The 'Myth' of Voter Fraud

Election law expert Tova Wang explains what voter ID laws are really about.

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A democracy hinges on fair elections, which is why voter fraud could pose a serious threat to the American political system. But election law expert Tova Wang says instances of polling place fraud are extremely rare. Wang, a fellow at progressive think tanks Demos and the Century Foundation, is the author of a forthcoming book called The Politics of Voter Suppression: Defending and Expanding Americans' Right to Vote. She recently spoke with U.S. News about election fraud and why she thinks voter ID laws are discriminatory. Excerpts:

Is there a problem of voter fraud?

If you're asking whether there's fraud in the electoral system, yes, there is some, not a lot. If you're asking me if there is fraud at the polling place, then I would say no, we do not have a serious problem with fraud in this country.

[Robert Schlesinger: The Real Voter Fraud Scandal]

What about widely publicized stories of registration fraud?

Those cases are always very easily caught, very frequently by the very organization that's overseeing the work. And there's absolutely zero evidence that anyone who has put any false information on a voter registration form has actually voted using that information. Problems with voter registration [are] different than fraud at the polls that ends up impacting the election.

Are there reliable statistics on voter fraud?

What we can go by is the number of times that people have been prosecuted successfully for such crimes. And the number is ridiculously low. You have a better chance of being hit by lightning than discovering an incident of polling place fraud.

[Read more Q&As in U.S. News Weekly, now available on iPad.]

Then why is there a public perception that there's a problem?

I think there are a lot of political leaders who have perpetuated this myth for partisan purposes, and when you look at it superficially it's a believable argument. But they tend to conflate the different types of fraud that could occur in the election system and sort of mix together voter registration fraud, and voter absentee fraud, and other types of issues, and stir it all up in a pot, and come up with voter identification requirements that would do nothing to address the relatively minor problems that we have in the system.

What's going on with voter ID requirements?

We have seen an incredible wave of legislation since the 2010 elections, when Republicans took over a number of state legislatures. A number of states have passed ID legislation in the past year and a half or so. And now I think you're starting to see a backlash, particularly in the courts, where judges are looking at the evidence and saying, this is discriminatory, this is voter suppression, and there's no need for it.

[Susan Milligan: What James O'Keefe Gets Wrong About Voter Fraud]

What's wrong with requiring photo identification from voters?

There are many thousands of Americans who have the same rights as you and I who do not have the kind of identification that politicians want to require. Something between 10-11 percent of Americans.

Who falls into this category?

Disproportionately certain groups, particularly African-Americans, Latinos, young people, and people with disabilities—the types of groups that tend to vote, frankly, Democratic. Because there's not a big problem of fraud at the polls that this would address, the only conclusion that you could come to is that they're trying to purposefully keep out of the system people they don't want voting.

How will this affect November's election?

A number of the laws are in litigation right now through the Department of Justice and also private lawsuits. In the meantime, organizations across states where they have these new ID laws are working with individual voters, one on one, trying to mitigate the damaging impact these ID laws will inevitably have in November.

  • See a collection of political cartoons on the 2012 campaign.
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