Category Archives: Voter fraud

Let’s not forget the voters

Recently my colleague and co-blogger, Charles Stewart, wrote a very interesting post, “Voters Think about Voting Machines.” His piece reminds me of something a point that Charles and I have been making for a long time — that election officials should focus attention on the opinions of voters in their jurisdictions. After all, those voters are one of the primary customers for the administrative services that election officials provide.

Of course, there are lots of ways that election officials can get feedback about the quality of their administrative services, ranging from keeping data on interactions with voters to doing voter satisfaction and confidence surveys.

But as election officials throughout the nation think about upcoming technological and administrative changes to the services they provide voters, they might consider conducting proactive research, to determine in advance of administrative or technological change what voters think about their current service, to understand what changes voters might want, and to see what might be causing their voters to desire changes in administrative services or voting technologies.

This is the sort of question that drove Ines Levin, Yimeng Li, and I to look at what might drive voter opinions about the deployment of new voting technologies in our recent paper, “Fraud, convenience, and e-voting: How voting experience shapes opinions about voting technology.” This paper was recently published in American Politics Research, and we use survey experiments to try to determine what factors seem to drive voters to prefer certain types of voting technologies over others. (For readers who cannot access the published version at APR, here is a pre-publication version at the Caltech/MIT Voting Technology Project’s website.)

Here’s the abstract, summarizing the paper:

In this article, we study previous experiences with voting technologies, support for e-voting, and perceptions of voter fraud, using data from the 2015 Cooperative Congressional Election Study. We find that voters prefer systems they have used in the past, and that priming voters with voting fraud considerations causes them to support lower-tech alternatives to touch-screen voting machines — particularly among voters with previous experience using e-voting technologies to cast their votes. Our results suggest that as policy makers consider the adoption of new voting systems in their states and counties, they would be well-served to pay close attention to how the case for new voting technology is framed.

This type of research is quite valuable for election officials and policy makers, as we argue in the paper. How administrative or technological change is framed to voters — who are the primary consumers of these services and technologies — can really help to facilitate the transition to new policies, procedures, and technologies.

Report on “Voter Fraud” Rife With Inaccuracies

I look forward to a more detailed analysis by voter registration and database match experts of the GAI report that will be presented to the Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity , but even a cursory reading reveals a number of serious misunderstandings and confusions that call into question that authors’ understanding of some of the most basic facts about voter registration, voting, and elections administration in the United States.

Fair warning: I grade student papers as part of my job, and one of the comments I make most often is “be precise”. Categories and definitions are fundamentally important, especially in a highly politicized environment like that current surrounding American elections.

The GAI report is far from precise; it’s not a stretch to say at many points that it’s sloppy and misinformed. I worry that it’s purposefully misleading. Perhaps I overstate the importance of some of the mistakes below. I leave that for the reader to judge.

  • The report uses an overly broad and inaccurate definition of vote fraud.

American voter lists are designed to tolerate invalid voter registration records, which do not equate to invalid votes, because to do otherwise would lead to eligible voters being prevented from casting legal votes.

But the report follows a very common and misleading attempt to conflate errors in the voter rolls with “voter fraud”. Read their “definition”:

Voter fraud is defined as illegal interference with the process of an election. It can take many forms, including voter impersonation, vote buying, noncitizen voting, dead voters, felon voting, fraudulent addresses, registration fraud, elections officials fraud, and duplicate voting.8

Where did this definition come from? As the source of the definition, they cite the Brennan Center report “The Truth About Voter Fraud” (https://www.brennancenter.org/sites/default/files/legacy/The%20Truth%20About%20Voter%20Fraud.pdf). 

However, the Brennan Center authors are very careful to define voter fraud. From Pg. 4 of their report in a way that directly warns against an overly broad and imprecise definition:

Voter fraud” is fraud by voters. More precisely, “voter fraud” occurs when individuals cast ballots despite knowing that they are ineligible to vote, in an attempt to defraud the election system.1

This sounds straightforward. And yet, voter fraud is often conflated, intentionally or unintentionally, with other forms of election misconduct or irregularities.

To be fair to the authors, they do not conflate in their analysis situations such as being registered in two places at once with “voter fraud”, but the definition is sloppy, isn’t supported by the report they cite, and reinforces a highly misleading claim that voter registration errors are analogous to voter fraud.

David Becker can describe ad nauseam how damaging this misinterpretation has been.

  • The report makes unsubstantiated claims about the efficacy of Voter ID in preventing voter fraud.

Regardless of how you feel about voter ID, if you are going to claim that voter ID prevents in-person vote fraud, you need to provide actual proof, not just a supposition. The report authors write:

GAI also found several irregularities that increase the potential for voter fraud, such as improper voter registration addresses, erroneous voter roll birthdates, and the lack of definitive identification required to vote.

