Is there voter fraud in our elections?
If you ask anyone who has been deeply involved in putting on elections, they will tell you there’s always a few ‘bad’ votes in any election. That’s why election officials prefer landslide elections because you know the will of the people was done in spite of any background level of bad votes.
However, a few bad votes are NOT what President Trump is talking about.
Trump is talking about large numbers of fraudulent votes – enough to change the outcome of an election. Is that actually happening? The answer is “We don’t know,” because nobody wants to look.
Democrat leadership keeps saying there is no evidence of voter fraud. Mitch McConnell, the Republican Senate Majority leader says he doesn’t want to spend any federal dollars to look into possible voter fraud.
Here in Tennessee, Republican state election officials have been reluctant to look into the possibility of non-citizens being registered to vote. But refusing to look makes people more suspicious. This idea that the public can be assured that all is well even though no investigations have been done is ridiculous, but that is what we have been told for quite a while. There are a lot of different loopholes in the system where fraud can occur and little holes can sink big ships.
There is certainly a known history of voter fraud in Tennessee.
Much of it is from the era when Tennessee was a one-party state and Democrat factions fought against each other at the county level. The Democrat leaders at the state level turned a blind eye to it, back then, viewing it as a family squabble.
The book “Secrets of the Hopewell Box” by James D. Squires tells the story of under-the-table voter fraud that used to take place in Davidson County in the 1950s.
The movie “The Battle of Athens” tells the true story of overtly corrupt county politicians in McMinn county in 1946, who were rigging elections. In the pivotal scene from that movie, (it’s on YouTube) the sheriff brazenly steals the ballot boxes on election day and lock themselves in the jailhouse to “count the ballots.” Armed WWII vets who have had enough corruption besiege the local jail. A serious exchange of gun fire occurs. The corrupt politicians surrender the ballot boxes only after the vets blow open the heavy, locked, jail house door with dynamite. The vets were never prosecuted because the fraud was so obvious.
I have personally heard stories about corrupt local political operatives, some of whom are still alive, who allegedly stole local elections as recently as the 1980s, and were never prosecuted. So, there is a history of voter fraud in Tennessee. The question remains, is there a significant level of voter fraud occurring today in the US? Again, the answer is “We don’t know and no one wants to look.”
In the last 5 years, Republican state legislatures across the United States have been pushing for and passing Photo ID, which is a reasonable measure to prevent people from voting under a false identity. Democrats have opposed that and labeled it as “racist” and “voter suppression” to justify their opposition. That does not comport with logic. A photo ID is required in almost all instances when we interface with a government agency or a business that is regulated by a government agency like banking or airline travel. No one ever labels those photo ID requirements as “racist” or “banking suppression”.
According to an August 2016 Gallup poll, 95% of Republicans support photo ID, and 63% of Democrats do, too. That is about 80% of the population. When Democrat politicians oppose Photo ID in spite of overwhelming public support, it makes Republicans wonder if the Democrat politicians know that there is fraud going on in their favor. Again, we don’t know the truth. And nobody has really looked.
State Election Laws and Federal Election Laws
Each state has its own set of election laws and they vary. Some leave more loopholes for fraud than others. The federal government has passed several laws since 1993 regarding voting, but the federal government has not forced states to close opportunities for fraud. The federal government gets very involved in bringing lawsuits when states themselves try to close opportunities for fraud with state legislation such as Photo ID. That creates a situation where people perceive the federal government to be going against the will of 80% of the population. It angers conservatives and makes them suspicious of the federal government’s motives.
The loopholes in the various state laws and the National Voter Registration Act (NVRA) of 1993 can be divided into two basic categories:
1. Fraudulent Registration
2. Fraudulent Voting
The NVRA of 1993 (Motor Voter) got its name because it required state driver’s license agencies in 44 states to become voter registration offices. (Six states were exempt because they had no registration requirements or they allowed people to register and vote on the same day.)
