Let’s be clear: Voter fraud in the United States is rare. No data-supported evidence suggests that it is anything other than extremely unusual.
Study after study since 2000 from a range of sources debunk claims of widespread voter fraud. Arizona State University, Dartmouth College, Columbia University, Harvard, the Republican National Lawyers Association and others have conducted analyses that find few instances of such fraud.
The Heritage Foundation keeps a database of convictions that the conservative think tank cites as evidence of the “existence and effect” of voter fraud and to argue against expanded voting by mail. Mostly from this century, but with an odd North Carolina entry from the 1980s, Heritage in four years of work has found 1,285 proven instances of fraud in elections at all levels. That’s 1,285 cases over more than 20 years out of billions of votes cast in national, state and local elections.
While Heritage says the database is not comprehensive, even 12,000 out of billions would not be widespread. It’s infinitesimal. The plural of “anecdote” is not “massive fraud.”
Assertions to the contrary, such as recent tweets from President Donald Trump, whose voter fraud commission was disbanded in 2018 without issuing a report, are not based in fact. Worse, they serve to erode Americans’ confidence in our system and create “doubts about the legitimacy of the forthcoming election,” says Tom Ridge, a former Republican governor of Pennsylvania who co-chairs VoteSafe, a bipartisan group calling for safe voting during the pandemic.
What we all should want is greater participation, the hallmark of a healthy democracy in which citizens have an active stake.
Nebraska had such an experience just this month, when it set a record for participation in a primary election despite the coronavirus pandemic. This was achieved by making voting easy. Nebraska’s three most populous counties mailed absentee ballot applications to registered voters, and 85% of Douglas County’s votes were sent in early. More than two-thirds of the state’s votes were cast by mail.
No one questions the integrity of those results.
It’s important to understand that the states, not the federal government, determine how elections are conducted.
The notion of elections by mail is not new or radical.
Five states — Colorado, Utah, Washington, Oregon and Hawaii — hold elections almost entirely by mail, with proven safeguards in place, along with provisions that allow people to complete ballots at voter service centers if they wish. Ballots are mailed to the homes of registered voters, as California Gov. Gavin Newsom has ordered for November’s election. (Trump has erroneously tweeted that “anyone living in the state, no matter who they are or how they got there,” will get one.)
Twenty-nine other states, including Nebraska, do not require an excuse for absentee voting. It’s so easy that Nebraskans can download an absentee ballot request from the secretary of state’s website. In addition, Nebraska counties with fewer than 10,000 residents can apply to conduct elections strictly by mail.
States that vote by mail and allow no-excuse absentee voting have no more evidence of fraud than anywhere else. Heritage’s database, for example, shows eight voter fraud cases since Colorado’s law took effect in 2013. It shows two cases this century in Nebraska.
Voting by mail or easy access to absentee voting is not a partisan conspiracy. Most chief elections officers in the United States are Republicans — 27 of them, with 21 Democrats and two independents holding the remaining positions. Of the states with mail-in voting, four have Republicans overseeing elections.
We don’t advocate changing Nebraska’s election system. We applaud Secretary of State Robert Evnen and local elections officers for making it easy for Nebraskans to vote in the primary, and we express our confidence that they will take whatever steps are appropriate in November.
It is important both that people vote and that they are confident in the outcome of elections. Our leaders should foster that. They have nothing to fear.