Liberals often claim that while there may be other forms of voter fraud in the United States, like voter registration fraud, the only kind of voter fraud that a voter ID law can possibly prevent is in-person voter fraud (where someone shows up at a polling station and votes when they're not legally permitted), and that there have been almost no documented cases of someone committing intentional in-person voter fraud in the United States.

How many confirmed cases have there been in the United States of intentional in-person voter fraud which could have been prevented if the state in question had passed voter ID laws?

And whatever that number is, has it ever been big enough to significantly alter vote totals? What if you throw in unintentional cases as well?

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    So lets set a really high bar for acceptance and then point to how no one can get over the bar to show that something is not happening. We do not require ID's in most places to vote. So someone walking in and voting for someone else is not likely to be caught. Twice I had someone vote using my name and both times the election official said that it was probably a mistake that someone was given my sheet on accident. I do not believe in coincidences when they happen repeatedly. Jan 8, 2014 at 19:59
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    @Bobson - Sure its answerable... but it is meaningless. It is basically impossible to confirm the cases because there is no id required to vote. So what happens is when someone shows up to vote and they have already been voted for they are either turned away or given a provincial ballot that never gets counted. There is no investigation no matter how hard you press for one. Jan 9, 2014 at 15:05
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    @Bobson - what Chad said. How many confirmed cases of voter fraud is a completely irrelevant information, since there's zero way to confirm whether those confirmed cases consitute 0.001% of all voter fraud or 99.99% of it. The whole point is that the lack of voter ID requirement means that one can commit voter fraud with near impunity without almost any risk of detection. Any assertion of how many DO commit it, is merely a random guess. The only purpose a question like this serves is to prove a partisan point by presenting nominally true but useless info that can not illuminate reality.
    – user4012
    Jan 9, 2014 at 16:39
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    @DVK you can't assert that we don't know the detection rate of voter fraud and then say voter fraud is unlikely to be detected. That's a contradiction.
    – Publius
    Jan 9, 2014 at 17:36
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    @DVK - I'm only answering the question as written. If it gets edited to remove "confirmed" from the qustion, then I'll delete my answer and vote to close as unanswerable. But as written, it can be answered, even if that answer is meaningless in the larger picture.
    – Bobson
    Jan 9, 2014 at 17:52

4 Answers 4



  • Cases of confirmed fraud (prosecuted or not): 10 (0.4%)
  • Cases of confirmed fraud or non-citizen voting (which would be caught by checking drivers licenses): 52 (2.5%)
  • Total confirmed illegal votes by non-felons (which puts an upper bound on our data): 239 (11.6%)

~~~~ How many known cases? ~~~~

This article appears to be the most in-depth investigation of the topic.

A News21 analysis of 2,068 alleged election-fraud cases since 2000 [until 2010] shows that ... in-person voter impersonation on Election Day, which prompted 37 state legislatures to enact or consider tough voter ID laws, is virtually non-existent.

In an exhaustive public records search, News21 reporters sent thousands of requests to elections officers in all 50 states, asking for every case of fraudulent activity including registration fraud, absentee ballot fraud, vote buying, false election counts, campaign fraud, casting an ineligible vote, voting twice, voter impersonation fraud and intimidation.

Their conclusion was that very few cases of fraud were of the type that could be prevented by voter ID laws. Most cases involved absentee ballot or registration fraud (where your ID would not be checked). Those that involved in-person fraud were usually of the "able to vote twice" or "am I eligible in the first place" variety, which is also not resolved by proving that you are who you're supposed to be.

Their database only has 10 cases of in-person voter impersonation fraud, which is the only kind that a loose voter ID law would catch (i.e. any proof of ID). A stricter form which required a type of ID which only proven citizens could get (such as a driver's license) would have eliminated 52 more cases of (probably) unintentional fraud. Taken together, these account for 2.5% of all reported cases over a ten year period.

There's also their 187 cases of generic "Casting Ineligible Vote" by Voters, which includes some felon voting (not caught by voter ID), some non-citizen voting (which is included above), but mostly there isn't information on what type it was. If you assume this extra set is entirely the kind of illegal voting that would be caught by voter ID, and that there's no overlap with the above set, that raises the total to a maximum of 239 cases of illegal voting (11.6%).

~~~~ So what is the impact? ~~~~

Under this worst-case scenario, where all of the 239 cases reported come from separate instances of detectable voter fraud, it's still not enough to have any significant impact on the majority of elections. These cases were spread throughout much of the country, over a twelve year spread. But even if they were all concentrated in one district, in one year, they still wouldn't be enough to have an impact on any national-scale election. For example, the smallest districts (on average) have around 500,000 people. Even assuming that only 125,000 (1/4th) of those are actually registered voters, and there's only 10% turnout, that's still 12,500 votes cast. A 51-49% split would have the winner win by 250 votes, which is more than the 239 known cases of fraud.

