Generally, voter fraud under 52USC20511 is defined as illegal voting by an individual. Different states have different laws regarding voter fraud, but voter fraud is usually committed by doing one of the following:
- Voting more than one time in the same election – double voting.
- Casting a ballot in the name of a voter who is ineligible to vote, such as a deceased voter or a voter who does not live in the district.
- Registering to vote using a phony name or address.
- Voting with a phone ballot.
- Voting even though they are ineligible to vote, such as a nonresident, noncitizen, or a voter who has been disqualified from voting.
Examples of Voter Fraud
Below are more details about the most common types of voter fraud:
Voter Registration Fraud
Voter registration fraud is defined as any fraudulent activity that occurs while you register to vote. You are not required to cast your ballot to be guilty of voter registration fraud, as defined under 52USC10307(c).
Usually, this crime is done by a campaign employee on a voter registration drive instead of an individual voter. For instance, a worker could help a voter fill out their voter registration form and fake the voter’s signature. Or they could purposely provide false information, such as an incorrect physical address. Another way that voter registration fraud occurs is to register to vote under a fictitious name.
Voter Impersonation Fraud
Voter impersonation fraud is a type of in-person fraud when someone impersonates a voter to vote for them, as defined under 52USC10307(c,e). This crime can be performed by an eligible voter trying to vote more than once or an ineligible person attempting to vote.
This type of fraud receives considerable media coverage and accusations of widespread election corruption. However, many experts say this type of fraud is rare.
A common accusation is that a person voted for someone who died or moved when the vote was cast. This is possible, but many reliable sources report little evidence of this occurring on a widespread basis.
Selling your vote to a person running for office is a crime in all states defined under 18USC597. This crime generally goes hand-in-hand with a political candidate being accused of election fraud for buying votes.
Note that you can be found guilty of this crime if you accept, solicit, or receive any expenditure to withhold your ballot or vote for a political candidate. This means you can be guilty of vote-selling even if you do not eventually vote according to the arrangement you made.
Felon and Non-Citizen Voting
There are many federal and state laws that cover the registration and voting of felons and non-citizens. In all states, it is against the law for anyone who isn’t a US citizen to vote in federal elections, as defined under 18USC611. It also is against the law to falsely claim you are a US citizen to vote in any election, as specified under 18USC911, 1015(f).
Intent or Knowledge for Voter Fraud
In most states, the prosecutor must prove that the individual engaged in voter fraud knowingly or intentionally, not by error. For example, an individual who accidentally transposes two numbers of their address on the voter registration document has not engaged in intentional voter fraud.
It also is unlikely that a state prosecutor would press charges against someone who made a legitimate effort to determine their eligibility but made a mistake.
However, some states do not require intent or knowledge on the voter to be convicted of voter fraud. Ohio, for example, only requires the state prosecutor to prove that an illegal act was committed.
Voter Fraud Penalties
Penalties for voter fraud vary by state, but most make it a felony offense, usually punishable by at least a year in state prison. Some states have different penalties based on the conduct involved, such as fraudulent registration vs. double voting. In Kentucky, it is a felony to vote more than once purposely. But it is a misdemeanor to vote in the wrong precinct deliberately.
Other states base their voter fraud penalties on whether the person knowingly committed the fraud or not. For example, a person who purposely votes when they are not registered or allowed to vote has committed a felony in Indiana. But someone who recklessly votes when they are not eligible has committed a misdemeanor.
52USC20511 also states that convictions for voter fraud at the federal level can be fined according to title 18, or receive a prison term of up to five years, or both.
Voter Fraud In the News
Below are some voter fraud stories that have been reported in the news recently:
- State of Georgia Probes Two Voter Fraud Claims in Bulloch County: State investigators are looking into voter fraud accusations in Bulloch County. One involved an allegation of improper processing of absentee ballots by state election officials, and the other alleges excess voting.
- Jefferson County, Colorado, GOP Sends Voter Fraud Allegations to DA: The GOP county party chair stated last week there is evidence of possible voter fraud. They want the District Attorney to investigate. The GOP sent the DA 3,000 records of possibly fraudulent voters. The records show that people filed a national change of address form but still voted in the county.
- Cedarburg, Wisconsin, Woman Charged With Voter Fraud: Christine Daikawa, 48, was charged in November 2020 with two counts of election fraud, which included making a false statement to vote by absentee ballot and election fraud by impersonating an elector.
- Florida Lawyer Being Investigated For Registering to Vote in Georgia: A Florida lawyer is in the middle of a state investigation after election officials say he tried to register to vote in Georgia, and he told other voters how to do it.
- Upgrading Voter Registration Overview. Accessed at https://www.pewtrusts.org/~/media/legacy/uploadedfiles/pcs_assets/2012/pewupgradingvoterregistrationpdf.pdf
- Federal Prosecution of Election Offenses. Accessed a https://www.justice.gov/sites/default/files/criminal/legacy/2013/09/30/electbook-0507.pdf