NVRA mandates that any one getting or renewing a driver’s license must be provided an opportunity to register to vote. Motor Voter was supposed to increase voter participation. The politicians believed low participation occurred because it was too difficult for people to go to the local election office and register to vote. In this writer’s opinion, there were two factors involved that many politicians chose to ignore. First, the politicians of both parties, nationwide, are usually so careful and boring that they cannot inspire large turnouts. Second, any person who was motivated to take part in the process in 1993 did not find it difficult to register and vote.
American self-governance is built on the basis of an informed and involved electorate. In our age, there are plenty of people who have no desire to be informed or involved in the process for a variety of reasons. That is a choice people are free to make. But the politicians wanted to boost turnout, so Motor Voter was born. It resulted in an influx of new registrations from government offices other than the county election offices. But there was an increase in poorly completed applications, applications from those already registered, and ineligible voters attempting to register. The voter rolls got bigger and had more inaccuracies.
Motor Voter also requires every state office that provides public assistance (welfare) of any kind to become a voter registration office and to register welfare recipients to vote, as well as update their registration any time they move. From the Department of Justice website (see Q.13) regarding NVRA 1993, here is a description of the agencies, that became voter registration offices:
The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly the Food-Stamp Program), the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC), the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program (formerly the Aid to Families with Dependent Children or AFDC program), the Medicaid program, and the State Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP).
This also includes state public assistance programs.
Fraudulent Registration – Are Non-Citizens Registered to Vote in Tennessee?
In Tennessee, neither the state employees working at the driver’s license offices nor the government employees working at the welfare offices were trained in election law or voter registration procedures. They are trained to ask the person they are assisting if they want to register to vote. If they say ‘yes’ they hand the person a form. The people are told to fill out the form and told to check a box to confirm that they are US Citizens. No proof of citizenship is required. Just their word. In the election business, this is known as “self-attestation”. That means we trust that people are being truthful and we do not verify. (Try that next time you get “carded” for a beer.) If the people have actual questions, about the voter registration form, they are told to “contact their local election office”. The NVRA contains no provisions requiring proof of citizenship. None. That job is left up to the states but as you will read, not much is being done.
You cannot really fault the people working at the driver’s license or welfare offices. They did not hire on to be election officials. But, to comply with the law, they do make sure everyone gets an application to register to vote, because they know they can run afoul of federal law (NVRA) if they fail to provide one. So, that is what they do, to citizen and non-citizen alike. Steve Abernathy, who at the time was a Davidson County Election Commissioner with extensive election experience, spent 4 hours observing the process at a drivers’ license office in 2012. He noted that US citizens and lawful permanent residents (LPR) were both offered the opportunity to register to vote even though LPRs are not citizens. The staff did not advise the LPRs that it is a felony for non-citizens to register to vote. Do a lot of non-citizens actually register? We’re not sure.
You may be thinking, “But wait. In Tennessee, you have to put down a social security number on the registration, right? If those SS numbers are fraudulent, the registration gets kicked out, right?”
In Davidson County, if the SS number on a new application to vote is a duplicate of an SS number of a voter that is already on the roll, the system flags the new registration as a duplicate and does not accept the registration. That process is repeated across county lines when all registrations are uploaded to the state. This is a good thing but, neither the counties nor the state of Tennessee checks the SS numbers against the Social Security Administration’s data base to see if the numbers are indeed valid numbers issued by the SS Administration and that the names on both the SS Administration rolls and the voter rolls match. That could and should be done and it would greatly reduce the opportunities for fraudulent registrations. But that loophole is still open in Tennessee and elsewhere.
Fraudulent Registration – Multi-State Cooperatives and SS Number Verifications
The Interstate Crosscheck Program (ICP) and the Electronic Registration Information Center (ERIC) are voluntary cooperatives that state election officials, usually the Secretary of State or a designee, can join. The member states crosscheck their voter lists annually to prevent duplicate registrations and double votes. ICP has 30 member states and ERIC has 21, plus Washington DC. Tennessee participates in the ICP. A total of 11 states belong to both organizations, but 14 states belong to neither organization.
