Voter fraud? Not in the U.S. Here’s why.

Americans have held elections for well over 200 years, and done so with confidence their ballots will be counted fairly and accurately.

There’s good reason for that confidence. One is the presence of poll watchers, local volunteers trained to observe as voters identify themselves and receive their ballots. At many polling places, each major political party has an observer present to watch the votes being counted.

And what about talk of voter fraud? Of people voting more than once? “That just does not happen,” law professor Richard Hasen told PBS NewsHour. Hasen authors the Election Law Blog.

Anyone who tried to “fix” a U.S. presidential election would be overwhelmed by the fact that there’s no single election to fix and each polling place is open and well-monitored. Voters officially record their choices at more than 100,000 voting precincts in the 50 states. Elections are held in the open, in community centers, libraries and school gyms. The poll observers are trained by the competing political parties to watch for irregularities, and the U.S. also invites international observers to monitor elections.

Our system is decentralized,” Election Assistance Commission member Thomas Hicks said recently. “And with a decentralized system, you’d need an army of folks to try to get into the system.”

As Chris Ashby, a campaign finance and election lawyer writes, “Our election laws anticipate human error and cheating, and guard against them at multiple levels. The result is a system of voting that is one of the cleanest and best in the world  —  in which all citizens should have faith and confidence.”

Circle with text inside saying, "More people are struck by lightning every year than are convicted of U.S. voter fraud" (State Dept./S. Gemeny Wilkinson)
(State Dept./S. Gemeny Wilkinson)
Graphic saying "A 2012 investigation by the government accountability office reported zero voter impersonation cases in the past decade" (State Dept./S. Gemeny Wilkinson)
(State Dept./S. Gemeny Wilkinson)
Graphic of magnifying glass with text saying, "Out of 1 billion votes there were just 31 cases of voter fraud. That' 31 grains in a dump truck full of sand" (State Dept./S. Gemeny Wilkinson)
(State Dept./S. Gemeny Wilkinson)

How clean? The number of fraudulent votes cast is really small. Consider:

  • New York University Law School’s Brennan Center for Justice is a leading authority on election integrity. It pegs the share of fake votes between 0.00004 percent and 0.0009 percent. That’s a possible one bad vote in every 2.5 million cast.
  • A Columbia University political scientist tracked voter fraud for two years and traced the little he found to “false claims by the loser of a close race, mischief and administrative or voter error.”
  • Another law professor looked into voter impersonation. Out of more than 1 billion ballots cast he found … 31 credible false votes.
  • Arizona State University conducted two studies and found even fewer impersonator-cast votes: just 10 in five states over a five-year period. A follow-up study found zero cases of voter fraud.
  • A Kansas secretary of state reviewed 84 million votes cast in 22 states and found just 14 instances of fraud referred for prosecution, a 0.00000017 percent rate.
  • When asked to report on incidents of voter fraud, the Texas law enforcement official responsible for prosecuting them knew of only one impersonation conviction and one guilty plea. That’s for all Texas elections from 2002 through 2014.
  • Finally, the United States Department of Justice formed a unit to seek out federal election fraud and found it — in 0.00000013 percent of ballots cast in 2002 and 2004.

The U.S system of voting “is one of the cleanest and best in the world  —  in which all citizens should have faith and confidence.”
— Chris Ashby

According to the Brennan Center, “The verdict is in from every corner that voter fraud is sufficiently rare that it simply could not and does not happen at the rate even approaching that which would be required to ‘rig’ an election.”

Lawyer Al Cardenas chaired the Republican Party in Florida during the lengthy presidential ballot recount of 2000. He observes that 250 lawyers examined ballots to determine whether they had been fairly cast. After thousands of hours over 37 days, they concluded that not one vote had been cast fraudulently. When it comes to free and fair elections, he told PBS NewsHour, America is a “beacon of light.”

Graphic reading "Elections 2016" (State Dept./J. Maruszewski)