Are Election Results Trustworthy? Voter Integrity Expert Explains

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Following the midterm elections, voters want to know that their vote was counted and that the election was secure.  

Concern over election security exists among Republicans and Democrats alike, but are the fears founded? 

“I think we can trust many, if not most, of our elections, but there are elections where either people cheat or significant errors are made by election officials that question the result,” says Hans von Spakovsky, co-author of “Our Broken Elections: How the Left Changed the Way You Vote,” in an interview recorded ahead of Election Day.

Von Spakovsky, who is also the manager of the Election Law Reform Initiative and senior legal fellow at The Heritage Foundation, joins “The Daily Signal Podcast” to discuss the frequency of voter fraud and the states with the best and worst election security laws. (The Daily Signal is the news outlet of The Heritage Foundation.)

Listen to the podcast below or read the lightly edited transcript:

Virginia Allen: We are joined today by Hans von Spakovsky, the manager of the Election Law Reform Initiative and a senior legal fellow at The Heritage Foundation. Hans is also the author of the book “Our Broken Elections: How the Left Changed the Way You Vote.” Hans, welcome back to the show.

Hans von Spakovsky: Well, thanks for having me, even though I think we were all up pretty darn late last night.

Allen: Everyone’s a little tired. But Hans, after elections, I think on both sides of the aisle what we’ve seen over the years is, of course, voters raise concerns about the security, about the integrity of elections and the results. You write and research on this extensively. You run The Heritage Foundation’s voter fraud database. How often does voter fraud actually happen?

Von Spakovsky: Well, we don’t know the answer to that. We can get a read on it by the proven cases of fraud that have occurred. That’s what our database is full of. And we’re constantly adding new cases to it. Some of the cases are just isolated individuals taking advantage. I mean, we just added two cases where two people were convicted of voting in the names of their deceased mothers. On the other hand, so that’s just one person trying to—

Allen: Thwart the system.

Von Spakovsky: Right. On the other hand, we get cases where there’s an organized effort to do this.

We recently added convictions of two individuals down in a small town in Louisiana, the chief of police and a member of the city council. Why? Well, because they had put together this elaborate effort to bribe voters into voting for them.

So it’s just kind of a mix. What we do know is it happens often enough that we need to be concerned about it and when is it going to matter the most? In close elections.

Allen: And you may have essentially just answered my second question because I was going to ask you, is there a common way or a most common way that voter fraud takes place? But it sounds like people get pretty creative.

Von Spakovsky: They’re very creative. And again, if you look at our database, you’ll find every kind of fraud you can imagine in there. Bribery—like the cases we just talked about—absentee ballot fraud, impersonation fraud, registration fraud.

And when people wonder, “Well, registration fraud, what’s that? And how could that affect an election?” This past summer, a judge overturned a city council race in Compton, California. Margin of victory was one vote. And it turns out that half a dozen individuals register to vote in Compton who don’t actually live in Compton. So that’s clear registration fraud and it affected the outcome of the election.

Allen: Wow. What are the states that have the best policies in place to prevent voter fraud, to have secure elections? What are our model states in America?

Von Spakovsky: Well, no state is perfect, but the way people, again, can easily figure this out is if they go to the heritage.org website. They’ll find a new project we launched called the Election Integrity Scorecard. And we have rated every single state in the country based on their election laws related to integrity and 47 different criteria we came up with.

As an example, you get a nice set of points if you have a voter ID law. You’re rated negatively if you don’t, like California and New York.

The best states in the country tend to be, many of them are in the Southeast—Georgia, Florida, Alabama, Tennessee, Texas—because legislators there have put in the effort to actually improve their election law. So they have done things like put in an ID law, put in better provisions for cleaning up voter registration rules.

Tennessee just went up in our rating system because they recently passed a law saying that election officials could start accessing commercial databases like credit agencies to check the accuracy of their voter registration lists.

Allen: And what about the worst states?

Von Spakovsky: Well, the worst states tend to be most of the many blue states. California is bad. New York. The worst state in the country is Hawaii. Nevada, unfortunately, is also up there, and it’s because they don’t make a good effort to clean up their voter rolls, they do nothing to verify that people who are registering are actually citizens and they don’t require an ID, all of which makes fraud easy to commit there and hard to detect.

