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The U.S. Voting Skeleton in the Closet
Dirty voter rolls threaten legitimacy of U.S. elections
Recent probes show ballot box fraud doesn’t alter the results of most U.S. elections. But that’s where most media coverage ends and a deeper story begins. A pervasive problem really does imperil our democratic election system. Hidden from public view, with little accountability, the overlooked threat is voter registration fraud.
Voter registration fraud has mushroomed to the point it endangers U.S. election integrity. Dozens of states, counties and cities have incurred litigation because of their failure to clean up dirty voter rolls.1 2 Most recently, lawsuits have successfully forced New York City to remove 440,000 ineligible names, Kentucky to remove nearly 500,000 ineligible names, and Los Angeles County to remove more than 1.2 million ineligible names from voter rolls.3 More dirty voter rolls keep cropping up. A 2020 Judicial Watch study showed 353 U.S. counties in 29 states had voter registration rates that exceeded 100 percent of the eligible voters. The research found 1.8 million more registered voters than eligible adult citizens in the counties.4 A Public Interest Legal Foundation analysis of 42 states revealed the voter registration rolls contained 350,000 dead voters. Apparently, in 2018 alone, 7,000 voted after death, 52,000 duplicate registrants cast second votes, and 34,000 registrants voted from nonresidential addresses. Similar numbers apparently voted illegally in other years.5
The Heritage Foundation’s Election Fraud Database details 1,412 proven cases of voter registration fraud in the U.S., mostly since 2000. Many more reported cases are never investigated. Violations include false or multiple registrations and voting by people who didn’t qualify to register in the first place.6 Fraud like this worsens as we move to more mail-in ballots, the Foundation explains. Ballots generated from “notoriously inaccurate” voter registration rolls are mailed to residences, where they tempt ineligible recipients to vote illegally. Some do. Others cast second votes this way.7
Even more troubling, many officials make no attempt to find voter registration fraud. Or they simply don’t report or prosecute it. But if more were to look, they would soon see they’ve uncovered the tip of an iceberg. An estimated 1.75 million noncitizens vote illegally in U.S. elections every year, according to a 2020 report from the Federation for American Immigration Reform.8 A 2014 peer-reviewed study from Old Dominion University and George Mason University determined about 25 percent of noncitizens in this country are registered to vote. In the 2008 presidential election, 6.4 percent of noncitizens voted and 82 percent of their votes went to Obama. In other races, their votes were “substantial enough to change important election outcomes including Electoral College votes and Senate races.” For instance, researchers attributed the 2008 victory of Senator Al Franken, which gave Democrats a filibuster-proof super-majority, to noncitizen voting.9
Noncitizen voting is illegal in 50 states for all federal elections and nearly all local elections. But enforcement relies on checking citizenship during voter registration. Disastrously, many cities and states don’t verify citizenship before approving voter registration applications.10 11 They rely on the honor system. Entrusting election integrity to the honor system is like letting motorists drive without enforcing the speed limit.
Lack of law enforcement makes voter registration fraud easy to do. Many states issue driver licenses to noncitizens and use the same application to automatically register them to vote. Applicants are merely asked to affirm—with a “yes” or checkmark—that they are U.S. citizens. They’re then registered to vote without any verification of their citizenship.12 This negligence violates the rule of law and heightens the risk of foreign interference in our elections.
The National Voter Registration Act of 1993 requires states to keep voter registration lists accurate and current. States are required to remove ineligible people—those who have died, become mentally incompetent, recently committed felonies, moved outside the district or not become citizens—from the voter rolls.13 Noncompliance is all too common. The Electronic Registration Information Center says that one in eight voter registration records in America contains a serious error.14
Many states neglect their lawful duty to stop registration fraud. To comply, every state needs to verify their voter rolls regularly using information from the department of motor vehicles, corrections department, county tax records and welfare agencies. Jury duty excuses granted to noncitizens provide pivotal evidence. It’s imperative that states use automated eligibility verification systems—such as credit agencies, E-Verify, USCIS’ Systematic Alien Verification for Entitlements program, and Public Interest Legal Foundation’s Safeguarding America’s Votes and Elections database—to verify voter registration eligibility. Maintaining accurate voter rolls also necessitates state legislative committee oversight.15
It’s no myth. Voter roll fraud is running virtually unchecked in the U.S. To turn this around, candidates running for elected office need to campaign on the issue of voter registration fraud. Attempts to dismantle election integrity laws must be appealed. Insisting on voter list accuracy and accountability can reduce unlawful voting dramatically. No votes are suppressed because legitimate voters are not deleted.
Unlawful voting causes legal-voter suppression. In a democracy an ineligible vote ought not cancel your legal vote. Neither should a vote by mail from “any old body” around the world. But without enforcement of the requirements for voter registration, your voting rights as a U.S. citizen are covertly being stripped away.
Most recently, lawsuits have successfully forced New York City to remove 440,000 ineligible names, Kentucky to remove nearly 500,000 ineligible names, and Los Angeles County to remove more than 1.2 million ineligible names from voter rolls.
New Judicial Watch Study Finds 353 U.S. counties in 29 States with Voter Registration Rates Exceeding 100%. 2020. Judicial Watch, 10/16/20. https://www.judicialwatch.org/press-releases/new-jw-study-voter-registration/
Critical Condition: American Voter Rolls Filled with Errors, Dead Voters, and Duplicate Registrations. Public Interest Legal Foundation, 9/16/20. https://publicinterestlegal.org/reports/critical-condition-american-voter-rolls-filled-with-errors-dead-voters-and-duplicate-registrations/
NYC Removes 440,000 Dirty Names from Voter Rolls. 2023. Judicial Watch, 1/12/2023. https://www.judicialwatch.org/videos/huge-nyc-removes-440000-dirty-names-from-voter-rolls/
See footnote 1.
See footnote 2.
The Heritage Foundation’s Election Fraud Database. 2023. https://www.heritage.org/voterfraud/#choose-a-state
Von Spakovsky H. 2020. Potential for Fraud Is Why Mail-In Elections Should Be Dead Letter. Heritage Foundation, 4/10/2020. https://www.heritage.org/election-integrity/commentary/potential-fraud-why-mail-elections-should-be-dead-letter
Noncitizens, Voting Violations and U.S. Elections. 2020. Federation for American Immigration Reform. https://www.fairus.org/issue/societal-impact/noncitizens-voting-violations-and-us-elections
Richman, J.T. and G.A. Chattha. 2014. Do Non-citizens Vote in U.S. Elections? Electoral Studies 36: 149-157. https://digitalcommons.odu.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1011&context=politicalscience_geography_pubs
Brendan, K. 2016. Illegal Voters Uncovered in Philly are ‘Tip of the Iceberg.’ LifeZette, 10/4/2016. https://www.lifezette.com/2016/10/illegal-voters-uncovered-philly-just-tip-iceberg/
Ballotpedia. 2023. Voting in California [or other states]. https://ballotpedia.org/Voting_in_California
See footnote 8.
United States Department of Justice. 2019. About the National Voter Registration Act, 5/21/2019. https://www.justice.gov/crt/about-national-voter-registration-act
Electronic Registration Information Center. 2018. Ensuring the Efficiency and Integrity of America’s Voter Rolls. https://ericstates.org/