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Editorial: Make voter fraud a felony in the rare cases it occurs

Editorial: Make voter fraud a felony in the rare cases it occurs

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State Sen. Tom Briese of Albion has proposed making voter fraud in Nebraska a Class II felony.

By all means, yes, the Legislature should adopt his proposal.

At least 28 other states make it a felony to vote more than once in an election, and we agree that any real instance of election fraud should be treated with grave seriousness.

All available data after years of exhaustive study shows that voter fraud is extremely rare, despite the flood of disinformation America has endured in recent years, particularly since former President Donald Trump began his campaign in early 2020 to erode confidence in our system.

Briese is among public officials who have heard from constituents about concerns of fraud that stem from this disinformation campaign, whose effect is to delegitimize winners and to create momentum for laws that limit voter access.

Briese’s proposal does not do that, even as it seeks to provide some comfort to those who fear fraud.

Briese says that his purpose is to “enhance public confidence” in the election system, not to suggest he agrees with critics who believe the 2020 presidential election results were corrupted by fraud.

“I choose to believe in the integrity of our election system,” Briese said.

So do we — and good for Briese. It’s important for our leaders to speak up about the integrity of our institutions in an era when everything from the FBI to school boards are under assault.

How big a problem is voter fraud in reality?


The Heritage Foundation keeps a database of cases that the conservative think tank cites as evidence of the “existence and effect” of voter fraud and to argue against expanded voting by mail. While not meant to be comprehensive, Heritage has maintained the database for several years and actively solicits entries.

It shows 1,340 “proven instances of voter fraud” and 1,152 convictions, mostly from this century but with an odd North Carolina case thrown in from the 1980s. That’s out of more than 3 billion votes cast in federal elections in the time covered, plus billions more votes in state and local elections. In other words, voter fraud is a crime of infinitesimal proportions.

“Far from being proof of organized, large-scale vote-by-mail fraud, the Heritage database presents misleading and incomplete information that overstates the number of alleged fraud instances and includes cases where no crime was committed, an investigation by USA Today, Columbia Journalism Investigations and the PBS series ‘Frontline’ found.”

Still, as far as we can determine, it is the nation’s largest public inventory of voter fraud. (By the way, documented cases show that both Democrats and Republicans engage in these rare cases.)

How many cases has this effort turned up in Nebraska in 30 or more years covered? Two. Total. That’s all.

The Nebraska Secretary of State and Attorney General’s Offices say the state has no database or accounting of voter fraud, and representatives say they have no record of instances other than the two that Heritage lists from Dawson County in 2016.

Nor can anyone in the state recall or find evidence of a single documented case of Nebraska voters trying to impersonate other voters — the presumed problem that voter ID laws aim to address.

Watching the manufactured hysteria over voter fraud is a bit like watching Don Quixote joust a windmill, but with damaging consequences in the real world.

So we see no harm in levying the promise of prison time in those extraordinarily rare instances, particularly if such a law improves confidence in our election system among those who have been snowed into believing voter fraud is a real threat.

Print on voter registration material and on ballots that fraud is a felony in Nebraska. Run public service announcements. Prosecute any such cases to the full extent of the law.

Keep the bill clean — don’t tack on voter ID or limits on mail-in voting, both of which are maneuvers not to combat a real problem but to make it harder for some people to vote.

We have every reason to be confident in our elections under current rules. If this helps bolster that even a little, let’s do it.


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