People speculate that votes are not properly counted -- even in the U.S. Have Gallup polls or well-respected independent entities tried to confirm U.S. election outcomes?

Update on 10/13/18: while the electoral college is relevant, I am looking for someone to address voter fraud and secret forces illegally counting the votes of the citizens or the electoral college inaccurately. My intended question pertains to this conspiracy theory.

  • 1
    It's generally not done in "advanced democracies", except when there's call for recount e.g. a really close race. Oct 1, 2018 at 6:27
  • The margin of error is usually dwarfed by the difference in tallies. It only really matters in a small handful of cases, and the cost doing so is economically wasteful except in those cases. Oct 1, 2018 at 15:52
  • In the US, elections are at most state-wide. Due to the Electoral College, that includes Presidential elections. Different states do different things. I'm confident of the accuracy of the vote counting in my state, but not in some other states, particularly the ones that use electronic voting machines. Oct 2, 2018 at 15:39
  • Possible edit: s/People speculate/People infer/.
    – agc
    Oct 15, 2018 at 17:46

2 Answers 2


The states devise "voting systems", see

52 U.S. Code § 21081 - Voting systems standards, see section (b)(1), (b)(2)

  • (b) Voting system defined. In this section, the term “voting system” means—
    • (1) the total combination of mechanical, electromechanical, or electronic equipment (including the software, firmware, and documentation required to program, control, and support the equipment) that is used—
      • (A) to define ballots;
      • (B) to cast and count votes;
      • (C) to report or display election results; and
      • (D) to maintain and produce any audit trail information; and
    • (2) the practices and associated documentation used—
      • (A) to identify system components and versions of such components;
      • (B) to test the system during its development and maintenance;
      • (C) to maintain records of system errors and defects;
      • (D) to determine specific system changes to be made to a system after the initial qualification of the system; and
      • (E) to make available any materials to the voter (such as notices, instructions, forms, or paper ballots).

The National Conference of State Legislatures recently (8/6/2018) published VOTING SYSTEM STANDARDS, TESTING AND CERTIFICATION


Voting machines have an integral role in ensuring the integrity of elections, and thus of protecting democracy. It's important that voting machines are doing what they are designed to do: Record citizens’ votes in a secure and accurate way. Voters must be confident their votes are being recorded as cast, that their privacy is being protected, and that the machine is tamper-proof. To provide this level of confidence, voting machines are tested against standards before being used in an election.

Those standards vary from state to state. Some states adopt federal standards, some develop their own standards and others use a hybrid of both approaches. See which states use federal standards and certification below.


Testing and Certification of Voting Systems

Local jurisdictions select and purchase voting systems, but before they are able to do so the system must go through a testing process to ensure that it meets state standards and in some cases federal standards as well. Voting system vendors are responsible for ensuring that the system is tested—often through a federally accredited Voting Systems Test Laboratory or VSTL—to the required standards. Once testing is complete, approval is issued at the state level and local jurisdictions may purchase the system.

Thirty-eight states and the District of Columbia use some aspect of the federal testing and certification program in addition to state-specific testing and certification of systems:

  • Nine states and D.C. require testing to federal standards (states reference standards drafted by the FEC, NIST or the EAC): Connecticut, D.C., Hawaii, Indiana, Kentucky, Nevada, NewYork, Tennessee, Texas and Virginia.
  • Seventeen states require testing by a federally accredited laboratory: Alabama, Arkansas, Arizona, Colorado, Illinois, Iowa, Massachusetts, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, New Mexico, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Utah and Wisconsin.
  • Twelve states require full federal certification (in statute or rule): Delaware, Georgia, Idaho, Louisiana, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, South Carolina, South Dakota, Washington, West Virginia and Wyoming.

Four states refer to federal agencies or standards, but do not fall into the categories above:

  • Alaska: the director may consider whether the FEC has certified a voting machine when considering whether the system shall be approved for use in the state (though FEC certification is not a requirement).
  • California: the Secretary of State adopts testing standards that meet or exceed the federal voluntary standards set by the EAC.
  • Kansas: requires compliance with voting system standards required by HAVA.
  • Mississippi: DREs shall comply with the error rate standards established by the FEC (though other standards are not mentioned). (Note that the FEC no longer sets voting system standards.)