Allen: And when you say they’re not, like, making an effort to clean up voter rolls, that means that maybe the absentee ballots are being mailed to homes where an individual has passed away or someone can come in and say, “I am this person and that person no longer lives in the state,” that sort of thing?

Von Spakovsky: Yes, that’s exactly right.

Allen: OK. So as we look back through history, have there been that many elections that we know of that actually have been swayed by voter fraud and it’s been proven?

Von Spakovsky: Yes. Unfortunately, true. And again, if both go through our database, our Election Fraud Database—and keep in mind, our Election Fraud Database is not a historical account of the entire U.S. history of elections. I mean, it’s basically cases from the last 10 to 20 years.

And there are numerous cases in there where elections have been overturned. I mentioned the Compton City Council race. It was just overturned this past summer.

Remember four years ago we had, actually, a congressional race, 9th Congressional District of North Carolina overturned a new election held after the State Board of Elections conducted a very intensive investigation and discovered systematic absentee ballot fraud that affected the outcome of the election.

So look, elections have been overturned, not just at local levels, but even, for example, at congressional races too.

Allen: Of course, we’ve just had an election and many, many more elections, of course, to take place in America’s future. The beauty of living in America is that we have a voice as the American people. We get to cast our ballots for the individuals who we think represent our values most, who will represent our nation best. When we’re looking back at elections, can we trust the results of elections? And when do you think are times when we need to call things into question, are there certain signs to look for?

Von Spakovsky: Look, I think we can trust many, if not most, of our elections, but there are elections where either people cheat or significant errors are made by election officials that question the result.

In the absentee ballot fraud area, for example, one indication that fraud may have occurred, and this is the way these kind of cases have been discovered in the past, is look, if you’re voting in a jurisdiction where in past elections, the average number of people using an absentee ballot has been about 10%, if all of a sudden in an election that jumps to 30% or 40%, well, yeah, maybe there’s some reason why all of a sudden people started using those ballots. But on the other hand, maybe there isn’t.

Another indication of that is, look, if on Election Day one particular candidate gets 60% of the votes and the losing candidate gets 40%, but when you count up the absentee ballots, it turns out the winning candidate got 90% of the votes—come on. That, again, should raise a suspicion because why would there be a huge differential between the absentee ballots cast for a candidate and the ballots cast on Election Day?

Allen: So what are maybe three or four of the best practices to keep elections fair, safe, and secure?

Von Spakovsky: First of all, every state ought to have a voter ID requirement that applies to both in-person and absentee ballots. Every state that’s done this has put in a provision providing a free ID to anyone that doesn’t already have one. That’s one of the most basic things.

The second big thing that states need to do is a better job of maintaining the accuracy of their voter rolls. And that means, for example, regularly checking to take people off who have died, regularly checking to take people off who have moved out of state.

And the absentee balloting process needs to be well managed because it’s the only kind of ballot voted outside the supervision of election officials and outside the observation of poll watchers.

So while we need absentee ballots for people who are disabled to make it to a polling place or perhaps, or out of town—although these days that’s a little bit harder to claim when we have early voting for such a lengthy periods—the use of absentee ballot should be minimized. And we should only allow that for people who really can’t make it to a polling place to vote.

And those absentee ballots, for example, no state ought to allow what I call vote trafficking. Yeah, you should be able to mail your ballot back. You ought to be able to personally deliver it to election officials, a member of your family too. But allowing third-party strangers, like candidates and campaign activists, political guns for hire to go to people’s homes and pick up their absentee ballots and potentially pressure and coerce them to vote a particular way or maybe change that ballot, that is a very unwise policy. And yet, about half the states allow that.

Allen: I want to encourage all of our listeners to check out your work at @heritage.org, to look up the voter fraud database, the elections scorecard. Hans, you stay busy. There’s a lot going on.

Von Spakovsky: Well, particularly in an election year.

Allen: Absolutely. But thank you so much for your time today. We really appreciate you joining the show right after such a crazy time and such a wild election.

Von Spakovsky: Sure. Thanks for having me.

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