Both Britain and the US have a largely unadmitted problem with voter fraud. The facts are clear, but the politics are ugly.
Conservatives tend to worry about postal voting and proxy voting. Progressives counter that voting in person discriminates against voters without the resources to travel or get out of work in time. By extension, the discrimination is against the poor, the disadvantaged, and minorities. Today, almost everything is reduced to race, following the progressive incorporation of social justice.
Progressives have most to lose from admitting voter fraud after reducing all electoral issues to race
The facts are entangled in counter-claims of lies and fake news. In 2016, Trump warned that voter fraud could cost him the election. By contrast, the Centre for American Progress blamed identification requirements and other “structural barriers” for costing progressives the election.
Each side is making the same claims in 2020. But neither side is interested in settling the dispute empirically. In cardinal numbers, we are caught between Trump’s unsubstantiated allegation of “millions” of illegal votes for Hillary Clinton in 2016 and the progressive elite’s claim that fraud is in the “hundreds,” at most.
Neither claim is satisfying. Although progressives like to monopolise “the science,” they hypocritically ignore or mischaracterise the evidence. Even when they admit voter fraud, they tend to dismiss it as “next to none,” in the words of the New York Times.
Progressives have most to lose from admitting voter fraud, having reduced all electoral issues to race in the 1990s. By the time a Republican (George W. Bush) returned to the Presidency in 2001, the Democratic Party had already accused the voting system of suppressing non-white voters. Nevertheless, the dominant contest about the 2000 election was a close count in Florida.
In 2008, candidate Barack Obama explicitly warned against intimidation and under-registration of non-white voters, before handily winning the presidential election thanks to record registration, turnout, and support from non-whites.
Obama ignored video of baton-wielding militants from the New Black Panthers racially abusing white voters outside a polling station in majority-black Philadelphia. The militants also called two black Republican poll watchers “race traitors.” One militant was simultaneously a Democratic poll watcher and an elected member of the local Ward Democratic Committee. Federal prosecutors issued default rulings against the two men and the chairman of New Black Panthers, but Obama’s political appointees in the Department of Justice dismissed all complaints (except to ban the other militant from exhibiting a weapon within 100 feet of a polling place, for three years).
Meanwhile, Democrats denied conservative claims of a systemic enabler of voter fraud: the registration of illegitimate voters (such as those who have deceased, gone to jail, moved to another district, or are resident but not citizens). A federal law requires local officials to purge invalid voters from the rolls. In 2009, one year after the election, the Obama administration’s Deputy Assistant Attorney General told the Department of Justice’s Voting Section it would not enforce the law.
By then, at least 16 states were in violation. Some of their rolls showed no mortality for years. In 2012, the Pew Centre found by sample that about 1 in 8 voter registrations is inaccurate. Extrapolating from the sample gets to an estimate of 24 million inaccurate registrants, including 2.8 million people registered in more than one state, and 1.8 million dead.
In 2017, a private lawsuit revealed that Los Angeles County held more registered voters than eligible voters. Neither the State of California nor the County had removed any inactive voters in 20 years. The lawsuit was not resolved until 2019, when the petitioner (“Judicial Watch”), the County, and the State agreed out of court to verify or purge 1.5 million inactive registrants (Los Angeles has 10 million residents).
The Obama administration, and the mostly sympathetic news media, ignored the issue. Instead, predictably, in 2016 they doubled-down on race, exacerbated by the Democratic Party’s increasing reliance on social justice theory and by Donald Trump’s populist campaign.
In January 2017, Trump promised an investigation into voter fraud. Obama used his final press conference as President to trace Trump’s allegations “back to Jim Crow [racial segregation laws] and the legacy of slavery.” He also characterised voter fraud as “fake news.” Most of the news media preferred Obama over Trump, and characterised Trump’s allegations as “lies,” in the word of the New York Times (repeatedly, from 2016 to 2020).
Trump’s main allegation, which underlies all others, is that some states do not require voters to verify their identity. Most democracies have a national statutory requirement for voters to prove identity. America and Britain do not. The US federal government doesn’t organise elections. Increasingly, states have banned any demand for identification, following the progressive argument that such a demand intimidates voters, particularly minorities.
The progressive argument is dominant in media and academia, but dominant isn’t the same as popular. A survey in 2012 found that almost three-quarters of Americans thought that voters should present a photo ID. In 2016, two months before the general election, nearly half of Americans agreed that voter fraud occurs. These proportions do not vary significantly by party or race, which suggests that progressive voters are more worried than progressive leaders.
One of Ilhan Omar’s supporters posted a video of himself boasting about 300 ballots in his car
In 2016, the losers doubled-down on the claim that identification suppresses voting. This is disproven by the experience of the highly progressive State of Oregon. From 1st January 2016, it became the first state to implement automatic registration (with option to opt-out) whenever a resident uses a state office (such as renewing car registration). Oregon requires proof of citizenship before issuing driver licenses or substitutes. Nevertheless, voter registrations accelerated quicker in 2016 than before the 2012 or 2014 federal elections.
Where a state’s identification requirements can’t be overturned, progressive leaders have lowered the standard. In December 2015, the election commissioner for New York City was caught on video complaining privately about “a lot of fraud,” particularly in ethnic minority areas, given a municipal card that “anybody” can get without proving their identity. “I don’t think it’s too much to ask somebody to show some kind of ID.” He said that absentee vote fraud was in the “thousands.” The Mayor (Bill de Blasio), who introduced the municipal card on the grounds of helping the poor and minorities, promptly fired the election commissioner, without changing policy.
