Voter fraud is exceedingly rare in the United States.
According to a database maintained by the right-leaning Heritage Foundation, just 1,238 documented instances of voter fraud have been reported nationally since 1982, resulting in 857 convictions. It’s such a rare phenomenon, you’re actually more likely to see a UFO than you are to find evidence of voter fraud. In April alone, the National UFO Recording Center reported more than 1,000 UFO sightings across the country, compared to just 17 reported instances of voter fraud in 2020.
It’s even rarer in Wyoming, which has experienced just three instances of voter fraud in 40 years, and none since 2014. Elections are audited each year and subject to numerous redundancies and protocols intended to insure security. Polling places are small and staffed with election judges from both parties, and voters’ registrations are matched to home addresses.
“In the state of Wyoming, I’m not concerned about fraud,” said Crook County Clerk Linda Fritz — who leads the Wyoming County Clerks’ Association — during an Equality State Policy Center forum on election fraud Thursday.
Yet, there is a persistent belief — particularly among conservatives — that voter fraud runs rampant in American elections. In December 2011, Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus claimed the state of Wisconsin was “absolutely riddled with voter fraud” despite the lack of any evidence to support the claim. Since then, conservative legislatures have run with the ball, introducing hundreds of bills in recent decades to tighten the requirements to cast a ballot.
The topic has taken on a new life in 2021. Even after the most heavily-scrutinized election in two decades yielded no evidence to support allegations pushed by former President Donald Trump that widespread voter fraud helped hand the election to his opponent, conservatives have renewed their efforts with even greater fervor. They’ve introduced dozens of bills intended to address the unfounded concerns of the president and the 32% of Americans who believe voter fraud contributed to his defeat, according to a recent Monmouth University poll.
In Wyoming, the state Republican Party has passed a resolution advocating for new limits on absentee voting — despite research by groups like the American Statistical Association demonstrating no connection between the practice and voter fraud. Meanwhile, a bill to implement mandatory photo identification requirements at the polls has garnered 45 co-sponsors between the House and Senate, all but assuring that the bill will pass this winter in spite of some concern from local elections officials.
Despite all evidence showing otherwise, why have claims of voter fraud continued to persist, even as internal election security measures have grown even more sophisticated in recent years? Since the start of the Vietnam War and, particularly, in the years following the Nixon Administration, trust in government and institutions has been devolving among the American public, according to a decades-long analysis of Pew Research data, leaving those already wary of government more susceptible to claims that the system isn’t working properly, or even failing.
“The rhetoric of this issue of rampant voter fraud that’s going on is really powerful for a number of reasons,” Sean Morales-Doyle, deputy director of the Voting Rights & Elections Program at the Brennan Center for Justice, said on Thursday’s panel. “Part of why is because it does play on that lack of trust and faith that people have. People love a conspiracy. They like to believe that when things aren’t going their way that there’s some reason that’s happening, and that there’s something for them to point to.”
But a lot of that mistrust can also stem from a misunderstanding of how the system actually works, or a lack of information necessary to be able to think critically about those claims.
“The vast majority of the public does not understand the election administration or processes,” said Amber McReynolds, CEO for the National Vote At Home Institute and Coalition and former director of elections for the City and County of Denver. “The vast majority of candidates have no clue. And the vast majority of legislators have never toured elections office or actually gone to see the process in action. So that’s basically the worst recipe for disaster.”
According to a report by the U.S. Government Accountability Office, voter ID laws have been estimated to reduce voter turnout anywhere between two to three percentage points, while limitations on programs to reach hard-to-contact populations in overlooked neighborhoods (particularly those populated by people of color) and Indian reservations can worsen turnout even further.
In Colorado, McReynolds oversaw the expansion of her region’s election systems that actually increased election security while simultaneously helping to encourage turnout.
As other states look to bolster their own election security, McReynolds said that state legislatures should seek not to restrict ballot access, but to instead expand it, introducing additional protocols to ensure those who are eligible to cast a ballot can do so fairly, efficiently and securely.
Ballot tracking and automatic voter registration were just two measures she recommended to do that, saying that it verifies someone’s identification immediately upon receiving a form of government identification or changing their address through the United States postal service, all while minimizing paperwork and bureaucracy.
“Think about the time wasted in all of these things that we do,” she said. “Automatic registration solves so many of those problems while increasing security and enhancing the customer’s experience.”
Photos: A look back at Election Day in Natrona County