Vote fraud

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Vote fraud is illegal interference with the process of an election. Acts of fraud are used to change the outcome of an election to be other than it would have been without the fraud.

Commonly acknowledged types of vote fraud are:

See Vote fraud in the 2008 election.

How often does vote fraud occur?

The frequency with which acts of vote fraud occur is a matter of scholarly dispute. Americans also disagree with each other about how often it occurs. A Rasmussen Reports survey in October 2004 found that:

  • 14% surveyed said there is "a lot" of fraud in American elections.
  • 45% said there is "some" fraud.
  • 28% said there is hardly any fraud.

A more recent survey conducted in February 2008 for the Congressional Cooperative Election Study showed:[1]

  • 62% thought that vote fraud was very common or somewhat common.
  • 28% thought it occurs infrequently or almost never.
  • 60% believed that vote theft is a serious problem.
  • 41% think that voter impersonation happens a "great deal" or "fairly often".

Perceptions of the frequency of vote fraud vary from state-to-state. A poll conducted by Public Opinion Strategies (Virginia) in September 2007 showed:

  • 86% of Mississippi voters believe that "voter fraud is an active problem in Mississippi elections."[2]

Skepticism about votes counting

Pollster John Zogby did a survey which found that:

  • 9% of Americans don't believe their own vote is counted accurately.
  • 8% aren't sure whether their own vote is counted accurately.

Partisan differences over fraud

Perceptions of vote fraud show partisan differences; according to Rasmussen Reports:

  • Most Republicans believe that voting problems are most likely to result from people who are not eligible to vote being allowed to vote.
  • Most Democrats say the most likely problem is that people who should be allowed to vote will be denied the right to do so.[3],[4]

Leaders in the Republican and Democratic parties generally, but not always, take different positions on whether vote fraud or voter suppression are more important concerns.

What Republicans say

  • Rush Limbaugh: "Illegal aliens, homeless people and vote brokers who bus people from place to polling place will all figure in this election."[5]
  • Tom Delay: "It's their stock-in-trade to say one thing, and while you're not looking do something shady with the ballots and then cry racism if anyone complains".[5]

What Democrats say

  • Maria Cardoza of the Democratic National Committee: "Ballot security and preventing vote fraud are just code words for voter intimidation and suppression."[5]
  • Wade Henderson of the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights: Efforts to prevent fraud "serve no useful purpose other than to prevent people from voting."[5]


Physical tampering

  • Ballot stuffing, also called "ghost voting."
  • Theft or destruction of ballot boxes.
  • Destroying election material.

Inflation or deflation of voter registration lists

By voters

One of ten "Limited Edition Vote Buttons" displayed at The Gap in 2008
  • Voting by those who are not legally qualified to vote because they are underage, not registered, not a citizen, etc.
  • Voting more than once. Fifty-two people were convicted of federal election fraud for voting in multiple locations between 2002-2006.[7]
  • Selling a vote, or trading a vote.

Physical tampering with voting machines

  • Change the software of a voting machine to shift votes between candidates. A demonstration how this can be done on a Premier Election Solutions (formerly Diebold Election Systems) AccuVote-TS was conducted by the Center for Information Technology Policy, at Princeton University.[8]. Another demonstration was shown on Dutch TV by the group "Wij vertrouwen stemcomputers niet".[9]
  • Altering or replacing the hardware of the voting machine, such as inserting a circuit board using a Man in the middle attack technique to manipulate recorded votes. The board could be placed between keyboard, display and voting storage. In the case of Nedap machines this would allow manipulation without breaking the seals covering the central unit.[10]. Another place for a man in the middle attack could be between the central unit and the printer, but this would only be useful on machines where the stored votes will not be verified by other means like a display.
  • Altering voting machines to favor one candidate over another, for example by jamming a button or changing the sensitive area of a touchscreen.[11]
  • Intentional misconfiguration, for example altering the ballot design to misidentify a candidates party.
  • Voting machines might also be subject to Van Eck phreaking on the display or keyboard, compromising the secrecy of the votes.[12]
  • Abusing administrative access to the machine by election officials might allow individuals to vote multiple times.

When votes are being tabulated

  • Bribery, corruption or threatening of election officials.
  • Counting electronic ballots of voting machines, usually memory cards, more than once if they contain votes as wanted by the fraudster. The opposite is to let them disappear in case of unwanted votes, this is equivalent to stealing a whole ballot box.[13]
  • Obstruction of vote counting.[14]
  • Double marking. A corrupt election official will conceal a piece of pencil lead underneath his fingernail, in which he covertly marks an unvoted box in an area where the maximum number of votes has already been cast. Since this ballot is then considered overvoted, it is discarded, effectively throwing out the voter's vote.

Voter intimidation and coercion

  • Buying or coercing votes from persons who would normally vote for another candidate or would not vote at all, but who are nevertheless eligible to vote.
  • Intimidation of voters that alters their vote.
  • Absentee and other remote voting can be more open to some forms of intimidation and coercion as the voter does not have the protection and privacy of the polling location.

Fraud prevention

The best way to protect the electorate from electoral fraud is to have an election process which is completely transparent to all voters, from nomination of candidates through casting of the votes and tabulation. A key feature in insuring the integrity of any part of the electoral process is a strict chain of custody.

To prevent fraud in central tabulation, there has to be a public list of the results from every single polling place. This is the only way for voters to prove that the results they witnessed in their election office are correctly incorporated into the totals.

Various forms of statistics can be indicators for election fraud; e.g., exit polls which are very different from the final results. Having reliable exit polls could keep the amount of fraud low to avoid a controversy. Other indicators might be unusual high numbers of invalid ballots, overvoting or undervoting. It has to be kept in mind that most statistics do not reflect the types of election fraud which prevent citizens from voting at all like intimidation or misinformation.

There may, however, be a problem with exit-polls or other verifications methods dependent on the honesty of the voters.


In countries with strong laws and effective legal systems, lawsuits can be brought against those who have allegedly committed fraud; but determent with legal prosecution would not be enough. Although the penalties for getting caught may be severe, the rewards for succeeding are believed by some to be worth the risk.

Election observation

Observation of what is taking place at the polling place is a key element in preventing vote fraud. Election observers can be government officials, reporters, or volunteers.

End-to-end Auditablity

End-to-end auditable voting systems provide voters with a receipt to allow them to verify their vote was cast correctly, and an audit mechanism to verify that the results were tabulated correctly and all votes were cast by valid voters. However, the ballot receipt does not permit voters to prove to others how they voted, since this would open the door towards forced voting and blackmail. End-to-end systems include Punchscan and Scantegrity, the latter being an add-on to optical scan systems instead of a replacement.


External links

Template:Vote fraud by state