Crosschecking is a good idea but it is a fragmented situation at present. It is not clear why there are two separate voluntary groups performing very similar functions. Some states require legislation before they can join. The only way to get a thorough check is for all 50 states to crosscheck each other annually. That is not happening so the loophole for double registration and double voting is still open.
There is also a system called E-Verify that employers use to check the validity of SS numbers to make sure they are not employing illegal aliens. There is a similar system called Systematic Alien Verification for Entitlements Program (SAVE) that verifies eligibility for welfare benefits for non-citizens. Some citizen groups are now advocating to extend the practice of verifying an individual’s citizenship status to voter registration rolls.
That makes sense.
However, 43 of the 50 states do not require a full SS number when registering to vote. That means going to SS number verification nationwide would require all the voters in those 43 states to submit their SS number to their county or state election officials. That would be a difficult but not impossible task. Looking at the history, it is possible that the DoJ and the federal judiciary would strike down such an attempt to verify citizenship for voting by using SS numbers. The DoJ and the judiciary do have a history of stopping state’s attempts to prevent voter fraud.
Fraudulent Registration – Local and State Checks for Non-Citizens on Voter Rolls in Tennessee
In 2012 and 2013, Commissioner Abernathy, with the support of his fellow Republican Commissioners, attempted to determine how many non-citizens were registered to vote in Davidson County.
Residents were expressing concerns about the possibility of non-citizens being registered to vote. In addition to concerns about the existing loopholes in the registration process, many were pointing to the period between 2001 and 2003 as another reason for concern: Tennessee had dropped the requirement for a person to supply a Social Security number to acquire a driver’s license in 2001.
Dropping that requirement led to a surge of non-citizens acquiring a Tennessee driver’s license because a valid driver’s license serves as an acceptable ID for so many things in life.
The practice of issuing full-fledged driver’s licenses to non-citizens was stopped in 2003. But for 2 years, between 2001 and 2003, Tennessee driver’s license offices made no distinction between citizens and non-citizens when issuing driver’s licenses. Motor Voter was already the law so the state employees at the driver’s license offices were required to offer voter registration applications to all who registered. It seems reasonable to conclude that during that time period the potential for non-citizens to register to vote was high.
The Partnership for a New American Economy estimated that 45,750 non-citizens were living in Davidson County between 2010 and 2012. That population number, combined with the two years of full driver’s licenses being issued to non-citizens, and the fact that SS numbers on voter registrations are not verified with the Social Security Administration, suggested that it would be prudent to check the voter rolls for non-citizens. Tennessee law makers actually passed a law, TCA 2-2-141, requiring that the voter rolls be checked for non-citizens after Jan. 1 of 2012.
Abernathy tried to get the Tennessee Department of Safety to provide a list of Davidson County residents who had acquired the “Certificate for Driving.” That is what non-citizens in Tennessee now get when they pass the driving test. That list could then be compared against the Davidson County Voter database to see if there were matches. It was going to be a test only, with no purges resulting from the search. (Purging voters from the roll requires a specific process.) The Republican election officials at the state level opposed Abernathy’s test and the Tennessee Department of Safety refused to supply the list.
On Jan 1 of 2012, TCA 2-2-141 went into effect. It required the State Coordinator of Elections to perform a statewide comparison similar to the one Commissioner Abernathy had been attempting at the county level.
The new law set no timetable for this action to occur nor did it specify how to do the comparison. Many people involved in elections thought the comparison should be done before the 2012 election. It was not. When the comparison finally was done, after the 2012 election, the State Election Coordinator announced that Davidson County had 14 non-citizens registered. The Coordinator did not explain how the comparison was done. The state elections officials’ opposition to Abernathy’s effort caused some to wonder just how rigorous the statewide comparison was or was not. And because the law did not specify that the comparison would be repeated, it is not clear whether it has or will be repeated.
In one Q&A at a meeting of county election officials, the State Election Coordinator was asked about the comparison he was required to run but had not yet done.