Eight states have no federal testing or certification requirements. Statutes and/or regulations make no mention of any federal agency, certification program, laboratory, or standard; instead these states have state-specific processes to test and approve equipment (Note that even states that do not require federal certification typically still rely on the federal program to some extent, and use voting systems created by vendors that have been federally certified):

  • Florida, Maine, Montana, Nebraska, New Hampshire, New Jersey, Oklahoma, and Vermont.
  • American Samoa, Guam, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands are also in this category.

The actual results for federal elections in 2016 can be located at Election Results for the U.S. President, the U.S. Senate and the U.S. House of Representatives (emphasis added below to illustrate that the administration of elections is primarily performed locally)

The elections for these federal offices are administered by local election officials in towns, counties, municipalities, and other jurisdictions. The results of the elections are certified by the state government, which in most cases is the Secretary of State. (emphasis added) While the full records are available for public inspection, most states prepare summary reports for public dissemination. These summary reports vary in form and content, and may be amended well after the election. There is no standard format that states use in reporting federal election results.

At Election Fraud Cases from Across the United States published by The Heritage Foundation ("The mission of The Heritage Foundation is to formulate and promote conservative public policies based on the principles of free enterprise, limited government, individual freedom, traditional American values, and a strong national defense.") "a sampling of proven instances of election fraud from across the country" are provided, with a link to a more detailed report A SAMPLING OF ELECTION FRAUD CASES FROM ACROSS THE COUNTRY

The Heritage Foundation’s Election Fraud Database presents a sampling of proven instances of election fraud from across the country. This database is not an exhaustive or comprehensive list, but is intended to demonstrate the many ways in which fraud is committed. Preventing, deterring, and prosecuting election fraud is essential to protecting the integrity of our voting process.

  • 1,145 Proven instances of voter fraud (emphasis added)

  • 992 Criminal convictions

  • 48 Civil penalties

  • 80 Diversion program

  • 10 Judicial finding

  • 15 Official finding

See also An Analysis of Voter Fraud in The United States

Election Fraud Today

Based on the research and analysis conducted for Securing the Vote, we offer several conclusions about election fraud in the United States today: - Voter fraud appears to be very rare in the 12 states examined in that report. Legal and news records that fraud is more than a minor problem. Interviews with state officials further confirmed this impression.

  • Analysis of several cases of election fraud that have received significant attention in recent years suggests that some of the most notable allegations of fraud have proved to be baseless. While the 1997 mayoral primary election in Miami, Florida, was one of the most egregious election fraud cases in recent memory, there are other noted cases where charges of significant vote fraud have been disproved, such as the 1996 Dornan/Sanchez contest for the U.S. House of Representatives in Orange County, California. There are yet other cases, such as the 2000 election in St. Louis, Missouri, in which politicians have made great hay, but charges of widespread fraud have not been substantiated. A new Demos report on voter fraud in states offering Election Day Registration finds that despite the hundreds of news stories reporting on allegations of voter fraud in Wisconsin in the 2004 presidential election, practically no fraud has ever been proven. An intensive effort on the part of the federal government to uncover and prosecute voter fraud in Wisconsin resulted in only 14 indictments and five convictions or guilty pleas for illegal voting in an election in which over 3 million ballots were cast. (emphasis added)


The 2000 Election, St. Louis, Missouri


Before the facts were known, wild accusations of a vast conspiracy on the part of Democrats to undertake “a major criminal enterprise designed to defraud voters” captured national media attention. (emphasis added)


The lesson is that the politics of voter fraud matter more for the election rules we get than the actual evidence of voter fraud itself. (emphasis added)

The question

Have Gallup polls or well-respected independent entities tried to confirm U.S. election outcomes?


