Bruce Murphy
Murphy’s Law

Why Voter Fraud Is So Rare

What the experts know that the scaremongers are deliberately ignoring.

By - Sep 6th, 2012 11:09 am
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Kevin Kennedy has been the state’s chief election official since 1983. In 29 years he’s seen little voter fraud. “Have we had significant issues with this? The answer is no,” says Kennedy, executive director of the Government Accountability Board.

The board oversees 72 county clerks and 1,851 municipal clerks, who directly run elections. Have they encountered big problems with fraud? Nope, says Kennedy. “They feel it is their job to prevent or detect fraud. I think to a certain degree they are insulted when people say we have rampant fraud.”

Reince Priebus, head of the national Republican Party Committee has charged that Wisconsin’s election system was “absolutely riddled with voter fraud.” He offered no evidence of this assertion, but has argued along with other Republicans that photo ID is the solution.

Kennedy says the board has found about 20 instances of voter fraud in any statewide election dating back to 2000 (and this is out of nearly 6 million votes cast in presidential elections alone), mostly felons ineligible to vote because they haven’t completed probation or parole. Usually, Kennedy says, it’s a mistake by a felon who doesn’t understand the law.

There are also occasional examples of double voting. “It’s usually people with a second residence who insist they have the right to vote in both places,” Kennedy notes.  Since the state has created one unified, state-wide voter list in 2006, officials can immediately check post-election and nab any violator. But that rarely occurs, Kennedy says.

Photo ID, in any event, won’t prevent voting by ineligible felons and may have little impact on double voting. Republicans have instead argued that photo ID is needed to prevent voter impersonation — someone voting under another person’s name. Kennedy says the state rarely encounters such a case. It mostly occurs when a poll worker mistakenly checks the wrong person’s name on the poll list. But the state’s newest requirement — all voters must sign their name — makes this mistake much less likely, Kennedy notes.

For Kennedy, the greatest prevention against any voter fraud is the severe penalties under the law: a fine of up to $10,000 or imprisonment of up to 3 years and 6 months, or both. If it’s a federal election the penalty goes up to five years in prison.

That’s heavy punishment and what does the voter gain? “People will cheat if there’s a payoff,” Kennedy notes, “but for one vote?”

The cheater, moreover, would have to know the person he was impersonating hadn’t already voted that day. He would have to be sure a poll worker didn’t know who he was, or what the person he is impersonating looks like.  Add in the time it takes to to falsify a utility bill or other documents to create a fake identity; that’s a lot of effort for one lousy vote.

Republicans like Preibus have emphasized the potential for voter fraud in presidential elections. But Wisconsin has had some of the nation’s closest elections and the margin was still nearly 6,000 votes in 2000 and 11,000 in 2004. It would require a huge conspiracy — thousands of people to cast so many fake votes. And how would the conspirators know how many extra votes they would need? And how would a conspiracy this vast be kept secret? If you’re going to put in all that effort, why not just work on getting out the vote, and avoid five years in jail?

The idea of a widespread fraud has been shot down repeatedly. A joint investigation in 2004 by then U.S. Attorney Stephen Biskupic (appointed by a Republican president) and then District Attorney E. Michael McCann (a Democrat) found some isolated instances of illegal votes (mostly ineligible felons) and no evidence of a “conspiracy” to commit voter fraud. A  2008 investigation in Milwaukee County by District Attorney John Chisholm (Democrat), and Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen (Republican), resulted in 20 prosecutions, again mostly ineligible felons.

Between 2002 and 2005, the U.S. Justice Department made the prosecution of voter fraud a top priority. Out of the hundreds of millions of votes cast nationally during that period, the department charged only 38 cases, only one of which involved impersonating another voter.

The Brennan Center did an exhaustive study of voter fraud and concluded “it is both irrational and extremely rare…Americans are struck and killed by lightning about as often.” Examining elections in 2004, it found that voter fraud happened 0.0009% of the time in Washington State and 0.00004% in Ohio.  The Center also studied 250 cases of alleged voter fraud presented before the Indiana Supreme Court and found not one proven case of a fraudulent vote that photo ID could prevent.

Last month the results of a Carnegie-Knight-funded investigative reporting project by News21 were announced. Its nationwide analysis of 2,068 cases of alleged election fraud over the past dozen years found just 10 cases of alleged in-person voter impersonation since 2000. With 146 million registered voters in the U.S., that amounts to one for every 15 million prospective voters.

