States find little evidence of voter fraud in months after elections

States find little evidence of voter fraud in months after elections
© Getty Images

Four months after Election Day, Republican and Democratic administrators have uncovered only a handful of instances of improper or illegal voting despite President Trump’s unfounded allegations of millions of fraudulent ballots. 

Trump has claimed that 3 million to 5 million people voted illegally on Election Day, costing him the popular vote. But numbers from around the country suggest that a few hundred people at most broke voting rules.  

In some cases, legitimately registered voters cast multiple ballots, either by voting absentee and in person, or by voting more than once in different jurisdictions. In other cases, voters in states that require identification refused to show those documents. Fewer than a hundred noncitizens have been referred to law enforcement officials for alleged voting infractions.

In a letter to members of Congress, Michigan election officials identified 31 individuals who voted twice in November’s elections. Michigan Director of Elections Christopher Thomas told lawmakers that a criminal investigation is underway.

ADVERTISEMENT

Iowa Secretary of State Paul Pate’s (R) office said it was aware of just 10 improperly cast votes out of about 1.6 million cast. The Associated Press found that one of those votes was cast by a felon whose voting rights had been restored in Wisconsin but not Iowa, and another was cast by a noncitizen who turned herself in after she found she wasn’t eligible to vote.

In Cranston, R.I., police are investigating eight cases of illegal voting. Mayor Allen Fung (R) said last week that two of those cases were votes cast by noncitizens. Four others voted multiple times, and one case involved someone impersonating another registered voter. 

Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted (R) said last month that a review found 385 noncitizens were on the voter rolls in November. His office has referred 82 of those noncitizens to law enforcement officials after they cast ballots.

In a statement announcing the findings, Husted said “every case of illegal voting must be taken seriously and elections officials must have every resource available to them to respond accordingly.”  

Husted’s office said none of the 82 improper votes they found were cast in a jurisdiction where an election was decided by one vote or tied.

Every state elections division conducts canvasses of results in the weeks and months after an election. Other states have not reported any significant evidence of illegal or improper voting.

A few weeks after Election Day, Trump tweeted that he would have won the popular vote “if you deduct the millions of people who voted illegally.” He reportedly told lawmakers a few days after his inauguration that up to 5 million people cast illegal votes. And he has called on Vice President Pence to lead a commission looking into voter fraud, though no such commission has been announced. 

But election administration experts say investigations into voter fraud will likely lead to few prosecutions. In some instances, poorly maintained voter databases can lead to confusion over similar-sounding names. In other cases, noncitizens who obtain driver’s licenses might be offered the chance to register to vote by a clerk running through a standard script.

“What inevitably happens is that these very few numbers that we’re seeing get whittled down to an even smaller number,” said Michael McDonald, an elections expert at the University of Florida. 

Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach (R) – one of Trump’s main allies in his fight against voter fraud and a proponent of voter ID laws – said fraud remains pervasive, both by those who vote more than once and by noncitizens.

“I do think the problem is a persistent one, and early indications are we’re seeing just as much voter fraud as there was in 2014 and 2012,” Kobach said in an interview. “Evidence is already emerging of voter fraud in the 2016 election, but it does take time to collect the evidence and do the research." 

Kansas leads a consortium of 30 states that cross-reference voter rolls to maintain cleaner lists. Kobach said the consortium is working on a list of improper votes, research that should be finished within days or weeks. 

But, he said, more than 5 million Americans are registered to vote in more than one state — the vast majority of whom simply neglect to cancel their registration when they move from one state to another. Kobach said the National Voter Registration Act of 1993, also known as the Motor Voter Act, makes it easy to register in multiple states when someone obtains a new driver’s license.

“Sometimes people will be tempted to take that opportunity and vote twice,” Kobach said. “Double voting doesn’t seem to go down over time.”

Douglas Keith, a fellow at the Brennan Center for Justice, said academic research shows investigations initiated by law enforcement officials rarely lead to convictions. 

In 2012, about 2,600 suspected improper votes were investigated in Florida, leading to just one conviction. Two people were prosecuted for improper voting in Colorado, out of 3,900 investigated. A study of a decade of voting in California found just 28 complaints of improper voting. 

Keith said the penalties for those who would vote illegally are sufficient to dissuade people from committing the crime. He pointed to Rosa Maria Ortega, a permanent resident of the U.S. who voted illegally in Texas elections in 2012 and 2014. Ortega was sentenced in February to eight years in jail, and she is almost certain to be deported once her time is served.

“The penalties for a noncitizen voting are just enormous,” Keith said. “This is a deportable offense. And it counts against you if you ever wish to be naturalized. That’s just not a risk that we should expect people to be taking.”