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OPINION — Voter fraud: Research shows it’s basically a myth

| August 19, 2020 1:00 AM

As the social media has evolved less reliable or unsubstantiated information has exploded on the internet. This erroneous information is posted by unknown or less reputable groups, then picked up by the certain broadcast media desperate to fill their 24 hours of air time. Some people follow these dubious “news” outlets and consider these statements of fact. People who should know better — including some of our leaders, elected and others — regurgitate this nonsense and add credibility to unreliable information.

The Sunday Coeur d’Alene Press had an article entitled “Better options than mail-in voting” by Idaho State Sen. Mary Souza discussing voting during these pandemic times. The May primary this year was strictly by mail in absentee ballot due to the coronavirus. The voting turnout was higher and I know of not a single incident of “fraud,” the current term for restricting voting.

Sen. Souza described her distinction between “absentee ballots” and “mail in voting.”

The article stated with mail-in voting that “many ballots then sit in vacated mailboxes or are received by unintended people. Some are tossed in the trash or piled up with bills and never used.” “Voter fraud and serious errors are a much greater risk with mail-in ballots. They can change the outcome of elections. There is a long list of voter fraud and error across our country, so be wary of those who say it doesn’t happen or is extremely rare. Here in Idaho, we do not allow mail-in voting.”

In line with these concerns, the governor has called a special session starting Aug. 24 to review changes to support in-person voting during COVID-19 and assist election staff with secure absentee ballot counting. This is basically Sen. Souza’s written opinion.

What makes a legislator think that voter fraud is a concern for any voting method, be it in person, absentee or mail in? Study after study has debunked those claims, and five years of Justice Department investigations during the George W. Bush administration found some mistakes and lapses but virtually no organized voter fraud. We cannot allow the safety and integrity of our voting system to be compromised. It is the foundation of our Republic and is our most basic right. If the coronavirus isn’t contained, many voters are likely to be uneasy about going to the polls in November.

Because of the many uncertainties surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as the immediate need to begin preparations for the 2020 primary election, it has become necessary for states to take action regarding how the election will be conducted. If action is necessary, it should begin with facts. I prefer reputable sources and legitimate studies to political statements or regurgitation from social media posts. Here are a few that I trust.

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.

A study published by a Columbia University political scientist tracked incidence rates for voter fraud for two years, and found that the rare fraud that was reported generally could be traced to “false claims by the loser of a close race, mischief and administrative or voter error.”

A comprehensive 2014 study published in The Washington Post found 31 credible instances of impersonation fraud from 2000 to 2014, out of more than 1 billion ballots cast. Even this tiny number is likely inflated, as the study’s author counted not just prosecutions or convictions, but any and all credible claims.

Two studies done at Arizona State University, one in 2012 and another in 2016, found similarly negligible rates of impersonation fraud. The project found 10 cases of voter impersonation fraud nationwide from 2000-2012. The follow-up study, which looked for fraud specifically in states where politicians have argued that fraud is a pernicious problem, found zero successful prosecutions for impersonation fraud in five states from 2012-2016.

There are other reliable sources but I will stop here. Voter fraud is not an issue and I don’t know why the claim exists, based on these and other legitimate studies. Why is Sen. Souza promoting such a claim? Why would our Legislature spend time fixing what isn’t broken?

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Phil Ward is a Coeur d’Alene resident.