How Voter Fraud Claims Led to Criminalizing Voters
When a candidate drew 9,000 ballots to pull an unexpected, last-minute lead, poll workers became suspicious (NPR). A brief investigation found that the voting irregularities resulted from virtual ballot stuffing in favor of a blond-eared hopeful named Holly, also known as Bear 435. The scandal almost upended Fat Bear Week, an annual March Madness-style competition where voters choose their favorite brown bear in Alaska’s Katmai National Park as they prepare for hibernation. In the end, the rightful champion was crowned with no aggrieved parties. Though it’s undeniably fitting that the Fat Bear Week Scandal would occur as claims of rampant election and voter fraud cloud the upcoming midterm elections.
Voter fraud occurs when a person knowingly casts a ballot when they are ineligible to vote or cast multiple ballots within the same election (The Brennan Center). Conspiracies of voter fraud purported by former President Trump and his supporters have overrun social media, the news, and political spaces since the 2020 election. They were also the catalyst for the Jan. 6 insurrection. The “Stop the Steal” campaign and continual fraudulent voting claims have created doubt in the electoral system and radicalized groups of “election watchers” trained to protect the integrity of elections (Reuters).
• Support the legal defense and/or bail fund of Floridians jailed for voting. Sign this petition to stop the arrests of formerly incarcerated people in Florida for voting errors.
Despite its alleged prevalence, no government or law enforcement database tracks voter fraud (Project Vote). Many reported incidences are either baseless claims from election losers or voter and administrative errors. That isn’t to say that voter fraud is nonexistent. It does occur but is rare.
Claims that noncitizens, dead voters, and even dogs are voting fall flat or are marginal to these inflated allegations to even constitute such a panic (Brennan Center).
In the six states —Arizona, Georgia, Michigan, Nevada, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin— where Trump or his allies challenged the election outcome, the Associated Press found approximately 473 votes flagged as suspicious or potentially fraudulent (AP News). Their report noted that not all the potentially fraudulent votes were for Biden or even counted. The number of disputed votes wasn’t enough to swing the election.
Still, the narrative that the integrity of the electoral process is at threat from widespread voter fraud persists, resulting in voter suppression disguised as policies to secure elections. Measures like voter ID laws, polling location closures, voter registration restrictions, and voter purges create barriers to voting for people of color, trans people, the elderly, and people with disabilities. They also make it easier for people to be penalized or arrested for mistakes.
Following a new Texas voting law, more than 50% of Asian and Latine voters were each more likely to have a ballot rejected due to an issue with the new requirements (Texas Tribune). Twelve percent of absentee and mail-in ballots were rejected in the March 2022 primary, compared to 1% in the 2020 presidential election before the law’s introduction.
Currently, 35 states have voter ID laws, with the strictest requiring a government-issued photo ID with no exceptions (The Hill). This poses a hurdle for 43% of trans voters who lack identity documents with their correct name or gender (Williams Institute). Of these voters, Black, Indigenous, or people of color, young adults, students, people with low incomes, the unhoused, and disabled people are overrepresented.
“Fraud allegations today typically point the finger at those belonging to the same categories of voters accused of fraud in the past – the marginalized and formerly disenfranchised, urban dwellers, immigrants, blacks, and lower status voters. These populations are mostly found among those still struggling for full inclusion in American life” (Project Vote).
On Aug. 18, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis announced 20 arrests for voter fraud in Florida, saying those arrested were “going to pay the price.” The problem: they were unaware that their previous convictions disqualified them from voting. “Why would you let me vote if I wasn’t able to vote?” Tony Patterson asks the arresting officers in released bodycam videos. Patterson and the other formerly incarcerated arrestees face up to five years in prison for illegally registering and voting in the 2020 elections (Tampa Bay Times).
The Voting Restoration Amendment, passed in 2018, restored voting rights for Floridians with felony convictions upon completion of their sentence, including parole or probation. Those convicted of murder or a felony sexual offense were excluded, but they could appeal. These specifics and outdated voter registration forms caused confusion around eligibility. And despite a law requiring the state to identify possible ineligible registered voters monthly and notify them, none of those arrested were told of their ineligibility. They were, however, sent their voter registration card. In one case, the county elections office initially sent out a voter registration form (Politico).
On the same day of the arrests and DeSantis’ crackdown statement, the then-head of the Office of Election Crimes and Security wrote to the elections supervisor that those arrested voted illegally “through no fault of your own” (CNN). Despite this, those arrested are still facing election fraud charges. The Florida Rights Restoration Coalition is working with those arrested — majority of whom are Black, unable to pay bail and forced to accept plea deals, and fear losing their job during this process — to get legal representation and has started a legal defense fund.
Hysteria over the risk of voter fraud undermines the integrity of elections more than its actual occurrence. It’s an intimidation tactic that has existed for almost two centuries (Project Vote). It’s used by election losers and legislators in fear of losing power to restrict and shape the electorate. By breeding mistrust in electoral races that often have many voters from marginalized communities, they justify disenfranchising and criminalizing voters—this is a greater threat to the electoral system and democracy.
• Voter fraud is less prevalent than alleged.
• Election losers often use claims of widespread fraudulent voting to create doubt in the electoral system.
• Instead of protecting the electoral system, policies like voter ID laws create barriers to access for voters.