All three issues (intimidation; invalid registrants; unconfirmed identity) are exacerbated by absentee ballots. In 2016, 24 percent of votes were cast by mail; another 17 percent were cast early in-person. Since then, states have expanded absentee voting, particularly in response to Covid (it is now permitted by 44 of the 50 states). Four weeks to go before this year’s presidential election, about 4 million had voted: that’s 50 times as many as in 2016. Early voting by Democrats runs at more than twice the rate as Republicans.
California is the leader in absentee voting: its rate passed 50 percent in 2016. In 2019, the Governor ruled that these ballots must be sent to all registrants, even if coded as “inactive.” Additionally, California and other progressive states allow return by email or fax. More than half of states allow anyone to carry other people’s ballots to election officials.
Nancy Pelosi, the Democratic Speaker of the US House of Representatives, wants to force all states to allow for mail-in ballots, in order to ease voter turnout and to control Covid infections. She wants to legislate this within the next Coronavirus aid bill.
However, mail-in voters are inherently more difficult to identify. Normally, the only authenticity for a mail-in vote is a signature, and nobody checks the signature without probable cause. Practically, probable cause would require the fraudster’s prior admission or a credible witness.
Even if the voter is legitimate, their absentee vote is easier for other parties to influence. Party activists already knock on doors, organise voter clinics, or set up stalls where Americans renew their driving licenses or get naturalised as citizens. These activists legitimately help residents to register, check if they are correctly registered, fill in ballots, or despatch ballots. But such intimacy is a short step to influence.
For instance, couriers can favour ballots they suspect of being co-partisan (known as “ballot harvesting”). Activists might even strong-arm the voter or alter the ballots in transit. After the 2018 midterms, a Democratic district attorney in Texas came out against mail-in voting, after finding that partisan “helpers” were altering the votes of ballots collected from predominantly elderly voters.
Ethnic block voting in Britain goes back at least to the election of Birmingham’s council in 2004
In September 2020 came allegations of “the largest voter fraud” in American history. It allegedly starts in 2016, when Ilhan Omar was elected as a representative to Minnesota’s state legislature, defeating an incumbent of 44 years’ standing. In 2018, she was elected to the US House of Representative for Minnesota’s fifth district (essentially the city of Minneapolis, which has the largest Somali diaspora in the US, and is also where George Floyd died in police custody in May this year). In both cases, she was accused of harvesting co-ethnic votes and facilitating co-ethnics from out of state to vote, on the grounds of temporary residency, as vouched by her supporters.
Although she claims the allegations are bigoted, the allegations come from within her own ethnicity (but not necessarily the same clan). In 2020, she was challenged in the Democratic Party primary, by four other candidates. The strongest (Antone Melton-Meaux) is of differing ethnicity (her supporters describe him as “black,” amongst other things), gender, religion, and views towards Israel and Black Lives Matter. In August, she won easily.
In the same month, one of her supporters posted a video of himself boasting about 300 ballots in his car, harvested just that day. (State law forbids the harvesting of more than three ballots.) Apparently, he filmed himself to prove his work to others in her campaign. “Money is everything,” he keeps saying.
Another of her campaigners was secretly filmed handing over $200 for a ballot that he promised to complete. Yet another was filmed admitting that the going rate is between $200 and $300, and that other votes are confirmed by entering the voting booth with the voter. Insiders and a whistle-blower directly implicate the Congresswoman and/or her deputy district director.
Officials and journalists have barely noted the allegations. The Minneapolis police department (the one the Congresswoman wants to abolish) says it is investigating. The State’s law enforcers haven’t said. The appearance of partisanship is enhanced by the fact that most state electoral officers are political appointees.
Trump called on the US Department of Justice to investigate, but it has not committed. (It is still reeling from ongoing revelations that in 2016 it investigated a supposed conspiracy between Trump and Russia that started with Democratic Party smears.)
Britons should not settle back with schadenfreude. Ethnic and religious block voting in Britain goes back at least to the election of Birmingham’s council in 2004. Muslim and ethnic minority leaders harvested ballots and forged about 1,500 votes per ward (that’s more than a quarter of the voters in an average ward). The facts are not in dispute: they were established judicially, and the judge has warned about the shared vulnerability of Britain and America. Nevertheless, outlets tend to self-censor in order to avoid accusations of racism.
In May 2014, Tower Hamlets re-elected its Bangladesh-born Muslim mayor (Mohammad Luftur Rahman), after voters were bribed, more than 100 Imams signed a letter written in Bengali warning voters of their religious duty, and the mayor called his white opponent a racist (despite representing the Labour Party, of which Rahman was formerly a member). In 2015, the mayor and a councillor were removed for electoral fraud.
In the general election of May 2015, some Britons bragged on social media about voting more than once in the same constituency or in multiple constituencies. The same occurred in the Brexit referendum of June 2016.
One of the few decisive actions by the subsequent administration led by Theresa May was a declaration in December 2016 that officials must see identification from voters, although this requirement was limited to areas prone to fraud.
The government promised legislation to raise the maximum penalty for voter fraud from two to ten years, to prohibit partisan workers from handing in postal ballots, and to empower police to stop intimidation near the polls. Instead, the government changed its legal advice based on prior legislation.
Voter identification was piloted at the local elections in May 2019, but subsequently challenged in court (on familiar progressive grounds). Subsequently, the government advises that voters do not need to bring any identification, except in Northern Ireland. All you need to provide in person is your name and address (verbally). Postal and proxy voting require nothing more than a signature.
Both Britain and America should do more to counter voter fraud. This will start only when progressive leaders and journalists start admitting that voter fraud is an issue.
The right to vote justifies easier voting but not ineligible voting. It takes only one opposition vote to cancel out your preference. And it takes only one illegitimate voter to cancel out your legitimacy as a voter.
Enjoying The Critic online? It's even better in print
Try three issues of Britain’s newest magazine for £5Subscribe