by Steven Hale
A study billed as "the most exhaustive" ever of American election fraud has found that in-person voter fraud — the type that voter-ID laws like Tennessee's were ostensibly created to stop — is "virtually non-existent."
News21, a part of the Carnegie-Knight Initiative on the Future of Journalism Education focused on investigative reporting, analyzed 2,608 alleged election-fraud cases, going back to 2000, mined from thousands of public records requests, in all 50 states. (You can peruse the resulting database here.) In all, they found just 10 cases of voter impersonation, or, "one out of about every 15 million prospective voters" during that time.
In Tennessee, the study turned up 14 total cases of reported fraud since 2000, none of which were cases of voter impersonation. The city of Memphis filed a lawsuit last week, challenging the state's voter ID law on constitutional grounds.
An excerpt summarizing the study's findings is after the jump. (Note: For formatting purposes, I've replaced the bullets in the original, with dashes. The rest is, of course, unaltered.)
The News21 analysis of its election fraud database shows:
— In-person voter-impersonation fraud is rare. The database shows 207 cases of other types of fraud for every case of voter impersonation.
“The fraud that matters is the fraud that is organized. That’s why voter impersonation is practically non-existent because it is difficult to do and it is difficult to pull people into conspiracies to do it,” said Lorraine Minnite, professor of public policy and administration at Rutgers University.
— There is more fraud in absentee ballots and voter registration than any other categories. The analysis shows 491 cases of absentee ballot fraud and 400 cases of registration fraud. A required photo ID at the polls would not have prevented these cases.
“The one issue I think is potentially important, though more or less ignored, is the overuse of absentee balloting, which provides far more opportunity for fraud and intimidation than on-site voter fraud,” said Daniel Lowenstein, a UCLA School of Law professor.
— Of reported election-fraud allegations in the database whose resolution could be determined, 46 percent resulted in acquittals, dropped charges or decisions not to bring charges.
Minnite says prosecutions are rare. “You have to be able to show that people knew what they were doing and they knew it was wrong and they did it anyway,” she said. “It may be in the end they (prosecutors) can’t really show that the people who have cast technically illegal ballots did it on purpose.”
— Felons or noncitizens sometimes register to vote or cast votes because they are confused about their eligibility. The database shows 74 cases of felons voting and 56 cases of noncitizens voting.
— Voters make a lot of mistakes, from accidentally voting twice to voting in the wrong precinct.
—Election officials make a lot mistakes, from clerical errors — giving voters ballots when they’ve already voted to election workers confused about voters’ eligibility requirements.
Despite that, News21 reports that Republican-controlled state legislatures, and the Democrat-led body in Rhode Island, "have considered 62 ID bills since 2010." They also note that few of the laws passed in the name of stopping voter fraud address absentee ballots, which their analysis found to be "one of the most frequent instances of fraud."