How Much Should We Care About Voter Fraud?

I had a different post planned, but I feel it's important to examine a continuation of what's been covered here recently about paranoia over "illegal immigrants stealing our election!" My discussion of this began when I saw a post by a notable global warming Skeptic which began:

I called him out on this as it is utterly insane to believe thousands of voters "self-identified as illegal aliens." it was trivially easy to show there was no evidence to support his description of people as being "literally the people who admitted to [being an illegal alien] in a government office!" He responded by changing the subject, and now, he has a new post which changes the subject yet again, referring to:

an immigrant dumb enough to self identify as a non-citizen and got caught voting in Illinois in a federal election.

I'd like to discuss this specific example, and the more general "evidence" offered, to show just how desperate this person is to justify his paranoia about voter fraud. It's not because I want to single him out, but because many people share his views (including at least one commenter who came here to make the same arguments).

Here is the primary quote offered to justify the latest round of paranoia:

Without any serious effort on our part, we are now up to 462 cases from across the country, 742 criminal convictions. And that doesn’t include the most recent cases we’re going to
put in. Just three days ago, three days ago, I was sitting at my desk, and I saw that the Seventh Circuit, the United States Court of Appeals, so this is a court that’s just one step below the U.S.
Supreme Court, released a five page opinion about a woman, a Peruvian citizen, who was in the United States, and when she went to get her drivers’ license in Illinois, she decided to register to
vote and voted in the next federal election.
Now, what’s interesting about this is that she actually lied on her voter registration form. She checked the box saying, yes, I’m a United States citizen. She could have continued to vote
as often she wanted to in Illinois. She would never have been caught because Illinois does absolutely nothing to verify the citizenship of people.The only reason she was caught was
because she actually applied for citizenship. And it was during the citizenship application that it was discovered that she had registered and voted in election. This is on the same day, by theway, that another report came out of Texas, similar incident. A woman down there, not a U.S.citizen, who voted illegally in the 2012 or 2014 election.

The poster originally claimed tens of thousands of illegal votes had been cast in Texas by illegal immigrants, but here, we're down to 742 supposed cases, none of which are said to have involved illegal immigrants. And that 742 includes cases like that of Margarita Fitzpatrick, a Peruvian woman who was in the country legally on a green card.

Living here legally, she applied for a driver's license. While applying, she claims the clerk helping her asked her if she'd like to register to vote, which confused her as she thought being a noncitizen meant she couldn't. She says she asked the clerk if she was allowed to register to vote and was told it was up to her, a response required by law as it's illegal for clerks to say anything that might discourage people from registering to vote, even if they wouldn't be eligible to vote. She says she took this to mean she was wrong in thinking she wasn't allowed to register to vote, which as it happens, is true. Different elections have different requirements for voting, and some elections do allow non-citizens to vote. (Some people ridicule this, but if you live in a city for decades raising a family, being allowed to vote in things like school board elections makes sense).

Having believed she was allowed to vote because of the unhelpful response given to her, Fitzpatrick then proceeded to vote in two elections. Some time later, she applied for citizenship. During the application process, she freely volunteered the fact she had voted twice, thinking she had done so legally. That's how she got "caught."

Was Fitzpatck's mistake dumb? Yes. Should she be ridiculed, used as a talking point to smear all non-citizens and deported? No. In terms of illegal behavior, there are numerous elected officials who have done far, far worse than she has. In terms of stupidity, she doesn't believe idiotically insane things like... we have proof tens of thousands of illegal immigrants voted in Texas.

But hey, a person voted illegally. It wasn't for nefarious purposes, but it was still illegal. So we know illegal voting happens. That's not surprising. No system is perfect, and some amount of problems with voting is inevitable. The question is how much does it matter? Originally, I was looking at claims of tens of thousands of illegal immigrants voting in one state. Now:

Without any serious effort on our part, we are now up to 462 cases from across the country, 742 criminal convictions. And that doesn’t include the most recent cases we’re going to put in.

742 cases of voter fraud. I dug into this a bit, and I found there's an online database listing these cases. It doesn't provide much information about each case, just name, state, year and type of voter fraud, but it is a nice source to have. And according to it, as of today, they're up to 1,037 criminal convictions for voter fraud, quite a few more than the stated 742.

There's some jokes to be made here about the laziness of the Skeptic and how I seem to know more about the sources he wants to rely on than he does, but I can't make any of those as when I access the database, I find there are only 769 entries listed as resulting in criminal convictions. I don't know how to reconcile that with the claimed 1,037 criminal convictions. It seems there may be some problem with the results being reported, and since the database doesn't give significant details for cases it lists, it's impossible to verify its contents.