He advised those gathered that Tennessee officials were concerned that if the Tennessee comparison produced false positives, the national media would attack the Tennessee state officials who made the comparison, like they had done to Florida officials when Florida generated false positives doing a similar comparison. That expressed fear seemed to indicate that the desire to avoid false positives was strong, and that could lead to a less than rigorous search for non-citizens on the voter rolls.
It is important to remember that the Republican state election officials in Tennessee had just successfully implemented Photo ID.
Nationally, there were attempts to strike down Photo ID in other states. Tennessee’s success had the Democrats in the state determined to find an aggrieved party to be a plaintiff in a suit to overturn Tennessee’s Photo ID law. After several attempts, the Democrats were unable to find anyone who had been harmed by the law, so Tennessee’s law withstood the challenges. We now know that the Obama Administration had moved beyond biased or politicized and into the realm of “weaponized” against conservatives. The IRS in particular was harassing legitimate conservative groups including True the Vote, a group that was starting to point out that the national voting system had loopholes that could allow fraudulent registrations and fraudulent voting.
Had Tennessee made an attempted to identify and purge non-citizens from their voter rolls, the Obama DoJ may well have brought suit against Tennessee with all the attendant media coverage and the typical labeling of the Republican officials as “racists” and “xenophobes”. And the gubernatorial aspirations of more than one Republican could have been seriously damaged. That may have been more risk than they cared to tolerate. So, we still do not know if the Tennessee comparison was rigorous or not.
One of the problems this writer experienced firsthand as an Administrator of Elections, was that the District Attorney had very little interest in prosecuting voter fraud when it occurred.
Between 2008 and 2013 the Davidson County Election Commission (Nashville) took approximately 60 cases of voter fraud to the DA’s office. The DA prosecuted 5 cases. Understand that the documentation of fraud has to be solid before the Election Commission will even take a case to the DA. Of those cases that were prosecuted, the punishment was typically minimal. One unprosecuted case was started by a very attentive Officer of Elections who is one of the best and most conscientious Officers in the county. He spent his own time to acquire documentation showing that a voter had knowingly committed voter fraud in that Officer’s polling place. The election commission took that documentation to the DA’s office, but they declined to prosecute. That was demoralizing to the dedicated Officer and others who knew about the case.
In a meeting with the DA where the Commission Chairman and I were encouraging him to prosecute voter fraud cases, he told us that he thought it was too difficult for people to register and vote.
I was surprised that a DA had accepted claims that are provably false. It has never been easier to register and vote than it is now. Voters can register by mail, they can register at the driver’s license office or any office that provides public assistance (welfare). Tennessee counties hold voter registration drives annually inside the High Schools for seniors who are 18 or will be 18 when the next election arrives. Registration applications can be printed from the internet and voter registration applications in large quantities are available for anyone who wants to go out and register people.
When a state or federal election arrives, Davidson County has approximately 14 days of early voting at 12 locations throughout the county that are open all day, 6 days a week. During Early Voting, any voter who is registered in Davidson county can walk in and vote at any of the 12 he chooses. On election day, voters who chose not to vote during the two weeks of early voting must vote in their assigned polling place. There are 170 polling places for election day voting in the county. That means your precinct is not far from your residence. Voting has never been easier. But people pushing a partisan agenda or seeking to raise money for political purposes have said on TV and in the newspapers, that it is too hard to register and vote. The media never fact-checks the claim, so a lot of people believe it in spite of obvious evidence to the contrary.
Fraudulent Voting – ID Requirements for Voting Vary by State
According to the Ballotpedia website, as of 2016, only 7 states had strict Photo ID laws.
