Last week we looked at the history of voting the in US and cited some specific examples of voter fraud. Now let’s look at the claims of election tampering from both sides of the aisle and try to parse out the truth.
Claims from the Right
Reports of voter fraud abound from the political right. These reports are the basis for much election/voting related legislation.
We are going to look at the main accusations of fraud.
Here is the interesting thing – The Heritage Foundation, who is very concerned with voter fraud actually only found 1,178 proven instances of voter fraud-1,028 of those resulting in criminal convictions.
Approximately 138 million people voted in the 2016 elections.
That means that proven cases of fraud make up exactly .00085 percent of votes. One in a million.
The President has persistently claimed widespread voter fraud and even created a commission to investigate. The President leaned heavily on this report to back up his assertion- A Government Accountability Institute study, which was released in July 2017, about two months after Trump had formed the commission.
The 36-page report, a copy of which can be found on the White House’s website, claims to have identified 8,400 cases of double voting in the 2016 election, based on data on 75 million voters from 21 states.
The nonprofit said it compared lists of people who voted in different states and identified duplicates by matching their names, birthdays and a portion of their social security numbers. Virtual DBS, the firm contracted to crunch the data for the report, said that its methodology would result “in virtually zero false positives.”
However, experts who worked with government official on the electoral system claim the study suffered from a glaring vulnerability that can result from large data sets.
This vulnerability is that rare instances of human error in a large set of numbers — millions of data points that grow exponentially when multiplied against one another — could manifest as what might appear to be a significant number of matches, if not examined closely. Small mistakes, like people signing the wrong line of a voting roster, or errors as paper sign-ins are computerized later, are a part of the voting system, and out of 75 million voters, the errors could add up.
For a study to be credible, it would need to account for this by calculating a rate of which these type of false positives were occurring and then adjusting the results accordingly.
Nonetheless, the President put together a commision to research fraud. Less than a full year later the commission was disbanded and Charles Herndon, White House director of information technology, said in a sworn court declaration in federal court that the voter-fraud commission “did not create any preliminary findings.”
But-if this is still a major source of concern for you, let’s look at what makes up the claims of fraud and why.
Absentee Ballot Fraud:
Absentee ballot fraud is what comprises the bulk of voter fraud. Even Slate admits this. Although, again, in the overall scheme of things, the total amount of convictable fraud is way less than 1 percent.
But here is the issue regarding absentee ballot fraud-Republicans haven’t put through any election reforms that target this problem.
Why? Because they statistically benefit from absentee voting.
Voter registration fraud:
Although there is very little statistical evidence of specific registration fraud, the n system does have many problems that need to be dealt with and many of these problems can be taken out of context and easily reframed to fit a fraud narrative.
A 2012 Pew Study outlined many issues.
-Approximately 24 million—one of every eight—voter registrations in the United States are no longer valid or are significantly inaccurate.
-More than 1.8 million deceased individuals are listed as voters.
-Approximately 2.75 million people have registrations in more than one state.
-12 million records contain incorrect addresses
One drawback to consider regarding this problem is cost. One study by Pew spotlighted Oregon and found that state and local taxpayers spent $4.11 per active voter to process registrations and maintain a voter list, or $7.67 per transaction.
Contrast this cost with that of Canada, which uses modern technology to register people as well as data-matching techniques common in the private sector, spends less than 35 cents per voter to process registrations.
Pew suggests a 3 point plan to combat these issues:
-1. Compare voter registration lists with a wider array of data sources to broaden the base of information used to update and verify voter rolls.
2. Use proven matching techniques and data security protocols to attain the level of integrity and confidence needed to ensure accuracy and privacy.
3. Establish new means for voters to submit information online and minimize manual data entry, resulting in lower costs and fewer errors.
Basically, we need an updated registration system more than we do more stringent laws. Voter requirements are just adding fuel to a fire that is already starting to rage out of control.
Ineligible voters (felons, non-citizens, multiple voting, impersonation) :
A comprehensive 2014 study published in The Washington Post found 31 credible instances of impersonation fraud from 2000 to 2014,…31 out of more than 1 billion ballots cast. Even this tiny number is likely inflated, as the study’s author counted not just prosecutions or convictions, but any and all credible claims.
Two studies done at Arizona State University, one in 2012 and another in 2016, found similarly negligible rates of impersonation fraud. The project found 10 cases of voter impersonation fraud nationwide from 2000-2012.
The follow-up study, which looked for fraud specifically in states where politicians have argued that fraud is a pernicious problem, found zero successful prosecutions for impersonation fraud in five states from 2012-2016.
After the 2016 election, The New York Times surveyed election and law enforcement officials in 49 states and the District of Columbia. They learned of two possible instances of noncitizens voting – out of 137.7 million voters nationwide.
News21, an investigative reporting project based at Arizona State University, reviewed all reported instances of voter fraud from 2000 to 2012.
They found 56 cases of alleged noncitizen voting. Even assuming all of these allegations are true, and all of these noncitizens voted in 2016, it would total approximately .00004 percent of all ballots cast.
