As long as elections put people into positions where they can make decisions about how much the government will spend, who will receive benefit, and how the government will exercise its power, some individuals will attempt to steal them. Examples abound, from the 135 percent of the eligible voters who turned out for an 1844 election in New York to the infamous Ballot Box 13 in Lyndon Johnson’s 1948 Senate election. The 1997 Miami mayor’s race was overturned because of more than 5,000 fraudulent absentee ballots. A mayoral election in East Chicago, Indiana, in 2003 and a state senate race in Tennessee in 2005 were also overturned because of voter fraud. Numerous employees of ACORN have been convicted of voter registration fraud, and Congress has barred the organization from receiving further federal funds.
As the U.S. Supreme Court recognized when it upheld the constitutionality of Indiana’s voter identification law in 2008, flagrant examples of voter fraud “have been documented throughout this Nation’s history by respected historians and journalists.” Those examples “demonstrate that not only is the risk of voter fraud real but that it could affect the outcome of a close election.”
Many partisan activists, liberal academics, and media elites deny that voter fraud exists or that any action is needed to protect the integrity of our election process. However, the nonpartisan Commission on Federal Election Reform, chaired by former President Jimmy Carter and former Secretary of State James A. Baker III, found that our “electoral system cannot inspire public confidence if no safeguards exist to deter or detect fraud or to confirm the identity of voters.”
The right to vote in a free and fair election is the most basic civil right, on which depend many of the other rights of the American people. Congress and the states can and should act to guarantee that every eligible individual is able to vote and that his vote is not stolen by fraud.
- Require all voters in federal elections either to present photographic identification, issued by the federal, state, local, or tribal government, when they vote at their polling place or to send copies of such identification when submitting an absentee ballot. Such ID should be provided free of charge to those who request it for voting purposes.
- Make all federal databases at the Social Security Administration and the immigration and customs divisions of the Department of Homeland Security available to state election officials to verify the citizenship of registered voters.
- Require all federal courts to notify state election officials when individuals whose names are drawn from their registration rolls are excused from jury duty because they claim they are not U.S. citizens.
- Amend the National Voter Registration Act of 1993 to allow states to purge individuals who have not voted in two federal elections as long as they have been sent written notice that they will be removed unless they contact election officials within a certain period of time.
- Sunset the U.S. Election Assistance Commission, a federal agency created in 2002 to administer a one-time grant of federal funds to the states. Having this unneeded federal agency in place will tempt Congress in the future to give it expanded authority to impose federal mandates through federal regulations, which could lead eventually to the complete takeover of the election process by the federal government.
- Amend the Military and Overseas Voter Empowerment Act of 2009 to eliminate the waiver process. The MOVE Act allows states to apply to the Department of Defense (DOD) for a waiver from the federal requirement that absentee ballots be sent out 45 days before they are due to all overseas military and civilian personnel. States have had more than sufficient time to change their primary schedules to accommodate this requirement.
- Direct DOD to create voter registration offices on all military installations to provide voting assistance to military personnel and their families, and allow nonpartisan veterans groups to conduct voter registration drives at base commissaries or other public locations on bases.
Recommendations (State Policy)
- Require all voters either to present photographic identification, issued by the federal, state, or local government, when they vote at their polling place or to send copies of such identification or their driver’s license number when submitting an absentee ballot. Any individual who does not have identification should be entitled to receive it free from state authorities. Both academic studies and election results show that identification requirements do not depress the turnout of voters, including eligible minority voters. The vast majority of voters of all parties, races, and ethnic backgrounds support such a requirement, which increases public confidence in the integrity of elections.
- Require all individuals who register to vote to provide documentation establishing that they are U.S. citizens. States have an interest in preventing dilution of the votes of their citizens at the state level and must maintain citizen-only voting rolls for federal elections. When a state issues a driver’s licenses to a noncitizen who is in the country legally, the license should indicate on its face that the holder is not a U.S. citizen.
- Require state and local election officials to verify the accuracy of new voter registration information against other available state and federal databases. Section 303 of the Help America Vote Act of 2001 (HAVA) requires states to coordinate their voter registration lists with “other agency databases” and to “verify the accuracy of the information provided on applications for voter registration.” Some election officials are not complying with this law and not verifying new voter registration information against other available databases such as Department of Motor Vehicles driver’s license records and Social Security Administration records. Only by implementing this requirement as a state law can legislators ensure that their state election officials will follow this common-sense requirement.
