What You Should Know about Election and Voter Fraud
The purpose of the APSA Election Assistance Task Force is to foster broader knowledge and understanding of non-partisan election assistance, including resources on non-partisan voter mobilization organizations, poll worker recruitment, technical aid to election officials implementing new systems, voter registration, the prevention of voter intimidation and disenfranchisement, and an understanding of how political scientists empirically identify and measure voter fraud.
What is election fraud?
Fraud in elections can be separated into voter fraud and election fraud. Voter fraud refers to fraudulent acts undertaken by individual voters and can include: voter impersonation, voting using multiple registrations, and voting on an ineligible registration. Election fraud refers to fraudulent acts undertaken by election administrators or parties and can include: falsifying documents, manipulating vote counts, voter suppression, and voter intimidation.
How much fraud exists in elections?
There is no evidence of widespread voter or election fraud in the United States. However, there have been a couple of high profile examples of fraud in recent elections (for example, the election for U.S. House of Representatives in North Carolina’s 9th district in 2018 was invalidated when it was discovered that ballot boxes had been tampered with using fraudulent absentee ballots and the election for Paterson, NJ’s 3rd Ward City Council seat was in invalidated in August 2020 following allegations of voter fraud and violations of mail-in vote procedures). Arguably the most thorough study of election and voter fraud uncovered evidence of 2,068 individuals allegedly committing voter or election fraud in the United States over 12 years in 50 states. While this may seem like a big number, it is estimated that more than one billion ballots were cast during the time period where they searched for fraud. Thus, the rate of alleged cases of fraud per ballot cast was no higher than 0.00021 percent. We also note that many allegations of voter fraud turn out to be either clerical errors or voter or election administrator mistakes.
What should we expect in the November 3, 2020 election?
It is inevitable in a national election expected to attract over 150 million voters conducted in the midst of a pandemic that has required elections officials to adopt new policies and procedures to keep voters, poll workers and elections administrators safe, that some errors will occur. For example, a few registrants have been mailed multiple ballots in recent weeks, but that does not mean both ballots will be counted even if returned. Registrants who have died or moved to a new address may be sent ballots, but political science research shows no evidence that these ballots are returned. There have also been isolated incidents of ballot mismanagement by the U.S. Postal Service or attempts to damage ballots in drop boxes, but election officials work hard to identify the affected parties when issues like this arise and take steps to help these individuals cast ballots that count. While it is crucial to monitor and investigate all such instances, it is unlikely that this relatively small number of errors will compromise the integrity of the election or determine the outcome of any election.
- See also, APSA’s Task Force on Election Assistance and The National Conference of Black Political Scientists (NCOBPS) Statement on Voter Harassment and Intimidation.