In 2012, at the request of the Governor, Florida’s Secretary of State set out to purge the state’s voter rolls of noncitizens. Out of 12 million registered, active voters, officials claimed to have found 180,000 potential noncitizens. Yet after all the errors on that list were uncovered, only 85 names were removed from the rolls as alleged noncitizens, and only one person was convicted of fraud.
In 2012, Michigan’s Secretary of State claimed that as many as 4,000 noncitizens were registered to vote. In the end, only ten people were referred to the state attorney general for further investigation because they had voted.
Also in 2012, Colorado’s Secretary of State claimed that 11,805 noncitizens were registered to vote. Ultimately the state identified just 35 individuals on the rolls who were allegedly noncitizens and had voted.
In person fraud (the catalyst for Voter ID laws):
Voter ID laws target only one form of voter fraud: in-person impersonation
They cannot prevent fraud perpetrated through absentee ballots.
They cannot prevent double voting by a person who votes in her own name, as that does not involve impersonation.
Finally, they cannot prevent tampering with already-cast ballots, voting machines, or counting methods.
The claim, then, is not that ID requirements eliminate fraud, just that they reduce it. In absence of concrete evidence of substantial in-person fraud, the argument is that lack of statistics does not defeat the case for voter ID requirements,
Proponents still have two defenses.
– First, they claim— correctly—that the failure to observe fraud does not mean that no fraud takes place. Successful fraud would never come to light, and so it is not certain that in-person impersonation fraud is so rare.
-Second, this kind of fraud, even if rare, violates law and could turn an election in just the right circumstance. Better to have less fraud than more.
So the main question to ask now is whether or the the potential for fraud is worth the cost-and is there really even a cost?
It is very possible that much of the right’s assertions and fear of voter fraud have their origin in Tammany Hall, the Democratic political machine that dominated New York City from 1854-1934 and it’s well known reputation for electoral corruption. Many of the urban areas of the early 1900’s, often ran by Democrats, were rife with corruption. Political scientists estimate that in many of these areas, fixers routinely manipulated 10 to 15 percent of votes. A 1929 study by the Brookings Institution, looking back on U.S. elections in the nineteenth century, observed: Indifference, fraud, corruption, and violence have marked the operation of our electoral system.”
Much like racism, one generation hands down their mistrust and worldview down to their children, who hand it down to their children, and so the cycle goes. Now let’s look at the other side.
The view from the left
One need not search long before running into a ton of reports online regarding incidents of voter suppression due to voter ID laws-however, those reports don’t always correlate with the actual requirements and exemptions of the reported state.
Voter ID laws
Although there is much ado about Voter ID laws, the truth is, for the most part, it is kind of a nothing burger just like the purported fraud claimed by the right.
When we took a close look at each state’s voter ID laws, the strictest states have a multitude of accommodations such as applying for a Voter ID, bringing in any state documentation of residency, or even an expired driver’s license.
One example of manipulative reporting on the matter is, a news report from a usually reputable source said that a voter ID law requiring an address targeted Native peoples in a specific area but neglected to mention the fact that tribal ID cards sufficed as well as expired licenses or a utility bill. There are usually multiple forms of ID allowed.
The biggest criticism of of ID laws is that they discourage voting but is this true?
Voter ID laws can depress lawful votes in theory, but do they depress such votes in practice? Columbia Law Review states that some studies suggest the answer is no, finding little or no effect on voter turnout.That may make sense: People burdened by ID requirements may tend to be people who could not or would not vote anyway. Other studies suggest voter ID laws do depress votes. Basically, you can cherry pick a study to fit your narrative, but no one actually knows for sure.
One very interesting study out of Michigan State University presents evidence that there may even be a counterbalance effect that Voter ID laws inspire people to vote, possibly even increasing voter turnout.
Like election fraud, much of the statistical evidence is anecdotal and missing full context.
Because most states have a multitude of identification options, it appears that the reported cases of suppression often happen at the local level. Poll volunteers are either not trained well in the nuance of identification requirements or they utilize power in order to achieve their bias. It is hard to know for sure unless each incidence is studied.
As we can see from the registration issues we discussed earlier, culling is a very necessary process .
The 1993 National Voter Registration Act mandates that state and local elections officers keep voter registration lists accurate by removing the names of people who die, move or fail in successive elections to vote. Voters who’ve been convicted of a felony, ruled mentally incompetent, or found to be noncitizens also can be removed.
The U.S. Election Assistance Commission reported that 15 million names were scrubbed from the lists nationally in 2014.
One of the more controversial methods of deciding what names should be culled is from a cross referencing system known as Crosscheck. Crosscheck analyzes data from different sources and verifies using name, DOB, and the last 4 digits of a social security system to flag duplicate registrations for deletion.
A report from Rolling Stone claimed Crosscheck targeted minority communities, but a Harvard study revealed that that Crosscheck was not created to be foolproof and the culling decisions lay with local election commissions.
