According to the myth, illegal immigrants and other tricksters have been pouring into the polls by the millions for years. But studies and official crackdowns have never found more than handfuls of phony voters among millions of votes cast.
“A voter is more likely to be struck by lightning than to commit the crime of voter fraud,” said Common Cause Indiana's Julia Vaughn.
The efforts to “solve” the fake crisis of voter fraud pose far more danger to our election system.
A case in point is the Commission on Voter Integrity that was created after President Donald Trump claimed, without evidence, that “millions and millions” of fraudulent votes went to Hillary Clinton in the 2016 election. Kris Kobach, the Kansas secretary of state who co-chairs the committee with Vice President Mike Pence, has some alarming proposals aimed at collecting data and imposing onerous hurdles for would-be voters.
Even some members of the commission, including Indiana Secretary of State Connie Lawson, objected to the amount of voter information Kobach was demanding.
The Supreme Court will hear arguments next week on a challenge to an Ohio law targeting registered voters who have failed to vote in successive elections, though choosing not to vote cannot under federal law be a valid criterion for purging someone from the rolls.
And in Indiana, in a lawsuit filed last week against Lawson, Common Cause has asked a court to overturn a new system designed to allow the state to purge voters quickly if they appear to have moved to another state.
For several years, Vaughn explained, Indiana has partnered with Kansas' “Interstate Voter Registration Crosscheck” system, established by Kobach to identify people registered in more than one place. Crosscheck compares first, middle and last names and dates of births of voters from participating states, and notifies state officials when a match is found. But voting rights advocates such as Vaughn say the system predictably creates a lot of “false positives.”
It's not unusual to find similar names with the same birthdates. Minority names are especially vulnerable to duplication. “Twenty-six surnames cover a quarter of the Hispanic population and 16 percent of Hispanic people reported one of the top 10 Hispanic names,” Joshua Comenetz, manager of the U.S. Census Bureau's surname project, said last year. “The pattern is similar for Asians and blacks.”
Federal law sets procedures and timetables to ensure voters aren't improperly dropped from state rolls. A new Indiana law, though, allows the state in effect to circumvent those safeguards. Nestled among several innocuous changes to voting procedures in a little-noticed bill signed into law this spring was a provision allowing the state to purge a voter immediately if his or her name is flagged by Crosscheck. That led to Common Cause's lawsuit, following a similar suit filed by the NAACP and the League of Women Voters in August.
Indiana's new power to act more quickly, combined with the unreliable Crosscheck system, means “people with common names have to be fearful,” Vaughn said. She advises voters to check Indianavoters.com every election cycle to make sure they haven't been purged. “If you're registered, you should be able to find yourself,” she said.
The presence of no longer valid names and addresses does not mean there's widespread voter fraud. Indeed, the best way to make sure voter rolls stay current may simply be to remind and encourage residents to change their registration when they move. As Vaughn says, “This is an administrative problem, not a crime.”
Indiana, which had the lowest voter participation in the country in 2014, should be working to make voting easier for real voters instead of obsessing about phantoms.