As mentioned previously, that is a common-sense step that 80% of people support. Another 15 states require a non-photo ID of some kind. I know from years of experience running polling places in Tennessee that even before Photo ID was adopted, well over 90% of the voters were already presenting their driver’s license as their ID. That means 90+% were already showing Photo ID before the law required it. People are used to showing the driver’s license as their ID, so a non-photo ID requirement will usually result in a photo ID being shown anyway. However, 19 states require no ID at all when voting, unless it is your first time and you registered by mail. Not requiring any ID at all when voting is a clearly an opportunity for fraudulent voting. Here is the list of states that do not require any ID when voting and their electoral votes:
1. California 55
2. Illinois 20
3. Iowa 6
4. Maine 4
5. Maryland 10
6. Massachusetts 11
7. Minnesota 10
8. Nebraska 5
9. New Jersey 14
10. New Mexico 5
11. New York 29
12. North Carolina 15 (ID Law struck down)
13. North Dakota 3 (ID Law struck down)
14. Oregon 7 (votes by mail)
15. Pennsylvania 20
16. Washington 12
17. Vermont 3
18. West Virginia 5
19. Wyoming 3
Note that 4 of the top 6 states in electoral votes, California, New York, Illinois and Pennsylvania, are on that list. All of the states on “No ID Required” list combined comprise 237 electoral votes which is 85% of the 277 required to win the presidency. That many states with that many electoral votes that require no ID to vote may be what got Trump’s attention. Again, that is a large loophole that is wide open for fraud.
Another opportunity for fraudulent voting is absentee ballots. It is very difficult to know if the voter or someone else actually filled out the ballot which is then mailed in. J. Christian Adams, a former US DoJ lawyer in the Civil Rights Division, authored a book entitled “Injustice” and in it he explains how the US DoJ, during the Obama administration, refused to hold accountable those committing absentee voter fraud in Mississippi.
Registering and Voting on the Same Day
“Same day registration” means any individual can show up on election day and if they can present evidence that they are a resident, they can register and then vote.
Most states require people to register well in advance of the next election. That allows some time to process the application. In Same Day Registration states, after that person casts a vote on election day, even if their registration is later deemed improper and is purged, that vote has already been cast. It is anonymous and cannot be removed from the results. The following 14 states allow people to register and vote on the same day at the voting location according to Ballotpedia:
3. District of Columbia
11. New Hampshire
California, Ohio and Vermont have passed laws allowing Same Day Registration but did not implement it before November 2016. Same Day Registration facilitates the participation of people who were not engaged with the election process at the local, state of federal level prior the day they first presented at a polling place to vote. This allows for more people to participate. However, the framers believed that an educated and informed electorate was required for self-government, and that does not typically describe a same day registrant. But, those who believe that higher turnout should take precedent over informed voters support same day registration and are willing to leave that loophole in place.
If same day registration requirements included full SS numbers and technology allowed immediate verification of 1) Citizenship with the SS Administration, 2) Residency at the address given, and, 3) Verification that the voter was not registered in any other state, then same day registration would not present the opportunity for fraud that it now does without such verifications. But the loophole remains in place.
There are plenty of loopholes for voter fraud nationwide. And little holes sink big ships.
Have large numbers of people used the loopholes to fraudulently register or fraudulently vote?
We don’t know.
We do know there are groups actively pushing to allow non-citizens to vote in US elections. There are entire city administrations that publicly refuse to follow federal laws on immigration. Has that refusal to follow the law extended in to the election process? The federal government has refused to enforce its own immigration laws and blocked border states’ attempts to enforce federal immigration laws. The IRS harassed conservative citizens’ groups during the Obama Administration, including those pushing for closing loopholes in the voting system, and none of the responsible people were fired. Against this backdrop, it is absolutely reasonable for concerned citizens to wonder if our registration and voting procedures have been compromised.
There may be large scale voter fraud.
Some knowledgeable people believe that, including the President of the US. On the other hand, there may be nothing more than the typical “background noise” of a few bad votes here and there as others believe.
But to insist there is “no problem” while refusing to even look, defies common sense. And no one at the national level has had the courage to even talk about it, until now.
Albert Tieche is a former Administrator of Elections for Davidson County, Tennessee. He began serving as an Officer of Elections in 2002. From 2003 to 2008 he designed and delivered the required training on election law and procedures to election-day poll officials. He served as Administrator from 2011 to 2013.
Steve Abernathy, former Davidson County Election Commissioner, assisted with the article.