The key term here is “definitive identification”, a term that appears nowhere in HAVAThe authors either purposely or sloppily misstate the legal requirements of HAVA.  On pg. 20 of the report, they write that HAVA has a

“requirement that eligible voters use definitive forms of identification when registering to vote”

The word “definitive” appears again, and a bit later in the paragraph, it appears that a “definitive” ID, according to the authors, is:

“Valid drivers’ license numbers and the last four digits of an individual’s social security number…”,

But not according to HAVA. HAVA requirements are, as stated in the report:

“Alternative forms of identification include state ID cards, passports, military IDs, employee IDs, student IDs, bank statements, utility bills, and pay stubs.”

The rhetorical turn occurs at the end of the paragraph, when the authors conclude that these other forms of ID are:

“less reliable than the driver’s license and social security number standard”. This portion of the is far from precise.

and apparently not “definitive” and hence prone to fraud.

Surely the authors don’t intend to imply that a passport is “less reliable” than a drivers license and social security number. In many (most?) states, a “state ID card” is just as reliable as a drivers license. I’m not familiar with the identification requirements for a military ID—perhaps an expert can help out?[ED NOTE: I am informed by a friend that a civilian ID at the Pentagon requires a retinal scan and fingerprints]–but are military IDs really less “definitive” than a driver’s license?

If you are going to claim that voter fraud is an issue requiring immediate national attention, and that states are not requiring “definitive” IDs, you’d better get some of the most basic details of the most basic laws and procedures correct.

  • The authors claim states did not comply with their data requests, when it appears that state officials were simply following state law

The authors write:

(t)he Help America Vote Act of 2002 mandates that every state maintains a centralized statewide database of voter registrations.14

That’s fine, but the authors seem to think this means that HAVA requires that the states make this information available to researchers at little to no cost. Anyone who has worked in this field knows that many states have laws that restrict this information to registered political entities. Most states restrict the number of data items that can be released in the interests of confidentiality.

Rather than acknowledging that state officials are constrained by state law, the authors claim non-compliance:

In effect, Massachusetts and other states withhold this data from the public.

I can just hear the gnashing of teeth in the 50 state capitols.I am sympathetic with the authors’ difficulties in obtaining statewide voter registration and voter history files. Along with the authors, I would like to see all state files be available for a low or modest fee, and to researchers.

There is no requirement that the database be made available for an affordable fee, nor that the database be available beyond political entitles.  These choices are left to the states.  it is wrong to charge “non-compliance” when an official is following statute (passed by their state legislatures).

I don’t know whether the report authors didn’t have subject matter knowledge or were purposefully trying to create a misleading image of non-cooperation with the Commission.

  • The report shows that voter fraud is nearly non-existent, while simultaneously
    claiming the problem requires “immediate attention”.

But let’s return to the bottom line conclusion of the report: voter fraud is pervasive enough to require “immediate attention.” Do their data support this claim?

The most basic calculation would be the rate of “voter fraud” as defined in the report The 45,000 figure (total potential illegally cast ballots) is highly problematic, based on imputing from suspect calculations in 21 states, then imputed to 29 other states without considering even the most basic rules of statistical calculation.

Nonetheless, even if you accept the calculation, it translates into a “voter fraud” rate of 0.000323741007194 (45,000 / 139 million), or three thousandths of a percent.

This is almost exactly the probability that you will be struck across your whole lifetime (a chance of 1 in 3000 http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2004/06/0623_040623_lightningfacts.html)

I’m not the first one to notice this comparison—see pg. 4 of the Brennan Center report cited below. And here I thought I found something new!


There are many, many experts in election sciences and election administration that could have helped the Commission conduct a careful scientific review of the probability of duplicate registration and duplicate voting.  This report, written by Lorraine Minnite more than a decade ago lays out precisely the steps that need to be taken to uncover voter fraud and how statewide voter files should be used in this effort. There are many others in the field including those worried about voter fraud and those who are skeptics of voter fraud who have been calling for just such a careful study.

Unfortunately, the Commission instead chose to consult a “consulting firm” with no experience in the field, and which chose to consult database companies who also had no expertise in the field.

I’m sure that other experts will examine in more detail the calculations about duplicate voting. However, at first look, the report fails the smell test. It’s a real stinker.


Paul Gronke
Professor, Reed College
Director, Early Voting Information Center

http://earlyvoting.net

New Mexico SOS Turns Over 64,000 Registered Voters for Potential Fraud Investigation

The New Mexico Secretary of State Dianna Duran has provided 64,000 registered voter names to the New Mexico State Police for fraud examination. This represents about 5.3% of all registered voters and about 7.7% of voters in the 2010 election.  No details were given on how these voters were identified, but that represents an enormous number of records to work through.  No process was identified for how the New Mexico State Police would examine the records or how long it would take to review them.  More information about this story can be found here.

