After months and months of election scandals and cries of a “rigged election,” the 2016 election season is finally over. Florida was not the subject of a huge controversy like it has been in previous elections, but that does not stop speculation and accusations of unlawful voting practices from flying.Case-in-point? You may have this headline going around on Facebook: “BREAKING: Florida Election Employees Caught Faking 1,000's of Stolen Absentee Ballots in Massive Voter Fraud Scheme!"Was this it? Was this the smoking gun we’ve been waiting for?
Don’t Believe Everything You Read
The headline starts a post on joeforamerica.com, and describes a report of workers filling out blank ballots in large numbers. It’s easy to assume that something fishy is going on, but a proper investigation of the report’s claims showed that voter fraud was, in fact, not occurring.The blank ballots were real votes from military personnel who had sent in their vote through a fax machine. State law allows these kinds of votes to be transferred to a computerized ballot that would properly scan, since faxed-in votes are not recognizable by the scanner used to count ballots.This briefly-lived scandal is a great reminder that many accusations have perfectly legal explanations. It’s also a good illustration of why all accusations of crimes should be investigated thoroughly to avoid criminalizing someone who is working within their legal rights. Everyone is innocent until proven guilty.However, that’s just one instance that was proven false. How much voter fraud went on during the 2016 election? How does it happen? What does voter fraud actually mean in a legal sense?
What Is Voter Fraud? When Does It Happen?
Simply put, voter fraud occurs when someone casts an unlawful ballot in an election. The most well-known type of voter fraud is impersonation at the polls. That’s where someone comes in to vote, pretends to be a different person who is a registered voter, and casts a ballot. It’s where identity theft and voting meet.This, however, is not the only form of voter fraud. Other forms of unlawful ballot casting include:
- Casting a ballot when not allowed: undocumented citizens, citizens with a green card, and (in some states) convicted felons are barred from voting in the election. But many people affected by these laws are not aware of these rules.
- Submitting multiple ballots
- Using illegitimate addresses
Instances of voter fraud do not just happen in-person at the polls. There are multiple ways to submit your vote through the mail, and these methods are not always taken into consideration when deciding on what to do about voter fraud.
What Measures Are Taken to Avoid Voter Fraud?
To many, voter ID laws are the best way to avoid voter fraud. President-elect Trump is a big fan. He’s said “It’s inconceivable that you don’t have to show identification in order to vote or that the identification doesn’t have to be somewhat foolproof.” (He has also said that voter fraud is extremely common, which is something we’ll address later.)At first glance, voter ID laws make sense: if you have to show your ID to vote, you will not be able to pose as another citizen who is also registered to vote. However, critics of voter ID laws say that these laws do more harm than good.Do voter ID laws stop in-person fraud? Yes. Do voter ID laws stop people who do not have identification for financial reasons from exercising their right to vote? In many cases, the answer is also yes. Do voter ID laws stop absentee ballot fraud, or mail fraud? Absolutely not.
Is Voter Fraud Common?
Are there cases of voter fraud during each and every election? Yes. Is it “rampant?” No.Sure, accusations of voter fraud that can total the thousands. From 2000 to 2012, a project at Arizona State University reported over 2,000 cases of voter fraud. That’s concerning. Further investigations, however, showed that over 25% of those cases did not bring charges. At most, that is slightly over 125 cases of voter fraud a year. Across the entire country.Is that really a national concern?At the local level, being concerned about voter fraud makes some sense. With fewer people voting, a few fraudulent votes here and there could potentially turn an election. However, at the national level (where the Electoral College determines the election, not the popular vote), we should not be overly concerned about voter fraud. It would take massive amounts of fraud to swing or decide a presidential election.As mentioned above, though, a lack of actual voter fraud occurring does little to stop people from making accusations. If you have been accused or charged, the smartest thing you can to do protect your future and your rights is to contact a lawyer immediately.About the Author:Attorney David W. Olson is the founder of the Law Offices of David W. Olson in West Palm Beach. He has been practicing criminal law and successfully representing clients throughout the State of Florida for over 30 years. Throughout his legal career, Mr. Olson has been honored numerous times for both his dedication and excellence in criminal law. He proudly holds the Martindale-Hubbell AV Rating, as well as being recognized as a Top 100 Trial Lawyer (2013), in the Nation’s Top One Percent of attorneys (2015), and as a 10 Best Member of the American Institute of Criminal Law Attorneys (2015). He has even received commendations from members of congress and other public officials for the fantastic work that he's done. Mr. Olson graduated from the University of Florida’s Fredric G. Levin College of Law in 1981 and has been a member of the Florida Bar since 1983.