The investigation also examined the list of about 375 alleged election fraud cases compiled by the Republican National Lawyers Association. It found just 33 cases resulted in convictions or guilty pleas — and not one case of voter impersonation fraud.

Kennedy believes the statute’s heavy penalties make voter fraud unlikely. But he says photo ID will help further assure the public the system has integrity.

But at what price? In Pennsylvania, which passed a photo ID law, the state Transportation Department has estimated that 9 percent of registered voters, or 758,000 people, lack a photo ID. Many of those are minority voters living in urban areas like Milwaukee. How many hundreds of thousands of those voters will be denied a chance to vote in the hope of someday, maybe, nabbing a case of voter impersonation?

Short Take 

Ben Poston did yet another Milwaukee Journal Sentinel story using cherry-picked quotes in an attempt to convince readers, once again, that the Fire & Police Commission should not hire the PRI Management Group to audit the Milwaukee Police Department.

I have previously pointed out how badly slanted Poston’s story was. Poston, undaunted, has now managed to find two more aldermen to agree with him that the firm should not be hired. He’s now up to four. But just one, Ald. Jim Bohl, sits on the Public Safety Committee that oversees this issue. What do the other committee members think?

As I’ve previously written, Ald. Terry Witkowski, vice-chair of the committee, called it “ludicrous” that the firm would do a biased report and said he had no problem with the hiring. So naturally Poston didn’t provide readers with Witkowski’s opinion.

Ald. Bob Bauman, another member of that committee, emailed me to say he did not oppose the hiring of PRI Management Group, but added that “it would not matter if I did since the F&P Commission is not accountable to the council. The council has very little to do with day to day police (and fire) department operations due to provisions of state law.”

Nope, Bauman wasn’t quoted by Poston, either. The newspaper of record has become a broken record, playing only the sounds of those who agree with its position.

23 thoughts on “Murphy’s Law: Why Voter Fraud Is So Rare”

  1. PaulS says:

    Let’s spend more time on elections fraud–where the clerks, through incompetence or zealous partisanship, truly harm the confidence in the elections process and shift elections.

    The voter fraud non-issue is a red herring from those who do not want GAB to properly oversee the clerks who fail their duties to democracy, but too often manage to keep their jobs.

  2. Fraud in Milwaukee cty has been prevalent for years. Here is what happens. People are registered by ACORN from out of town by these groups at places like the 37 at Lena Taylor’s house, then vote early or absentee.
    Happens in Dane cty. and Milwaukee cty.
    People vote dead people.

  3. Bruce Murphy says:

    To Bob at Wis Conservative Digest: It is not illegal to vote early or absentee, if you comply with rules for this. If they are voting twice, they would immediately be nabbed post-election by state authorities who check this. As to voting as a dead person, none of the studies done in this state (including by the state Legislative Audit Bureau, which found few examples of voter fraud state-wide) have found any evidence of this. May I suggest you come forward with such evidence if you have it?

    I might add that years ago, you opposed photo ID because in your work as a pharmacist you had encountered many senior citizens who lacked a driver’s license and you feared their votes would be lost. I worry about that, too. Why did you change your mind?

  4. Jim says:

    I think the voter ID laws will result in the disenfranchisement of many, mostly poor, eligible voters. To state otherwise, even if you beleive photo ID will prevent fraud is disingenuous.
    I read recently that a state (Maine or NH) has a voter ID law but will allow a person to vote without one if they A. Have the their photo taken at the polling booth. and B. Sign an affidavit attesting they are eligible with criminal repricussions if they lied.
    This appears to me that it resolves the concerns about potential fraud and does not place an undue burden on those who are practicing their rights.
    Perhaps I am mistaken and some of your enlightened commentators will educate me on why our restrictive law is better.

  5. In the recent election, in Racine, MacIver institute showed how, of the 4500 people that registered at the polls, 450 of the cards mailed to them after the election came back, so far, as nonexistent.
    Check with Brett Healy.
    I changed my mind about Voter ID after I looked at all the statistics about who and how many people did not have ID’s. it was not shown to be significant.
    Finally the reason I was initially opposed to Voter ID was because I thought that it would hurt the GOP by lowering turnout. When I saw evidence from states that have voter ID that it did not do that I changed my mind. Google voter ID.
    Fifty years ago it was the liberals that did not turn out well if the weather was lousy etc. Now they turnout in strength no matter what cause so many are on the government dole, close to 50% vs 19% then.

