Last June, in a move heavily criticised by civil rights groups, the US Supreme Court struck down some of the key elements of the 1965 Voting Rights Act that were designed to protect the poor and ethnic minority voters from being disenfranchised.
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Several Republican controlled states immediately (it took Texas a mere two hours) announced new regulations which, they claimed, are designed to address the “problem” of voter registration fraud.
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In practice, the North Carolina Board of Elections and Texas rule changes’ main effect will be the removal of substantial numbers of the poor and African-Americans from the electoral roll.
The recorded rate of voter registration fraud (aka in-person voter fraud) in the US is minuscule. Between 2000 and 2010 there have been 649m votes cast in general elections with only 13 cases of VRF (Voter Fraud Facts).
In Texas and North Carolina, which have caused the most outrage with their revised voter registration requirements, the statistics are in line with the national data.
- Texas – between 2000 and 2012 there were just 37 instances of confirmed voter registration fraud. As of March 2014 the state had 16.5m registered voters
- North Carolina – between 2000 and 2012 there were just 10 instances of confirmed voter registration fraud. As of March 2014 the state had 6.5m registered votersSources:Voter Fraud Facts, Texas Secretary of State (VoteTexas.gov), North Carolina Board of Elections
The extremely low incidence of VRF is perfectly logical given the remoteness of the benefits that accrue once a citizen has exercised their right to vote. Who would sensibly want to risk huge fine and the possibility of imprisonment simply to cast a (fraudulent) ballot? Voter fraud is a crime that makes far more sense for organised groups like the Koch brothers and Fox News who stand to lose political influence and income when the Republican party are out of power.
“VOTER FRAUD FACT: Opponents of the Democratic party like Fox News and opponents of Government in general like the Koch Brothers and are just some of the powerful groups behind the Voter Fraud Controversy in the United States. They stand to lose the most money and power if Republicans lose elections.
Organizations like Fox News & Koch Brothers backed groups like ALEC and the Heritage Foundation help to spread talking points and draft legislation to prevent low-incomes families, students, seniors and “minorities” from voting.”
Voter Fraud Facts
Despite the historically insignificant incidence of VRF both nationally and at state level, on 30 March, North Carolina’s elections board said it had found evidence of 35,000 instances of potential voter fraud and that they will be looking into each case to confirm whether a fraud has taken place. Republican’s have seen this as proof that their new stricter voter registration regulations are no (retrospectively) justified.
But, as ever with RNC claims, not all is at it seems.
“….Non-partisan election experts are already pouring cold water on the claims, noting that other recent allegations of major voting irregularities have fizzled upon closer scrutiny.
In a report released Wednesday, North Carolina’s elections board said it had found 35,570 people who voted in the state in 2012 and whose names and dates of birth match those of voters in other states. The board said it also found 765 North Carolinians who voted in 2012 and whose names, birthdates, and last four digits of their Social Security number match those of people in other states. The board said it’s looking into all these cases to determine whether people voted twice.
There’s a lot riding on what the board finds.
…The notion that the board found over 35,000 cases of voter fraud—or even one case—is flatly false. With the investigation not yet even underway, the board, headed by Kim Strach, hasn’t come close to concluding that any specific case involved double voting.* And there are very good reasons why it’s held off.
First, it helps to understand statistics. The political scientist Michael McDonald and election law scholar Justin Levitt have shown in a detailed statistical study that the number of people who share a name and birthdate is much higher than it might at first appear. (Just for fun, take the RNC’s Spicer. Though his name is less common than many, online records show 20 different Sean Spicers who were born on September 23rd, his birthday.) That statistical reality, McDonald and Levitt conclude, has big implications for how to treat potential cases of illegal voting.
“I would be very interested indeed in how many of the 35K alleged double voters are the results of mistakes or mistaken assumptions,” Levitt wrote Wednesday in an email to a group of election lawyers. “I’m going to bet on the vast majority evaporating upon closer scrutiny.”
But that still leaves those 765 cases—not as eye-popping a number as 35,000, but still significant—in which the last four digits of a voter’s Social Security number also matched that of someone who voted in another state. Statistically, the chances of a false positive are much, much smaller under this scenario.
Even here, though, there are plenty of explanations beyond deliberate fraud. Election experts point to the high frequency of data errors by poll-workers, a possibility that doubles, of course, when matching voters across two states.
Consider the recent experience of North Carolina’s southern neighbor. Last year, South Carolina’s DMV used Social Security matches to help find more than 900 people listed as dead who had voted in recent years, setting off a spate of hand-wringing about fraud. Attorney General Alan Wilson, a Republican, used the findings to argue for the state’s strict voter ID law—which was later softened after the Justice Department objected. But state law enforcement ultimately found not a single person who deliberately cast a ballot in the name of a dead person.
Nearly half the cases were the result of clerical errors by poll-workers. Others were attributed to DMV officials finding that Social Security numbers matched but not making sure that names did, among several problems. (About 45,370 people have been assigned by the Social Security Administration to each four-digit combination of numbers.)
In Iowa, Ohio, and Florida, attention-generating charges of voter fraud or non-citizen voting also have failed to live up to the hype once investigations were conducted.
“I am banking on poll-worker error for data entry on who voted for many of those,” Levitt told msnbc. “It may be that there are a handful that are actually double votes.” He estimated that number in the single digits.
…In Florida and Virginia lately, scores of legitimate voters have been wrongly purged [from electoral rolls], after election officials used a flawed system that generated the same kind of false positives that may be in evidence in North Carolina. That’s why voting rights advocates fear that, with many efforts to remove voters from the rolls, the medicine can be worse than the cure.
In North Carolina, that will depend on just how many of the cases the board found ultimately hold up. And on that score, Levitt isn’t the only election expert who’s expressing skepticism.
“There’s no guarantee that the North Carolina story will follow the multi-step pattern of: 1) big initial number; 2) partisan outrage; 3) further investigation; 4) much smaller actual number; 5) partisan indifference,” Doug Chapin, who as the director of the Program for Excellence in Election Administration at the University of Minnesota, is among the country’s foremost experts on running elections, wrote online. “But in my experience, that’s the way to bet.”
Even if all 36,000 suspected cases of fraud are confirmed, North Carolina has 6.5m registered voters so that would still only equate to 0.55% fraudulent ballots (assuming that all registered voters cast a ballot and all fraudulent votes were cast in that single election). Again the quantum is statistically meaningless although it is possible that in some hypothetical scenarios the fraudulent ballots could have altered an election outcome – although that is extremely unlikely, without more details we cannot be certain. What we do know is North Carolina introduced the new rules before this allegation of mass voter fraud was made and this data was not a driver of the rush for change.
The fact is that the new rules covering voter registration in North Carolina and in Texas have been designed specifically to deny the vote to the poor and to ethnic minorities because both of these groups are broadly considered to vote for the Democratic party. This is the only plausible explanation for the introduction of the new voter registration regimes given the insignificance of the ‘problem.’
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