Voter Impersonation


Voter impersonation (United States)

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Voter impersonation (also sometimes called in-person voter fraud)[1] is a form of electoral fraud in which a person who is eligible to vote in an election votes more than once, or a person who is not eligible to vote does so by voting under the name of an eligible voter.[1] In the United States, voter ID laws have been enacted in a number of states since 2010 with the aim of preventing voter impersonation.[2] Existing research and evidence shows that voter impersonation is extremely rare. In 1997 in Miami, 18 people were arrested for absentee ballot fraud (not voter impersonation) in the mayoral election.[3] Over a recent 14-year period, there were only 31 documented cases of voter impersonation.[4] There is no evidence that it has changed the result of any election.

According to a 2012 Pew Research Center (Pew) report, which Donald Trump has cited as proof of voter fraud,[5][6]millions of voter registration records were out of date as people were either deceased or had moved. In November 2016, the former Pew research director confirmed that even with the out-dated data, there was no evidence of voter fraud. On the contrary, inefficiencies in the electoral system resulted in 51 million American citizens being prevented from registering to vote,[7]:8 which disproportionately included many in the military who had been deployed overseas.[7]

Voter ID laws[edit]

Voter ID laws target “in-person” voting fraud to deter impersonation by requiring some form of official ID.[8] In many States voters have other options besides election day “in-person” voting, such as early voting, absentee voting or absentee ballot (which includes online voting, and mail-voting).[9] [10] Absentee voting fraud, for example, which is more common, is not “deterred by ID laws”.[8]

In a 2015 article by University of Virginia Law School‘s Michael Gilbert in the Columbia Law Review described how voter ID laws are controversial in the United States in terms of both politics and public law. Gilbert contends that voter ID laws “increase the risk of vote fraud”.[8] Those who support voter ID want to protect election integrity by preventing voter fraud.[8] Opponents claim that voter ID laws, “like poll taxes and literacy tests before them, intentionally depress turnout by lawful voters.”[8] Critics of voter ID laws have argued that voter impersonation is illogical from the perspective of the perpetrator, as if they are caught, they will face harsh criminal penalties, including up to 5 years in prison and a fine of up to $10,000 for citizens and possible deportation for non-citizens. Even if they are not caught, they will have cast only one vote for their candidate.[2]

It would be very difficult for someone to coordinate widespread voter impersonation to steal an election: If they paid people to vote for their preferred candidate, they could not confirm whether the people they paid voted at all, much less the way they were paid to.[8]

The strictest voter ID law in the United States is Senate Bill 14, which was signed by the Governor of Texas Rick Perry in 2011 and came into effect on January 1, 2012 but was blocked a few months later. It was reinstated in 2013 but was later found to be discriminatory against minorities in a July 2015 U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals ruling.[11]A lower court was required to develop a fix for the law before the November 2016 elections.[12] Jeff Sessionsdropped challenges against Senate Bill 14 early in his tenure at the Department of Justice.[13]

Estimates of frequency[edit]

The vast majority of voter ID laws in the United States target only at voter impersonation, of which there are only 31 documented cases in the United States from the 2000–2014 period.[4] According to PolitiFact, “in-person voter fraud—the kind targeted by the ID law—remains extremely rare”.[14] According to the Associated Press, the New York Times, NPRCNBCthe Guardian and FactCheck.Org the available research and evidence point to the type of fraud that would be prevented by voter ID laws as “very rare” or “extremely rare”.[15] PolitiFact finds the suggestion that “voter fraud is rampant” false, giving it its “Pants on Fire” rating.[14]

ABC News reported in 2012 that only four cases of voter impersonation had led to convictions in Texas over the previous decade.[2] A study released the same year by News21, an Arizona State University reporting project, identified a total of 10 cases of alleged voter impersonation in the United States since 2000.[16] The same study found that for every case of voter impersonation, there were 207 cases of other types of election fraud. This analysis has, in turn, been criticized by the executive director of the Republican National Lawyers Association, who has said that the study was “highly flawed in its very approach to the issue.”[17] Also a 2012 study found no evidence that voter impersonation (in the form of people voting under the auspices of a dead voter) occurred in the 2006 Georgia general elections.[18]

In April 2014, Federal District Court Judge Lynn Adelman ruled in Frank v. Walker that Wisconsin’s voter ID law was unconstitutional because “virtually no voter impersonation occurs in Wisconsin …”.[19] In August 2014, Justin Levitt, a professor at Loyola Law School, reported in the Washington Post’s Wonkblog that he had identified only 31 credible cases of voter impersonation since 2000.[20] Levitt has also claimed that of these 31 cases, three of them occurred in Texas, while Lorraine Minnite of Rutgers University–Camden estimates there were actually four during the 2000–2014 period.[1] The most serious incident identified involved as many as 24 people trying to vote under assumed names in Brooklyn, but even this would not have made a significant difference in almost any American election.[21] Also that year, a study in the Election Law Journal found that about the same percentage of the U.S. population (about 2.5%) admitted to having been abducted by aliens as admitted to committing voter impersonation. This study also concluded that “strict voter ID requirements address a problem that was certainly not common in the 2012 U.S. election.”[22] In 2016, News21 reviewed cases of possible voter impersonation in five states where politicians had expressed concerns about it. They found 38 successful fraud cases in these states from 2012 to 2016, none of which were for voter impersonation.[23]

Outdated voter registration[edit]

Based on 2008 data in the 2012 Pew report,[7]

We found millions of out of date registration records due to people moving or dying, but found no evidence that voter fraud resulted.

