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Lang Waters: Evidence of widespread voter fraud does not exist

As we are voting in the primary now, and will vote again on Nov. 8, discussion of the integrity of the vote is important. There is a pathology of distrust that has taken hold in many minds, particularly when it comes to mail-in ballots.

California elections are the most complicated in the nation. In Nevada County alone there are 54 different versions of the ballot, called “ballot styles,” specific to where a person lives.

Vote counting is done by machines that do not recognize ballots from previous elections and they match signatures to voter registrations, kicking back votes that don’t match which are then manually checked.



Counterfeiters must secure the new ballot styles, make a counterfeit that can fool the machine, and then forge each different signature so well that it matches the voter registration card. The sophistication and coordination required to undertake such an effort in Nevada County alone is difficult to imagine.

Yet many people now believe that anyone can simply print and mail in votes. There are other popular avenues of attack against mail-in ballots.



A 2012 PEW study concluded that roughly “24 million voter registrations in the United States are no longer valid or are significantly inaccurate.” The sub-title of the study, “Inaccurate, Costly and Inefficient,” indicates the major finding regarding our voter registration systems.

Our voter registration systems contain inaccuracies and are thus costly and inefficient to administer. Voter registrations become invalid when people move, die, change their name, etc.

One of the primary reasons for the PEW study, as stated on page 3, is the inability of the paper-based voter registration systems to “keep up with voters as they move or die,” which “can lead to problems with the rolls, including the perception that they lack integrity or could be susceptible to fraud.”

The perception, not the fact. To leverage invalid voter registrations for massive voter fraud, first the inaccurate registrations need to be identified county by county. Then the signatures need to be forged successfully.

Can fraud happen this way? Yes. Can it happen on a massive, coordinated, countrywide scale unprecedented in the history of the country? No.

Invalid registrations as a threat to electoral integrity are a bogeyman meant to frighten.

What about real incidents of fraud? They certainly exist.

The Heritage Foundation has a database of 1,290 documented incidents of voter fraud in the United States. This database is excellent evidence to substantiate the claim that voter fraud in the United States is statistically insignificant and vanishingly rare.

For the proper perspective on the number of incidents, one must know the number of votes cast in every election in which these incidents occurred in order to understand the percentage rate of fraud. The Heritage Foundation does not supply that number.

Assume that all 1,290 incidents of fraud occurred in the last presidential election (which they did not). Assume also that every incident resulted in 100 fraudulent votes (which they most certainly did not; most were far less): 129,000 divided by 135,719,982 votes in the 2016 election = 0.000095%. The percentage rate of fraud is infinitesimal.

Are these cases of fraud recent? No. The documented cases go back at least 38 years to 1982. It is not the case that all of these incidents are from last year, or the past five years, or even the past 10 years.

Now imagine the criminal coordination required to approach 1% fraud. The mind boggles at the sophistication and coordination necessary to have the slightest impact.

Saying something over and over, louder and louder doesn’t make it true. The point that fraud is possible, and the point that our voter registration administration needs improvement are both good points, but they should not frighten us to the extent that we question the integrity of our electoral system.

We should be extraordinarily cautious about giving weight to opinions trying to discredit the integrity of our system.

We’re voting in the primary now and will vote again on Nov. 8. We should have faith in our voting process. More eyes on the process is a good thing, but we should err on the side of trust until we have solid evidence of the kind of fraud that so many people fear.

Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. Extraordinary evidence of voter fraud does not exist. Vote with confidence.

Lang Waters lives in Nevada City.

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