But rather than focus on rhetoric, let's look at the data. The first thing which jumps out at me is the database has cases listed as far back as 1996, meaning we have 1,037 (or 769) criminal convictions over 20+ years. That'd average out to 50 (or ~40) a year. Given millions of people vote every year, 50 cases of voter fraud across the country is not a worrying number. It's certainly not tens of thousands of illegal votes in a single state/

Of course, this database won't have every case back to 1996, and for every case that results in a conviction, there may be other cases which don't result in convictions. So let's look at the data more closely. Voter fraud can come in many forms. If the concerns are about non-citizens voting in elections, we should focus on cases related tho that. We shouldn't include cases like the 58 people convicted of bribing voters to vote in a certain way.

We also shouldn't count the seven cases of manipulation of people at the polling station. Nor should we includethe four convictions for people manipulating the vote count.

A common belief amongst those paranoid about voter fraud is it is easy to get away with impersonating other people to vote under their names. I'm not sure if that's relevant to the idea of non-citizens (or before, illegal immigrants) voting, but regardless, there were only nine criminal convictions for that.

In terms of other types of voter fraud people get convicted of, 154 were convicted for false registration, where they used either a fake name or fake address. 227 were convicted for voting while not eligible. 162 were convicted for committing fraud via absantee ballots. 89 were convicted of voting multiple times within a single election. 63 were convicted not for anything that happened in an election, but for committing fraud in petitions to get things place on ballots for elections.

I still don't know how to reconcile those numbers with the claimed 1,037 criminal convictions provided by the maintainers of the database. I also don't know why I should care very much. I get people want to use this database as a talking point to promote xenophobic rhetoric, but the data just doesn't support that. Consider, for instance, the convictions for ineligible voting. Of the 227 convictions, 105 come from a single state, Minnesota. Minnesota has been claimed to be the hotspot of voter fraud because the Minnesota Secretary of State refused to share basic information. This resulted in the Minnesota Voters Alliance suing him, and there's been a legal battle over his refusal for a couple years now.

This lawsuit is ridiculous. Not because it is wrong. It's not. The lawsuit is ridiculous because it should never have been necessary. The Minnesota Secretary of State is simply flouting the law, refusing to provide information he is legally required to provide. Because he refuses to provide it, polling stations won't always know who is and is not eligible to vote. Combine this with certain other aspects of Minnesota voting laws, and a certain amount of illegal voting is not surprising.

But so what? This isn't a matter of immigrants, much less illegal immigrants, voting. The Minnesota Voters' Alliance has been much more focused on felons voting illegally. Personally, I don't understand why felon's should not be allowed to vote. A man gets convicted of selling some marijuana, and for the rest of his life he can't vote? Why not? Odds are the people he could vote for have committed far worse crimes. Heck, a convicted felon can run for an office despite not being allowed to vote in that election. That seems bizarre to me.

But how did we get here? How did we get to the point we have to think about whether a man who breaks into an electronic store and steals some DVD players deserves to be allowed to vote or not? What does that have to do with illegal immigrants "invading our country"? Sure, this sort of thing shows our voting system isn't perfect. So what? Nobody thinks it is.

Of course some bad things happen. Of course some votes get cast illegally. We should try to combat that. I'd wholeheartedly support any effort to make Steve Simon, Minnesota Secretary of State, resign. I'd be willing to believe some elections won by narrow margins may have been "stolen" by voter fraud, and I'd support any effort to investigate such possibilities.

But what does that have to do with Hispanics, Leftists, socialists or whatever else people paranoid about voter fraud rant about?


  1. Nice post, Brandon. Thanks.

    My discussion of this began when I saw a post by a notable global warming Skeptic...

    I first came across Jeff's blog when he wrote a post about how sure he was that his comment was disallowed at Paul Krugman's blog because the blog moderator recognized his name and knew his comment would deal a devastating blow to Krugman's attempt to keep the leftist global warming hoax afloat.

    Not one of his readers called him on his weak logic, and instead they turned their venom towards me when I pointed out the holes in his thinking. Eventually (not sure if it was that thread or another) our convo led to Jeff making bizarre determinations about my profession, my age, and where I went to school.

    Interesting who gets to be a notable global warming "skeptic."

  2. I wonder if Jeff is going to jump on the "Google stole 16 million votes from Trump" train?

  3. Joshua, I'd find your first comment here more interesting if I didn't know the exact same sort of thing could be said about people on the other "side" of the global warming debate. it would be trivially easy to find similar examples of similar ridiculousness from, say, Anders' blog. Numerous examples of such things from sites like Skeptical Science have already been posted on this very site. Is it "interesting" Jeff Id reached the position he reached within one group? Sure. Is commenting to single him out with an unsourced, unverifiable example interesting? I don't think so. I don't see what anyone could possibly get from your comment. I imagine we could write a dozen comments exactly like that, in regard to different people. Without actual content to examine, such as a link to discussions where we could examine what happened, I don't see what value there is.

    I'm all for discussing specific examples, but I don't see the value of discussions if nobody other than the speaker can possibly know what is being discussed.

  4. Joshua, I don't know what those views are so I can't say I have any thoughts on the topic. I don't follow his Twitter feed so unless he posts something on his site, odds are I won't see it.

Comments are closed.