I am looking for someone to address voter fraud and secret forces illegally counting the votes of the citizens or the electoral college inaccurately. My intended question pertains to this conspiracy theory.

is addressed at Debunking the Voter Fraud Myth, where links to studies are included in the publications, with topics and selected studies for each covered below

Studies Agree: Impersonation Fraud by Voters Very Rarely Happens

  • The Brennan Center’s seminal report on this issue, The Truth About Voter Fraud found that most reported incidents of voter fraud are actually traceable to other sources, such as clerical errors or bad data matching practices. The report reviewed elections that had been meticulously studied for voter fraud, and found incident rates between 0.0003 percent and 0.0025 percent. (emphasis added) Given this tiny incident rate for voter impersonation fraud, it is more likely, the report noted, that an American “will be struck by lightning than that he will impersonate another voter at the polls.”


Courts Agree: Fraud by Voters at the Polls is Nearly Non-Existent

  • In its opinion striking down North Carolina’s omnibus restrictive election law —which included a voter ID requirement — as purposefully racially discriminatory, the Fourth Circuit noted that the state “failed to identify even a single individual who has ever been charged with committing in-person voter fraud in North Carolina.” (emphasis added)


Government Investigations Agree: Voter Fraud Is Rare

  • In Iowa, a multi-year investigation into fraud led to just 27 prosecutions out of 1.6 million ballots cast. In 2014 the state issued a report on the investigation citing only six prosecutions. The verdict is in from every corner that voter fraud is sufficiently rare that it simply could not and does not happen at the rate even approaching that which would be required to “rig” an election. (emphasis added) Electoral integrity is key to our democracy, and politicians who genuinely care about protecting our elections should focus not on phantom fraud concerns, but on those abuses that actually threaten election security.

As historians and election experts have catalogued, there is a long history in this country of racially suppressive voting measures — including poll taxes and all-white primaries — put in place under the guise of stopping voter fraud that wasn’t actually occurring in the first place. The surest way toward voting that is truly free, fair, and accessible is to know the facts in the face of such rhetoric. (emphasis added)

  • I feel like this is probably a good answer, but it's very long with lots of large block quotes. Could you please divide it up with headers into a few sections, and/or excerpt more?
    – Bobson
    Oct 15, 2018 at 21:37
  • @Bobson Not sure what you mean by "divide it up". Oct 16, 2018 at 14:10
  • 1
    I mean put in headers, like "Standards for voting systems", "Voting Fraud", and a TL;DR summary. See this answer as an example.
    – Bobson
    Oct 16, 2018 at 14:21

No, and it's better that way.

In the US we had a very hard time of this during the 2016 presidential elections, on account of much advance polling that didn't predict the true outcome of the election. In addition, exit polls showed an advantage for Clinton over Trump. How can the election result differ so much from these reliable polling methods?

To understand the difference, the first thing is to understand the Electoral College, our name for the system by which the majority in each US state may decide how the entire state's presidential votes will be cast. The number called "the popular vote" was rejected during the framing of our Constitution for the purpose of deciding the winner of the general election, and this is not a dumb choice: regional difference across the 3,500 miles (not counting Alaska and Hawaii) of the USA affect both voter interests and voter turnout...you wouldn't want a hurricane to wipe out roadways and roadway maintenance policy (because those affected couldn't drive to the polls) at the same time, as a gross example.

The Electoral College allows those who can make it to the polls to represent the entire state: in this way, regional variation in turnout doesn't unfairly become regional variation in voter enfranchisement.

Another nice thing about the Electoral College is that in case of a close call on the general election, the only re-counting necessary is in the one area where the votes are close. This way, if (say) the state of Rebelamacticut was known for always disenfranchising its meteorologists, but it didn't have a close call, no re-counting would be necessary in that hostile state. But under a "popular vote", the recount would need to go to Rebelamacticut and to Oilrigai'i, Jefferson, Guam, every US military base, and everywhere else that US citizens vote. The impracticality of this is manifest.

Also, the only count of each and every vote is the election itself, not phone-call polls, Internet polls, and exit polls.