— November 2016 former PEW research director

In 2012 NPR published figures related to the Pew study claiming that over 1.8 million dead people were registered to vote nationwide and over 3 million voters were registered in multiple states.[24] However, the PEW study to which the article referred had concluded that the “millions of out of date registration records due to people moving or dying” had “found no evidence that voter fraud resulted.”[25]

Pew researchers found that military personnel were disproportionately affected by voter registration errors. Most often these involved members of the military and their families who were deployed overseas. For example, in 2008 alone, they reported almost “twice as many registration problems” as the general public.[7]:7

In an October 2016 article published in Business Insider, the author noted these voter registration irregularities left some people concerned that the electoral system was vulnerable to the impersonation of dead voters. However, registration irregularities do not intrinsically constitute fraud: in most cases the states are simply slow to eliminate ineligible voters. By 2016, most states had addressed concerns raised by the Pew 2012 report.[26]

Reporting and investigation[edit]

The New York Times reported that 18 of the 36 people arrested were charged with absentee ballot fraud – which is not voter impersonation – in the 1997 Miami mayoral election.[3]

According to Greg Cergol in his 2013 article published by NBC New York, in 2013, 270 of the 6,000 dead people previously registered to vote in Nassau County, NY in 2013, supposedly cast ballots. County officials blamed many of the invalid votes on clerical errors.[27]

Pew Report (2012)[edit]

The oft-cited 2012 Pew report entitled “Inaccurate, Costly, and Inefficient Evidence That America’s Voter Registration System Needs an Upgrade,” was based on data collected in 2008. The study investigated “outdated voter rolls, not fraudulent votes.” It did not make “mention of non-citizens voting or registering to vote”.[25]

Old Dominion University study (2014)[edit]

Proponents of voter ID laws have pointed to a 2014 study by Old Dominion University professors Jesse Richman and David Earnest as justification. The study, which used data developed by the Cooperative Congressional Election Study, concluded that more than 14 percent of self-identified non-citizens in 2008 and 2010 indicated that they were registered to vote, approximately 6.4% of surveyed non-citizens voted in 2008, and 2.2% of surveyed non-citizens voted in 2010.[28][29] However, the study also concluded that voter ID requirements would be ineffective at reducing non-citizen voting.[30] This study has been criticized by numerous academics.[31][32][33] A 2015 study by the managers of the Cooperative Congressional Election Study found that Richman and Earnest’s study was “almost certainly flawed” and that, in fact, it was most likely that 0% of non-citizens had voted in recent American elections.[32] Richman and Earnest’s findings were the result of measurement error; some individuals who answered the survey checked the wrong boxes in surveys. Richman and Earnest therefore extrapolated from a handful of wrongfully classified cases to achieve an exaggerated number of individuals who appeared to be non-citizen voters.[32] Richman later conceded that “the response error issues … may have biased our numbers”.[34] Richman has also rebuked President Trump for claiming that millions voted illegally in 2016.[34] Brian Schaffner, Professor of Political Science at University of Massachusetts, Amherst, who was part of the team that debunked Richman and Earnest’s study said that the study

… is not only wrong, it is irresponsible social science and should never have been published in the first place. There is no evidence that non-citizens have voted in recent U.S. elections … It is bad research, because it fails to understand basic facts about the data it uses. Indeed, it took me and my colleagues only a few hours to figure out why the authors’ findings were wrong and to produce the evidence needed to prove as much. The authors were essentially basing their claims on two pieces of data associated with the large survey—a question that asks people whether they are citizens and official vote records to which each respondent has been matched to determine whether he or she had voted. Both these pieces of information include some small amounts of measurement error, as is true of all survey questions. What the authors failed to consider is that measurement error was entirely responsible for their results. In fact, once my colleagues and I accounted for that error, we found that there were essentially zero non-citizens who voted in recent elections.