A few safeguards that would lessen the controversy surrounding Crosscheck/culling:
-If it only flagged registrations where the social security was mismatched along with either a name or DOB. In other words, the social should be the defining factor.
-Election commissioners make several attempts to contact the registrant before culling
-Culling only happens the year prior to election
-State online or 1-800 number/text options are made available to verify registration
Refers to the drawing of district lines — whether for Congress or for state legislatures — in order to give one party numeric advantage over the other. The technique is as old as the United States itself. In 1788, Founding Father Patrick Henry tried to gerrymander arch foe James Madison out of the first federal Congress.
As the saying goes: It’s not the voters choosing their representatives, it’s the representatives choosing their voters.
The origin of the word “gerrymander” was a combination of “salamander” and the last name of Elbridge Gerry, who as governor of Massachusetts in 1812 signed into law a redistricting plan designed to benefit his political party.
Gerrymandering harms democracy. By way of mathematical trickery, a party can lock out rivals from being able to achieve a majority.
Mathematical trickery like what? Like “packing” and “cracking.”
In packing, you’re taking as many voters on the rival side as you can and cramming them into as few districts as possible.
Cracking refers to spreading voters as thinly as you can across as many districts as possible.
Remember that margin of victory doesn’t matter because winner takes all — 50 per cent plus one is enough.
How skewed can things get?
Take these battleground states as examples:
-Pennsylvania: In 2012, Republicans won less than half the statewide vote (49 per cent), and yet they took 13 out of 18 seats in the House of Representatives (72.2 per cent).
-Ohio: In 2016, Republicans won just over half of the overall vote (51.3 per cent) but took 12 out of 16 House seats (75 per cent).
-North Carolina: In 2016, Republicans won less than half (49.8 per cent) of the votes, but took control of 10 out of 13 House seats (76.9 per cent).
The Brennan Center for Justice estimates extreme partisan bias gave Republicans at least 16 to 17 more seats in the 2016 election, and possibly as many as 29, according to one analysis.
Democrats were 24 seats short of controlling the House of Representatives.
How is this legal?
For the most part, courts have tended to leave it up to the states to engineer maps.
A few states (including California, Arizona and Montana) have independent commissions for redistricting, much like in Canada.
The Supreme Court justices have said that gerrymandering can, in theory, be so extreme as to be unconstitutional. The problem is how to tell when that line is crossed.
In recent years, mapping software has been the game-changer. The Wisconsin legislative map drawn up in 2010 targets voters with surgical precision, virtually locking out Democrats from controlling the House.
Academic experts say the 2010 redistricting round was the most extreme in the nation’s history. That’s because of two factors: a stark partisan imbalance in control of state legislatures and governorships, and new computer technology that makes it possible to draw extremely fine-tuned partisan borders. (Obama midterms)
All of this brings us to one Supreme Court case.Gill v. Whitford.
In 2010, for the first time in over forty years, Wisconsin voters elected a Republican majority in the state assembly and Senate as well as a Republican governor. As a result, the Republican leadership developed a voting district map that its drafters calculated would allow Republicans to maintain a majority under any likely voting scenario.
Plaintiffs in this case challenged the plan as an unconstitutional partisan gerrymander. At issue is whether the plan systematically dilutes the voting strength of Democratic voters statewide. The questions in the case were:
- Did the district court err in holding that it had the authority to hear a statewide challenge to Wisconsin’s redistricting plan, rather than requiring a district-by-district analysis?
- Did the district court err in holding that the redistricting plan was an unconstitutional gerrymander?
- Did the district court use an incorrect test for a gerrymander?
- Are defendants entitled to present evidence that they would have prevailed under the gerrymander test actually used by the district court?
- Are partisan gerrymandering claims justiciable?
The decision indicated that the plaintiffs failed to demonstrate Article III standing, so there was no need to resolve any of the questions presented. In a unanimous decision authored by Chief Justice John Roberts, the Court sidestepped all of the key issues regarding partisan gerrymandering, resolving the case instead on the technical issue of judicial standing.
Has the Supreme Court intervened before?
It has put discriminatory “racial gerrymandering” out of constitutional bounds. That’s the kind of gerrymandering that was found in North Carolina, when the map diluted the power of black voters.
Because the courts found only on the basis of race,, many states believed they could “go to town” on party-based gerrymandering, so long as they could prove it wasn’t race-motivated.
David R. Lewis, a North Carolina state representative who helped lead the remapping, said in 2016. “I propose that we draw the maps to give a partisan advantage to 10 Republicans and three Democrats, because I do not believe it’s possible to draw a map with 11 Republicans and two Democrats,
It is also important to note that the US is one of a very small group of countries that allows it’s politicians to draw election maps.
Obviously, Gerrymandering is one of the most legitimate grievances regarding Election influence.
But we found that most of the indignant rumblings of fraud regarding everything else was less substance and more framing.
Speaking of framing, that is what we are going to look at next week. We are going to expose the surprising practices of political marketing and what we can do to free ourselves from and we will pinpoint a major problem that no one really talks about much anymore.
Sources are provided in Elections 3