  6. Bruce Murphy says:

    Good grief, Bob (at WI Cons Digest), so you changed your mind because photo ID won’t lower turnout for Republicans, it will only lower turnout for Democrats? That confirms the view that this policy is intended to depress turnout by Democrats. As to post cards coming back, that may simply mean someone moved. Did the MacIver Institute share this finding with Government
    Accountability Board or Racine election officials?

  7. The postcards were sent out immediately after the election to check on the on site registrations indicating that they were phoney.
    I have told you many times that I was opposed to voter id cause it might reduce GOP turnout as the Liberals always turnout now cause they are on the dole.
    When it was shown to me in the state that do have Voter ID that it did not affect turnout I changed.

  8. D says:

    Photo ID’s are expected everywhere else in our society and should be required to vote. It’s common sense. The only reason for opposition is that Democrats are the beneficiaries of vote fraud. Don’t tell me we don’t have felons and illegal immigrants voting in our elections. Voter fraud is difficult to catch and of course it is going on in this country.

    Many states have free photo IDs available. Everywhere else they are cheap ($25 and under) and probably have discounts for senior citizens. What is the excuse here, Democrats? Just another example of the left wing treating American citizens like children instead of adults. Tired of common sense being overturned by lazy, cheap, and stupid people that refuse to live like the rest of us normal Americans.

  9. Spock says:

    Why is voter fraud so rare? It isn’t. It’s just very rare to actually find and prosecute. There is no way of knowing that people are voting fraudulently unless you have the ability to identify the person voting is actually the legal voter. In other words, we are investigating voter fraud with a blindfold on.

  10. Bob T says:

    Bruce,
    While I agree that it is doubtful that voter fraud plays much of a role in a national or even a statewide election, at least not in a “big and organized” way, (because sooner or later, someone would spill the beans) I think that there have been more than a few examples of what is at least very odd things at the local level.

    I remember in the election around 2000, when Ald. Jim Witkowiak lost his seat to a political newcomer (I forget his name, but he was only there for 1 term) there were a lot of questions about some of the voting in that election. If I remember correctly, Witkowiak took his case to the DA, he had personally found hundreds of registrations that went back to vacant lots, churches or whatever, just not to anyone’s house! From what I heard, Witkowiak could have pressed his case farther but figured it just wasn’t worth the bother and dropped the matter. Now, why in the world would an honest person register themselves to an empty lot address? It makes no sense and the ONLY explanation I can think of was that someone was voting more than once. In an election where the margin will often be only a few hundred votes, voter fraud could certainly work! I also heard many of the same concerns in this year’s election where Van Wangaard lost his seat in a close one down in Racine.

    I just do not get why anyone would oppose voter ID, especially when the state now gives out ID’s for free! You really can’t do anything in this world without an id these days. Yet, we still are allowing people to vote without them.

  11. PaulS says:

    I am always fascinated by this topic and how it reveals some deep flaws in our national ethos regarding the notion of rights.

    As for IDs, we would do well to remember what a ‘right’ is. A right is not the gift or the blessing of government. It isn’t ours as a result of commerce or exchange. It isn’t ours in virtue of our social, economic, or religious status. A right is ‘inalienable,’ it is constitutive to our very being–as a human and, in the case of voting, as citizens of this nation. We give the state very, very small and limited authority to limit this right–the instance of felons is one.

    The Bill of Rights was not written to let the state *give* us rights, but to protect our inalienable rights *from* the state–and to protect the least citizen of the republic from anyone who would hope to hobble them.

    What stuns me is that so many Americans today cannot see past partisan memes to see this issue as one right guaranteed by the Bill of Rights. No patriot could wisely *invite* the state to give its *permission* for a voter by means of a state issued ID when the vote is the most powerful means the individual citizen has to control and craft that state.

    Voting is not like getting a prescription or cashing a check or buying beer–these are completely false analogies. Voting is inalienable–literally co-extensive with our existence as US citizens.

    You hand control of the exclusion of this right over to the state–Republican OR Democrat–at grave peril of the very republic, certainly never on the basis of tattered, anecdotal pseudo-evidence.