People in the US care very deeply about our elections, so there is a multitude of volunteers from the ordinary citizen population who become poll workers. Many of these people care about one or another political party, but since the votes are secret it's generally not possible for the workers to attempt any kind of bias. In addition, a crooked poll worker would need to execute his scam over the course of a long day at close quarters with other poll workers, who are all responsible to follow the procedures specified by the precinct which were designed to prevent meddling.

Most US election precincts leave a paper trail, so that the final count can always be re-performed using the actual paper artifacts. This gives me much more confidence than some kind of computerized system, in which the only artifact of my vote is a magnetic or flash-memory bit (or series of bits) stored somewhere.


A commenter has criticized the Electoral College as being an unnecessary way to arrive at precinct-summability of votes. Is it necessary for states to vote as a bloc (as with the Electoral College) in order for summaries of vote counts to pass from precinct to center?

No, the Electoral College is by no means the only way to arrive at precinct summability for elections. But precinct-summability does not address the problem that the Electoral College does address: how can bias resulting from the events of election day (such as weather, traffic, civil disruption, etc) be removed from vote counting? The solution is to guarantee that the citizens, as a group, of each state will always have the number of electoral votes that they are entitled to following the latest census.

Another criticism against the Electoral College, repeated from Time Magazine, is that the Electoral College was invented to facilitate the 3/5 compromise, a policy that everybody can see was objectively wretched. Basically, the South wanted more influence on national elections than they would have if slaves were completely disenfranchised (since they were not to be allowed to vote) but the North found it annoying that the South should gain in electoral influence merely on account of slaveholding. Both sides wrongly disenfranchised individual human beings (the slaves), both sides disgustingly dealt in influence like a commodity, and the result mars our memory of the whole system.

But the Electoral College is not a mere prop for the 3/5 compromise or the disenfranchisement suffered by former slaves and their descendants. The Time Magazine article of November 2016 suffered a strong rebuttal by Dave Benner of Minnesota that same month. Benner argues that the Southern support for the Electoral College was mixed, that slavery-abolishing Northerners weighed-in strongly against popular voting, and that other reasons provided by the Time Magazine article do not stand up to scrutiny.

Cherry Picking James Madison by Dave Benner November 15, 2016

Legal “scholar” Akil Reed Amar made waves recently by arguing that a single comment from James Madison proves that the Electoral College had an intrinsic pro-slavery bent and was designed to perpetuate the institution. According to Amar, Madison suggested that Virginia’s stature would be hindered by a national popular vote for president, an idea proposed in the Philadelphia Convention by nationalist delegate James Wilson of Pennsylvania. Madison’s position on this matter is not disputed by anyone; a national popular vote surely would have weakened Virginia’s influence in the federal system.

Amar’s argument, however, is a classic case of cherry picking. If Amar is correct, then he has to reconcile the fact that some of the most vocal opposition to a national popular vote came from delegates from states that had already abolished slavery. These men made it clear that Wilson’s proposal was unpopular not because of slavery but because it would have allowed small geographical regions and metropolitan areas to control presidential elections for a Union of states with differing regions, penchants, and dispositions.

For instance, Gouverneur Morris of Pennsylvania, whose state eliminated slavery in 1780, opined that “the great evil of cabal and corruption” could not be avoided under a direct popular vote. Elbridge Gerry of Massachusetts, a State which fully disposed of the institution even earlier, called a national referendum “radically vicious” for these same reasons. Roger Sherman and Oliver Ellsworth of Connecticut, a state that passed its gradual emancipation act of 1784, also raised explicit objections against a presidential election through the people at large. Would Amar thus suppose that these genuine apprehensions toward a national referendum were based on abolitionist tendencies?

In an apparent attempt to disparage the South, Amar also conveniently omits a multitude of actual reasons that delegates from slave states opposed Wilson’s proposal for a national popular vote. Fellow Virginian George Mason quipped that a national popular vote was akin to letting “a blind man choose colors” because voters would not be well acquainted with the positions/doings of candidates from other states. Though not a concern today, this was a real issue in 1787, where most people did not know what the candidates even looked like. Amar even cites the prevalence of this view in his article, correctly noting that several Founders believed Americans “would lack sufficient information to choose directly and intelligently among leading presidential candidates.” This, of course, had nothing to do with slavery, and effectively undermines Amar’s position.