To put it another way, there were 351,971,792 votes cast (total) in the presidential elections in the years in question (2000, 2004, 2008) (2012 was too late to be included in the database). 239 votes represents 0.0001% of that total.

~~~~ References & Notes ~~~~

I will point out that I only looked at national-scale elections: Representatives, Senators, and the President. It's possible that local elections (for mayor or other city/county positions) were decided by a small enough margin that a few people voting fraudulently (deliberately or not) would have swung the result. However, I'm not going to look into the data that closely, and the smaller the vote, the harder it will be to vote too often.

Finally, I'd like to also reference this answer, which points out that in order to have even 1000 deliberately fraudulent votes:

[E]ither one person has to travel to and vote at a 1000 booths to supply a 1000 votes, or a 1000 people have to collude to vote above and beyond any normal legal incentives to vote. Which is why Tammany Hall corruption was quite visible.

Note: The database is as comprehensive as possible, but is not 100% complete. See here for details, but basically not all government officials responded. However, if the government didn't respond, any fraud they may have had cannot be considered "confirmed".

You can query their data directly here, as well as images of every document they sent or received as they were building it.

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    What if only 1% or less of voter fraud is being detected? We had 30% turn out at my precinct and 20 cases where someone tried to vote but found that someone had already voted for them and had to fill out a provisional ballot(that gets tossed), that translates to ~70 total votes, our alderman was selected by a margin of 8, and our School Superintendent by 11. Jan 9, 2014 at 16:45
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    @Chad - I don't see that anywhere in their official methodology. As I read it, they asked each official who might possibly have records for their records, not just the FEC. And if the official failed to investigate them, that's (as I said) an unrelated (and disturbing) problem which in no way affects the question of confirmed cases. And like I commented on the question itself, I think this question is asking for useless data, but it is data that exists so it can be answered.
    – Bobson
    Jan 9, 2014 at 18:07
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    That's what downvoting the question is for, but you're free to downvote the answer for any reason you like, including "I flipped a coin" or "The question is stupid and so is anyone who answers it" (exaggeration mine). I'm ok with that. Just don't claim that the answer is flawed just because it answers a flawed question which uses a flawed definition to ask for flawed data.
    – Bobson
    Jan 9, 2014 at 18:13
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    I'm only interested in cases that would be preventable by voter ID laws, so don't include the 74 felon voting cases. Jan 10, 2014 at 21:57
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    Thanks! I'm sorry you have zero net votes despite completely answering my question. Jan 13, 2014 at 1:16

From http://www.wral.com/state-elections-officials-seek-tighter-security/13533579/:

(this is just one state, with nearly 1000 likely voter fraud issues; at least 81 of which - "dead souls" - 100% certainly would have been prevented with voter ID laws; and if the voter ID has residency requirements, would ALSO prevent the other 765).

I am not even going into ~200 thousand who COULD have committed voting fraud if they were inclined to do so; again preventable by Voter ID laws.

Strach said North Carolina's check found 765 registered North Carolina voters who appear to match registered voters in other states on their first names, last names, dates of birth and the final four digits of their Social Security numbers. Those voters appear to have voted in North Carolina in 2012 and also voted in another state in 2012.

... The crosscheck also found 35,570 voters in North Carolina who voted in 2012 whose first names, last names and dates of birth match those of voters who voted in other states in 2012, but whose Social Security numbers were not matched. ... "A lot of states don't provide last four SSN, or they don't have that information," Strach explained.

Additionally, the analysis found 155,692 registered North Carolina voters whose first and last names, dates of birth and final four Social Security number digits match voters registered in other states but who most recently registered or voted elsewhere. That last group, Strach said, was most likely voters who moved out of state without notifying their local boards of elections. "Those may be voters we need to remove because they've left North Carolina."

Strach also said a "10-year death audit" found 13,416 deceased voters who had not been removed from voter rolls as of October 2013. Eighty-one of those individuals, she said, died before an election in which they are recorded as having voted.

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    The investigation hasn't gone through. The article says a number of times that this could be the result of error rather than fraud, and it hasn't found that these instances of fraud could have been prevented by voter ID laws. This is not a good answer. Not to mention that the question asks about known cases of fraud.
    – Publius
    Apr 3, 2014 at 22:33
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    @DVK Then perhaps the investigation will bear your point out, but until then, declaring that there are numerous instances of fraud is premature and inconsistent with established data.
    – Publius
    Apr 4, 2014 at 4:46