— Brian Schaffner, [33]

University of California, San Diego study (2017)[edit]

A 2017 study in the Journal of Politics “shows that strict identification laws have a differentially negative impact on the turnout of racial and ethnic minorities in primaries and general elections. Voter ID laws skew democracy in favor of whites and those on the political right”[35] The results of this study were challenged in a paper by Stanford political scientist Justin Grimmer and four other political scientists.[36] The paper says that the findings in the aforementioned study “a product of data inaccuracies, the presented evidence does not support the stated conclusion, and alternative model specifications produce highly variable results. When errors are corrected, one can recover positive, negative, or null estimates of the effect of voter ID laws on turnout, precluding firm conclusions.”[36] In a response, the authors of the original study dismissed the aforementioned criticisms, and stood by the findings of the original article.[37] Columbia University statistician and political scientist Andrew Gelman said that the response by the authors of the original study “did not seem convincing” and that the finding of racial discrepancies in the original study does not stand.[38]


In-person voter fraud (1968-1982)[edit]

Conservative lawyer Hans von Spakovsky has claimed that significant in-person voter fraud occurred in Brooklyn from 1968 to 1982, but Richard Hasen has argued that this fraud, because it involved election officials colluding with one another, could not have been prevented by a voter ID law.[39]

Voter fraud claims in the 2016 presidential election[edit]

President Donald Trump claimed without evidence that between 3 and 5 million people cost him the popular vote to Hillary Clinton by voting illegally. He argued that he narrowly lost to Hillary Clinton in 2016 in New Hampshire because thousands of people were illegally bused there from Massachusetts. Former Senator Kelly Ayotte also lost the election there, allegedly for the same reason.[40]

President Trump claimed that “millions voted illegally in the election” based on “studies and evidence that people have presented him.”[41] At that time, CNN reported that Trump had based his fraud voter claims on information from Gregg Phillips, VoteStand founder.[42][43] While members of Trump’s cabinet and family were registered to vote in multiple states, this was considered to be oversight, not fraud.[44] In response to President Trump’s allegations, On February 10, Ellen L. Weintraub, the Federal Election Commission (FEC) Commissioner, requested that Trump provide evidence of the “thousands of felony criminal offenses under New Hampshire law.”[45] In a CNN interview on February 12, Stephen Miller seemed to refer to the 2012 Pew Research Center (PEW) study[7] but was unable at that time to support claims of voter fraud as evidence.[46][40] There is no evidence to support Trump’s assertion that there was substantial voter fraud in the 2016 election.

Voter fraud commission (2017)[edit]

On May 11, 2017, President Trump signed an executive order to establish a voter fraud commission to conduct an investigation into voter fraud.[47] He had announced his intention to create the commission in January 25.[41] The commission’s chairman is Vice President Mike Pence with Kris Kobach as vice chairman.[47] Kobach, who is the Secretary of State of Kansas, calls for stronger voter ID laws in the United States.[48][49] Kobach claims there is a voter fraud crisis in the United States.[55]


  1. Jump up to:a b c Booker, Cory (18 August 2015). “Lightning strikes more common in Texas than in-person voter fraud, says Cory Booker”Politifact. Retrieved 2 March 2016Voter fraud is ‘the intentional corruption of the electoral process by voters. This covers knowingly and willingly giving false information to establish voter eligibility, and knowingly and willingly voting illegally or participating in a conspiracy to encourage illegal voting by others,’ according to Lorraine Minnite, a professor at Rutgers and author of the book The Myth of Voter Fraud.
  2. Jump up to:a b c Bingham, Amy (12 September 2012). “Voter Fraud: Non-Existent Problem or Election-Threatening Epidemic?”ABC News. Retrieved 9 December 2015.
  3. Jump up to:a b “18 are arrested in 1997 Miami Ballot Fraud”The New York Times. October 29, 1998. Retrieved January 18,2016.
  4. Jump up to:a b Bump, Philip (October 13, 2014). “The disconnect between voter ID laws and voter fraud”The Fix. The Washington Post. Retrieved July 26, 2016.
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  7. Jump up to:a b c d e Kate Kelly (February 2012). “Inaccurate, Costly, and Inefficient Evidence That America’s Voter Registration System Needs an Upgrade” (PDF). Washington: Pew Research Center. p. 12. Retrieved February 12, 2017Eligible citizens who remain unregistered: “The data indicate that at least 51 million citizens appear to be unregistered in the United States, or more than 24 percent of the eligible population. Conversely, Canada, which uses innovative technology and data-matching methods, has 93 percent of its eligible voters on the rolls.”p.8
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  14. Jump up to:a b “None”. Retrieved August 3, 2016.
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  45. ^ Ellen L. Weintraub (February 10, 2017). “Statement of Commissioner Ellen L. Weintraub Regarding Allegations by the President of the United States of Widespread Voter Fraud in New Hampshire” (PDF). Washington: Federal Election Commission (FEC). Archived from the original (PDF) on February 11, 2017. Retrieved February 12, 2017The scheme the President of the United States alleges would constitute thousands of felony criminal offenses under New Hampshire law. The President has issued an extraordinarily serious and specific charge. Allegations of this magnitude cannot be ignored. I therefore call upon President Trump to immediately share his evidence with the public and with the appropriate law-enforcement authorities so that his allegations may be investigated promptly and thoroughly.
  46. ^ Eli Watkins (February 10, 2017). “FEC commissioner asks Trump for voter fraud evidence”. Washington: CNN. Retrieved February 12, 2017thousands of people being bused from Massachusetts to vote illegally in New Hampshire, a state he narrowly lost to Hillary Clinton
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Mohandas Gandhi

“The weak can never forgive. Forgiveness is the attribute of the strong.”