  12. Frank says:

    Since roughly only around 70,000 people out of a population of 700,000 voted for the winning candidate in our last mayoral election shows that fraud isn’t the main problem with our electoral system. (Not to say that fraud isn’t the problem) I guess fraud can come in many forms.

  13. About 10 years ago the GOP identified over 5,000 registrations at nonexistent houses, dead people etc and gave them to the Election commission in Milwaukee county. They did nothing.
    These are people that can be voted. why doesn’t the state require voter lists to be purged every year or so by sending out postcards?

  14. Bill Kissinger says:

    Bruce,
    As always, your reporting on this issue is meticulous and logical. You bring facts to the discussion and go directly to the sources that are best equipped to put those facts in context.

    Yet, it seems ludicrous to apply such good reporting to such a bogus and disingenuous matter. This is clearly a manufactured issue- a thin layer of specious argument over a clearly sinister attempt to keep certain groups of voters from excercising their franchise. The real fraud is the national effort to impose voter ID requirements to address a non-issue.
    No amount of rational argument will convince Republican-controlled legislatures to play fair once thay have decided that cheating is the easiest way to win and plunder.

  15. Bob T says:

    As far as Paul S’s point goes, my right to vote is also basically taken away when vote fraud does occur. I also find it interesting that none of the opponents of voter ID ever addresses the elections that do have big questions, like why were there hundreds and hundreds of votes from empty lots and other non-residence addresses in the Witkowiak election I mentioned? What possible non-fraud reason could there be for that?

  16. PaulS says:

    Bob T–no, even if your neighbor votes for his deceased wife, your right to vote is entirely intact. Your neighbor has committed a crime; your right is safe.

    As best as I can tell, your information about Mr. Witkowiak is merely an allegation, not evidence of a crime. If Mr. Witkowiak has evidence of a crime, his responsibility (and it’s his, not yours) is to provide that evidence to law enforcement/GAB/other relevant officials. An allegation of criminal activity is just that–it does not become a fact until it is investigated and proven beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law.

    Mr. Witkowiak, apparently, does not think he has such evidence else he would have taken it to either GAB or the US Attorney’s office. He certainly has the means to pressure Mr. Chisholm’s office privately or publicly–bearing in mind Mr. Chisholm’s responsibility is not to investigate crimes. It doesn’t appear that Mr. Witkowiak has done that.

    A “big question” is not evidence. It isn’t even a statement of fact. And this particular “Big Question” repeatedly has turned out to be just innuendo, gossip, and fear-mongering–so it devolves into a Big Rhetorical Question, not really a question at all, just a chant of “Rampant voter fraud, rampant voter fraud.” All noise and almost no substance.

    Again, allegations of criminal activity (for which there are very strong penalties in the case of voter fraud) are simply not sufficient to support a call to have the state control voter access. It’s extraordinary to me that the ‘government is the problem, not the solution’ crowd only and ever applies that meme to the other guy’s issues, never to their own.

  17. roz says:

    i like this guy paul. he makes sense to me and touches on why i vote. it is my right, it is my civic duty and although just one vote, i believe i count. when we talk about voter fraud how about talking about florida and the bad bad chips, or dips or flaps of paper whatever gave bush the lead there. that’s voting fraud.

  18. Garrick Jannene says:

    The steps to problem solving:

    1. Identify problem
    2. Formulate solution
    3. Enact solution

    Republicans have done 2 and 3 without even really confirming 1. If voter fraud is really a problem, PROVE IT. Not one single voter ID supporter has been able to do this yet, so I’m left to think that voter ID laws are nothing more than a modern day poll tax and the latest form of voter suppression.

  19. Stacy Moss says:

    I have been very concerned about voter fraud myself, the bedrock of democracy.

    So I committed voter fraud in the last Presidential election. It’s not that hard, but you have prepare in advance.
    Start with the obits. There are only a few days after someone dies that you can intercept some of their mail, a utility
    bill will do. But you got to be lucky, because a lot of people die in old folks home.

    Untimely deaths are best, heart attacks and auto accidents. You go their house at about 11:00 am or so. But I only could do one or two houses a day. The worse thing was that most mail doesn’t sit in box outside the house. So I used Google earth to see if I could determine in advance if there was an external mail box. That helped by didn’t completely solve the problem (some neighborhoods in Milwaukee have very blurry photographs). I avoided fenced in houses with dogs, which are quite prevalent in places.