Charles Pinckney of South Carolina noted that his misgivings against such a popular vote system were “obvious & striking,” declaring that one several of the most populous states would be led by a “few active & Designing men,” combining in favor of the same individual despite the chagrin of the rest of the country. John Rutledge of South Carolina opposed a national vote because he favored selection of the executive by Congress, never mentioning Amar’s supposed slavery rationale. This alternative matched James Madison’s original proposal for presidential appointment under a set of resolutions known as the Virginia Plan.

Additionally, Amar selectively omits other reasons Madison argued against such a system, such as when on July 25 he expressed that it would diminish the possibility of corruption and foreign influence, or the overarching fact that Madison did not believe the states should not be equal in the federal system – which influenced his views on a variety of subjects beyond the presidential election mechanism. For instance, Madison wished to preserve Virginia’s relative power in the union through a failed proposal for to apportion both houses of Congress by state population.

Amar also comically suggests that the early presidential elections were demonstrative proof of the Electoral College’s supposed pro-slavery bias, citing the sectional division between northern and southern states in the 1796 election. But the opposite case seems to have been made by the 1800 presidential election. Though it is true that Jefferson would not have won the election had there been no apportionment at all for slaves that year (as the northern delegates in Philadelphia wished), under a national popular vote system Jefferson’s Republican faction would have defeated Adams and the Federalists by an even wider margin. This was because Jefferson and his party coadjutor Aaron Burr reaped 61.4% of the popular vote while Adams and Charles Cotesworth Pinckney gained only 38.6%. In contrast, the Republican candidates obtained 146 electoral votes to while the Federalists received 130, demonstrating that the Electoral College actually made the contest much closer than it otherwise would have been. Besides that, in 1800 Jefferson and Burr won several northern states that had already passed emancipation acts, such as New York and Pennsylvania. Again, would Amar admit that these factors are evidence that a national popular vote would have helped the Jeffersonian Republicans achieve an even greater victory in 1800?

Also appearing to weaken Amar’s argument is his incorrect assumption that the Electoral College inherently benefitted other candidates from slaveholding states. This was certainly not true for candidate Charles Cotesworth Pinckney of South Carolina, a slaveholder who along with Adams failed to win the 1800 election for the Federalists. The supposed pro-slavery orientation of the Electoral College certainly did nothing to assist slaveholder Andrew Jackson, who in 1824 won a plurality of the popular vote but lost the election on account of the House of Representatives choosing an alternative under a deadlocked Electoral College. Instead, non-slaveholder John Quincy Adams was selected. Would Amar therefore admit that this election inversely proved the Electoral College was actually anti-slavery? Using his train of logic, one could persuasively make such an argument.

James Wilson’s proposal in Philadelphia was plainly perceived as radical and objectionable because of the potential to perpetuate mob rule and executive oppression over a large, federally-oriented country. Despite Amar’s sweeping conclusion, it remains clear instead that all varieties of delegates, whether they came from slave states or states that had already abolished slavery, saw Wilson’s initial plan as undesirable for other obvious reasons, which convinced him to abandon it. Sitting on a committee of eleven delegates that developed the Electoral College system, Wilson agreed to scrap his own popular vote proposal in favor of the more popular alternative.

Sadly, Amar is not the first to reach such a drastic, fallacious conclusion on constitutional features based on faulty premises and selective reasoning. This has been a common tactic among many reactionaries to link any aspect of the Constitution they don’t like to deplorable causes. Cherry picking one Madison quote in an attempt to prove his position is a tragic mistake that undermines honest scholarship and thorough constitutional study. To come to Amar’s deductions on the Electoral College, one must actively ignore the entire breadth of the Philadelphia Convention debates, everything that was said about such a system in the state ratification campaigns, and a battery of contradictory evidence suggesting that slavery had nothing to do with the reasons such a mechanism came to be favored for presidential elections.

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    Oct 5, 2018 at 8:16

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