The court case against Pennsylvania’s new voter ID law is wrapping up, and supporters of the law say it’s necessary in order to reduce voter fraud. However, when you hear the words “voter fraud,” there are three things you need to keep clearly in mind: In-person, In-person, In-person. Got that? There’s only one kind of fraud that voter ID stops: in-person voter fraud. That is, the kind of fraud where someone walks into a polling place and tries to vote under someone else’s name. That’s it. There are plenty of other types of voter fraud, of course. There’s registration fraud, where you send in forms for Mary Poppins and James Bond. There’s insider fraud, where election officials report incorrect tallies. There’s absentee ballot fraud, where you fill in someone else’s absentee ballot and mail it in. But a voter ID law does nothing to stop those kinds of fraud. Even in theory, the only kind of fraud it stops is in-person voter fraud.
A couple of days ago, that got me thinking: are there any recent documented cases of in-person voter fraud in the United States? I figure there must be in a country with over 100 million registered voters. But I realized that I didn’t really know, even though I spent quite a bit of time on the subject for my voter fraud piece in the current issue of the magazine. Luckily, though, I happen to be reading an advance copy of Rick Hasen’s The Voting Wars, and just last night I got to page 61, where he addresses exactly this question. His answer: There are virtually no recent cases of voter impersonation fraud and no evidence in at least a generation that it has been used in an effort to steal an election.
Hasen provides what few examples he can. Hans von Spakovsky, a Bush-era Justice Department appointee, claimed to have found an occurrence of impersonation fraud in a 1984 case in Brooklyn. But when Hasen finally managed to get a copy of the DA’s report (von Spakovsky refused to share it), it turned out that the fraud consisted almost entirely of insiders manipulating registration books and cards. What little impersonation fraud they found was possible only thanks to collusion with corrupt election officials. Von Spakovsky also brought up a 1997 case in Miami, but that turned out to be absentee ballot fraud. In a later op-ed, he pointed to a case in Kansas, but a court ruled that, in fact, no illegal votes had been cast.