have discouraged people from obtaining them. And in turn, voter ID laws would suppress votes from lower income earners.
On the other end of the spectrum, making the vote too "easy" encourages unfair practices and also won't necessarily address the low voter turnout. For example, the legalization of ballot harvesting is rather unwise considering absentee ballot fraud is the most common form of individual fraud. This combined with laws such as early voting creates situations such as where campaign workers would selectively collect ballots depending on how many votes have already been counted. If one campaign sees their candidate losing one day, they could selectively collect ballots to steal a win at the last moment.
Low voter turnout is a problem. However, the cause of that problem is not because voting is "hard." The cause of that problem is rooted in the structure of our election system. We address that in another article.
Now that we've gotten the facts and the overall picture out of the way, we will offer a straightforward, common-sense solution.
1. All American citizens should be able to obtain an ID card, if they want one, for free. Of all the things that should be free, this should be top priority. With the cost of a state ID reaching up to $31, it will cost the government approximately $10 billion to issue everyone an ID for free. If everyone must renew their ID every ten years, it will then cost the government approximately $1 billion a year.
2. Make election day a holiday, with companies being required by law to give everyone a paid day off and colleges required to suspend classes for the day. One day only, no early/late voting.
3. No absentee ballots, and voter ID is required. You must go to a polling booth to vote. Voter registration not needed - you just need to show up with an ID. To streamline the process and prevent long lines, ballots can be sent out prior to election day, and you can simply drop off your ballot at the booth on election day.
The goal is one citizen, one vote.