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    @DVK - Likely? Not really. On the other hand, you're dealing with 101,000,000 records. 765 cases of overlap in that set is still only 0.07574% overlap. That seems within the realm of possibility to me. However, my main point was that you shouldn't claim that the social security numbers matched, when it's only the last four which did. This report is definitely worth following up on, and I'll be watching for more updates to it, but it is currently only preliminary, uninvestigated results, not conclusive proof.
    – Bobson
    Apr 4, 2014 at 14:14
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    @Bobson According to this site, there are about 5000 first names and 150 thousand last names in the US: howmanyofme.com So assuming 150 million possible full names (which is a vast overestimate), the expected number of people with matching names, birthdays, and last four of social is 18: www.wolframalpha.com/input/?i=101000000*%281-%28%281-1%2F%28365*10000*150000000%29%29%5E%28101000000-1%29%29%29. But of course the actual number may be orders of magnitude higher if you make the number of possible names more realistic. May 14, 2014 at 17:55
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    Matching "date of birth" is a lot less frequent than matching "birthday"... The former includes the year.
    – Ben Voigt
    May 29, 2014 at 17:39

Very few cases of voter fraud, of the kind preventable by voter ID laws, have ever been identified. Texas' recent voter ID law would have only prevented four cases of fraud. Nationally, an analysis of alleged cases of voter fraud found only ten instances of fraud since 2000 that voter ID laws would have prevented. The Department of Justice found that 40 people had been indicted for voter fraud in federal elections between 2002 and 2005. In these cases, there is a certain (albeit very small) amount of voter fraud, but only a small fraction of that fraud could be prevented by voter ID laws.

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    If you want to have this discussion, You can have it in the chat room Jan 8, 2014 at 17:51
  • Are you retracting your answer now based on this info? wral.com/state-elections-officials-seek-tighter-security/… . That's just one state. Dead people voting; people voting in 2 places.
    – user4012
    Apr 3, 2014 at 20:57
  • I may if the investigation finds that a) such fraud occurred, b) the fraud could have prevented by voter ID laws, and c) they can explain why other investigations have found vastly different amounts of fraud.
    – Publius
    Apr 3, 2014 at 22:32
  • @Avi - generally, ID prevents you from voting as someone OTHER than yourself (like, a dead person). What exactly would you consider a sufficient proof that a Voter ID law would prevent an individual from voting as someone else who's dead; OR as themselves but at the wrong address?
    – user4012
    Apr 4, 2014 at 2:34
  • @DVK An investigation by a reputable source finding that a certain number of instances of fraud could have been prevented by voter ID laws.
    – Publius
    Apr 4, 2014 at 4:45

Here is at least one person who voted improperly in all major elections for four decades:

According to the Times, Hernandez cast improper votes in "every major election" since 1976. That's at least 10 of them, twice as many if it includes midterms.

Noncitizens, including legal resident aliens, are forbidden to vote in every state. States that have sought to incorporate verification of citizenship into the voter-registration process have encountered obstacles from the Obama administration and denunciations from the New York Times.

It is pretty hard to know how many of these cases have occurred given the fact that there is no "master list" of U.S. citizens (which I regard as a good thing, actually). However, given lax proof requirements at registration, and even laxer requirements of identity proof at the time of voting, the results of every local/regional election in areas highly populated by non-citizens is in doubt.

At least Kansas' Voter ID Law requires that

Persons registering to vote for the first time in Kansas must prove U.S. citizenship when registering to vote.

Thus, there is at least one voter ID proposal that would have prevented ineligible persons from registering in the first place.

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    The catch here is that I'm not sure if voter ID would have fixed this. Given how his citizen status slipped through so many cracks in his life here in the US. In addition, according to that article, he should have already been granted citizenship but due to yet another error he wasn't.
    – user1530
    May 24, 2014 at 17:04
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    It's worth noting that he did have a driver's license (unreported in the linked article, but mentioned here) which would have provided sufficient proof of ID to have voted, if he were checked. Thus, while this is a good example of what voter ID is intended on catching, it's a bad example of a case where it would have caught anything.
    – Bobson
    May 27, 2014 at 14:58
  • @Bobson if something like the Kansas law were in effect at the time of his first registration, his status would have been caught. As I mentioned, in the U.S. one can prove one's citizenship, but it is impossible to simply find out that one is not a citizen. May 28, 2014 at 20:58
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    @SinanÜnür - Agreed. If it were in effect in whatever state he voted in when he went to went to register then, yes, it would have been caught. However, since that part of the law only affects registration of first-time voters and not ability to vote at the polling place (unless Kansas has same-day registration), I don't think it really count into what's normally considered the "VoterID law" group. The typical "Show an ID to vote" type of law wouldn't have had any effect on him.
    – Bobson
    May 28, 2014 at 21:10

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