Vote early, vote often is a myth

Here is another popular canard that gets bandied about by the conservative press and partisans.   Voter fraud.   It sounds so sinister.  Secret political operatives taking away the will of the people so that their lackey can be put in power to destroy America.   Clearly something must be done before Mohammed Moishe Hernandez becomes President!!

The problem is that voter fraud is more or less a myth.   While it does rarely occur it is so infrequent as to be irrelevant at the federal level.   Presidential elections have around 150 million votes every year.  Thus, if you want to move the election just 1 percentage point in either direction you would need to generate 1.5 million votes!  Even at the congressional level you are talking about a few hundred thousand votes being cast which would require thousands of fraudulent votes just to move the vote 1 point.

So why do you keep seeing headlines talking about thousands or tens of thousands of examples of voter fraud if it is rare?  The problem is that the right wing media conflates voter registrations with actual votes.   Anyone can file a voter registration.    And sometimes volunteers will pad voter registration stats with bogus names.    The other problem is that there is no clear process for removing someone from the register rolls as each state has their own process.   So the same person could be registered in 4 or 5 places at the same time.  However most places do have mechanisms to cull the rolls.  Most bogus registrations are rejected and dead people are eventually pulled from the registrations.

But certainly there are going to be some registrations that slip through or people that will vote for people that they know are dead.  No system is perfect and we can never achieve perfection.  So certainly there are opportunities for voter fraud.  But the reality is that is almost never happens.  And the reason is pretty obvious for anyone that bothers to look into it.

A single conviction for voter fraud carries with it a potential 5 year prison sentence and $10,000 fine.  So your would be voter fraudster would need to be willing to risk 5 years of jail time to add a SINGLE vote to the voter rolls.  How many people are going to be willing to take that chance?


Certainly not all people are aware of these potential punishments so some people could be duped into voting illegally.  But to make it more than random one off events you would need to coordinate such fraud.  Perhaps some wily person could offer cash payments to ignorant voters to engage in large scale voter fraud.  That leads to other problems.

This no good coordinator would certainly be aware of the potential punishments and he would be aware that he could be facing LENGTHY prison sentences if caught.  And for him to be caught all it would take is one person giving him up for any number of reasons.   One person getting caught.  One person having cold feet.  One person being an agent provocateur for the other side.  Any of those things happen and that person goes to jail for a long time.

Now is it possible that it does happen to some degree?  Sure.  But statistically speaking it would be close to a 0% impact on a national election.

So in summation, I wouldn’t worry too much about voter fraud.  It’s a talking point for partisans to bicker over.

At least at the national level.  Local politics can be quite different.

Some reference…

Voter Fraud is a Myth – Brennan Center