The article mentions the possibility of administrative errors.  This is very likely.  My own experience with working with voter registration files is that they are somewhat dirty.  By that I mean the file consists of missing data, incorrect data, duplicate entries, etc (also see an excellent report on the quality of voter registration files by Stephen Ansolabehere and Eitan Hersh).

What is the problem? A major part of the problem is that the data collection and entry process leads to data entry errors.  Individuals register to vote in their own handwriting and then administrative staff interpret and enter the information into the electronic system. Obviously this is a process rife with numerous points for potential error.

One possible solution to this is to move to some sort of electronic registration, perhaps self-registration on-line and/or augmenting information in voter registration files with information from other state and federal databases to obtain more correct information.  See for example the op ed piece by Mike and Dean Logan.

As the investigation progresses, it is worthwhile for us to understand the process.  One thing we can learn from the process is where the problems exist and how to fix them.  This is an opportunity for us to collect important data on administrative problems with the voter registration process.

Survey on the Performance of American Elections Data Available

As part of my pre-Thanksgiving clean-up, I have finally gotten around to posting the data sets and documentation for three surveys my colleagues and I did in 2007 and 2008 to gauge the quality of American elections. The studies were funded by Pew, as part of their Make Voting Work Initiative, along with the late, great JEHT Foundation and AARP (for the Nov. ’08 study). The studies were conducted in November 2007 (gubernatorial races in KY, LA, and MS), February 2008 (15 Super Tuesday states), and November 2008 (all 50 states). Lots of questions about how well elections were run, from the perspective of voters, plus some questions about why non-voters didn’t vote.

The data are all on the MIT dSpace site: http://dspace.mit.edu/handle/1721.1/5523

One feature of these datasets is that we did parallel administrations using the Internet and telephone (random digit dialing), so people interested in how these two survey modes differ should find things of interest to them there.

California man charged with election fraud

This is from a press release from the CA Secretary of State office:

Felony charges were filed and an arrest warrant issued Monday for an Orange County man suspected of committing voter registration and election fraud, Secretary of State Debra Bowen announced today.

An investigation by the Secretary of State’s Election Fraud Investigation Unit revealed that Nativo Lopez of Santa Ana leased office space in the Boyle Heights area of Los Angeles and allegedly registered to vote at that commercial address although he lived with his family in Orange County. Lopez also allegedly cast an illegal ballot from Los Angeles in the 2008 Presidential Primary Election.

On June 22, the Public Integrity Unit of the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s office charged Lopez with four felonies: fraudulent voter registration, fraudulent document filing, perjury, and fraudulent voting. A warrant was issued for his arrest and bail was set at $10,000.

Under state law, registering where you are not entitled to vote is a felony punishable by up to three years in prison; fraudulent voting is also a felony punishable by up to three years in prison.

Voter Confidence 2: By Mode and By Vote Choice

I wrote a few days ago about some data we collected as part of the 2008 Cooperative Congressional Election Study (CCES), testing assumptions about “voter confidence,” a survey respondent’s perception about whether their vote will be counted accurately or not.

We wanted to test for two other patterns that have been reported in past work by Alvarez, Hall, and Llewellyn. First, are their mode effects–do voters who cast ballots at the precinct place express higher levels of confidence than those who cast a by-mail ballot or early ballot? Second, are voters who cast a ballot for the loser (in this case, John McCain) more suspicious about the validity of the count?

As shown in the graphic below, we were able to replicate “loser’s regret”: McCain voters were substantially less confident than were Obama voters. However, we found no statistically significant decline in voter confidence among those who cast an absentee ballot (although the level who express “great deal” does drop). Now that I look at this figure, I realize that I need to re-run the statistics lumping together early in person and precinct place voters. More in a few minutes …

National Academies of Science voter registration workshop

I’m off to Atlanta — the site of yesterday’s Senate runoff election — for two days of discussion regarding voter registration systems as part of the ongoing National Academy study of Statewide VR systems. So if you happen to be in the area, Thursday’s open sessions look pretty interesting. Unfortunately I can’t find the URL for the workshop agenda on this slow 2G connection I have, but I’ll dig it up later when I have a faster connection.

This all assumes that I get to Atlanta today; we’ve been sitting here in the plane at LAX for 45 minutes waiting for the pilot who is supposedly stuck in traffic (would they wait for a passenger who didn’t plan ahead and got stuck in traffic?).

UPDATE:  here’s the current URL.