- Require individuals who register by mail to vote in person the first time they vote. Section 6 of the National Voter Registration Act allows states to implement such a requirement, although it cannot apply to any voter entitled to vote by absentee ballot or other than in person under the Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act or the Voting Accessibility of the Elderly and Handicapped Act.
- Require all individuals who register to vote by mail-in forms, whether mailed back to election officials or hand-delivered by the individual or third-party organizations, to comply with the applicable HAVA provision. HAVA requires persons who register to vote by mail who have not previously voted in a federal election to provide a copy of certain identification documents when they register or the first time they vote, but some states have interpreted this to apply only to voter registration forms received through the mail and not to such forms delivered through other means.
- Require that all third-party organizations that conduct voter registration drives put the name of their organization and the volunteer or employee handling each registration on the voter registration form and that all completed forms be returned to election officials within 10 days of the date the forms are executed by the voter. This will allow election officials to identify which organization and individual handled voter registration forms that are found to be incomplete or fraudulent and to ensure that completed registration forms are provided to election officials on a timely basis so that they can be properly processed before the state’s pre-election registration deadline.
- Require all state courts to notify election officials when individuals whose names are drawn from the registration rolls are excused from jury duty because they claim they are not U.S. citizens or no longer live in the jurisdiction. This will allow local election officials to remove ineligible voters and refer them for possible prosecution. Running data comparisons between voter registration addresses and property tax rolls is also recommended to detect individuals who are registering illegally at commercial addresses or vacant lots.
- Require that the state enter into agreements with other states, especially neighboring states, to compare voter registration lists to find voters who are registered in more than one state. Because there is no national voter registration list, it is relatively easy for individuals to register in more than one state without detection. Regional agreements would be a good start to detecting and deterring double registration and possible double voting.
Facts & Figures
- The Constitution reserves to the states the exclusive authority for most election decisions, including voter qualifications, except that Congress may alter “[t]he Times, Places and Manner of holding Elections” for Congress and may set the “Time” for choosing electors and the “Day” on which they cast their votes for president.
- The federal government and state governments have a shared responsibility to ensure the security and integrity of the election process.
- The evidence of voter fraud from specific cases shows what types of laws and regulations are most effective in preventing and deterring fraud.
- A 1984 New York grand jury report details extensive voter registration fraud and impersonation fraud at the polls carried out for 14 years in state and federal elections.
- A Chicago grand jury report described an extensive system of voter registration fraud and vote theft that resulted in 100,000 fraudulent votes being cast in the 1982 election.
- The U.S. Attorney estimated that at least 80,000 illegal aliens registered in Chicago were also voting. Many other states have had similar problems.
- The Milwaukee Police Department’s investigation of the 2004 election, which included comparison of the voter registration list with other records such as motor vehicle records, telephone directories, Assessor’s Office records, and U.S. Postal Service records, detailed numerous problems such as ineligible felons and nonresidents registering and voting, as well as voters registered at commercial addresses that were clearly not residences.
Selected Additional Resources
- Tracy Campbell, Deliver the Vote: A History of Election Fraud, an American Political Tradition—1742–2004 (New York: Carroll & Graf Publishers, 2005).
- M. Eric Eversole and Hans A. von Spakovsky, “A President’s Opportunity: Making Military Voters a Priority,” Heritage Foundation Legal Memorandum No. 71, July 19, 2011.
- John Fund, Stealing Elections: How Voter Fraud Threatens Our Democracy (San Francisco: Encounter Books, 2008).
- David B. Muhlhausen and Keri Weber Sikich, “New Analysis Shows Voter Identification Laws Do Not Reduce Turnout,” Heritage Foundation Center for Data Analysis Report No. 07-04, September 11, 2007.
- Hans A. von Spakovsky, “Voter Photo Identification: Protecting the Security of Elections,” Heritage Foundation Legal Memorandum No. 70, July 13, 2011.
- Hans A. von Spakovsky, “Democracy in Danger: What States Can Do to Safeguard America’s Election System,” Heritage Foundation Lecture No. 1129, August 11, 2009.
- Hans A. von Spakovsky, “Democracy in Danger: Case Studies of Election Fraud,” Heritage Foundation Special Report No. SR-24, October 27, 2008.
- Hans A. von Spakovsky and Alex Ingram, “Without Proof: The Unpersuasive Case Against Voter Identification,” Heritage Foundation Legal Memorandum No. 72, August 24, 2011.
Heritage Experts on Voter Integrity