    In six months I went to 123 homes. On the first trips I got 4 utility bills. But really good prospects (people who die alone without family) you could go back for few days. On my second and third trips I got 3 more voter identities.

    That’s 7. But I didn’t figure on the problem that you can’t vote twice at the same place. That knocked out 2. (I didn’t want to do disguises).

    I was no big deal. I rented a car with a GPS system to get around to all voting places. (Now I have an iphone which will do the trick). You may remember is was pretty nice day. There was no snow or raid to get in the way. I was able to “vote” five times. Two times for Obama and two times for McCain, and the other I wrote in one of the dead guys. I took a sick day at work. I started early to avoid the line at 9 am and was done by 12 noon.

  20. You do not have to do all that stuff, just go to the polls and tell them what the name of the dead person is and hope that no one notices. vote.

  21. Jesse Hagen says:

    So, wouldn’t the obvious solution be purging voter rolls from death certificates? Assuming that’s not already happening…

    Wait, unless you really didn’t care about stopping voter fraud after?!

  22. Stacy Moss says:

    Hi Wis con.

    Interesting you mention that. I wish is was that easy!!!!!!!!!!! You should try it sometime. Like a lot things in life it is harder than you think.

    I had some friends try that and they ran into two problems.

    First, you got to coordinate so a dead person doesn’t vote twice at the same place. Actually, you would be surprised how few people die in some voting districts.

    The other problem, which I forgot to mention, is that the people at the polling places more often than not have been doing this for years and they get to know the people who have been voting for years. So you have make sure to get the identity of someone who has not voted a lot.

    I had to qualify my prospects by getting a voter list from a friend of mine who worked in the McCain campaign. Old people vote a lot, so what I did is look for people who, according to their obit, did not grow up in Milwaukee, who may have moved here less that twenty years ago.

    This year I and a bunch of my friends have been working on refining our voting fraud quest. Really the only fool proof way is to impersonate relatively young people. Now they don’t die so fast, so we have been thinking the best way to do voter fraud is to find young people who no one will notice they are missing.

  23. Bill Sweeney says:

    People who are genuinely concerned about Voter ID may profit from reading the actual decision by Judge Flanagan. He provides a reasoned analysis of the evidence and arguments presented during the court proceedings, and then justifies his decision to grant an injunction. Judge Flanagan emphasizes that the right to vote is enshrined in the Wisconsin Constitution as a fundamental right that cannot be tampered with lightly. The interesting thing about the Voter ID issue is that it resonates on so many different levels. There are people who are really concerned that there might be voter fraud taking place despite the facts that Mr Murphy and others cite that there is no evidence for such fears. It is akin to the fear that keeps some people awake at night, described by H L Mencken as the worry that there might be someone somewhere who is getting something for nothing. I also believe that powerful interests like ALEC and Republican leaders are exploiting this fear to suppress what would be democratic votes in the upcoming election. A perhaps greater concern is how rational, evidence based arguments cannot lay these fears to rest. Is it too much to compare this to how we went to war in Iraq based on the issue of weapons of mass destruction even though there was no concrete evidence for their existence, or to the issue of climate change where people still deny it even though there is overwhelming evidence to support it? On another note, I wonder if people who are in support of Voter ID would support having a national ID card for everyone, or perhaps having a computer chip implanted in everyone which would establish individual identity? Presumably, this would take care of voter fraud, but at what price? Or what about an experiment where no one would be denied the right to vote because of an ID issue, but the election officials would ask the voter to show a picture ID. If a person did not have an ID, they would then be referred to some agency or group who would assist them in obtaining one. This experiment would serve the purpose of gathering evidence so a plan could be implemented to enhance voter integrity. Both sides win. Lastly, I want to point to an issue that makes the whole voter ID one pale in comparison. Listen to this. I have gone to both Summerfest and Irishfest and simply told the person in the booth that I was a senior citizen, age 62 or over, in order to pay a reduced price for the ticket. Do you think I was once asked to show an ID to prove that I was 62 or over? Not once. Even after I begged. Think how many millions of dollars that these organizations are losing by young whippersnappers (probably like Stacy) pretending to claim a privilege for which they are not entitled. Now that is something that is truly shocking!

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