Voter fraud: an economic insight into electoral cheating

“Fraud!” cried the maddened thousands, and echo answered “Fraud!” But one scornful look from Casey and the audience was awed. They saw his face grow stern and cold, they saw his muscles strain, And they knew that Casey wouldn’t let that ball go by again.

Empassioned sports fans don’t like a bad call, and we all know its much easier for us to spot a bad call when it goes against our team, and it’s not just the maddened thousands who root for the Mudville 9. Every election there are calls of voter fraud (usually on the Republican side), and these are often met with charges of racism (by the Democratic party), especially if there are calls for Voter ID.

“[I]f you go back to the year 2000, when we had an obvious disaster and – and saw that our voting process needed refinement, and we did that in the America Votes Act and made sure that we could iron out those kinks, now you have the Republicans, who want to literally drag us all the way back to Jim Crow laws and literally – and very transparently – block access to the polls to voters who are more likely to vote Democratic candidates than Republican candidates. And it’s nothing short of that blatant,” DNC Chair Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (FL) told TVOne’s “Washington Week.”

Yet America has had a long history of cheating in favored sports, including in politics.  We have the Chicago Black Sox throwing the world series in 1919, and more recently we have A-Rod, Lance Armstrong and many more cheating via performance enhancing drugs.  It’s long been alleged that dead people voting in Chicago and Texas cost Nixon the 1960 election, and while that’s debatable, its certain that electoral fraud with the big-city bosses has occurred.  A major voting fraud was investigated in 1982 in Chicago; 63 people were convicted of federal election crimes.  More recently (and much smaller scale) we had an Obama supporter convicted of election fraud down in Cincinnati.  North Carolina officials found data suggesting the 35,000 voters in 2012 may have voted in multiple states, and the Project Veritas videos captured Democratic operatives willing to help voters to vote in multiple states, and they just showed another expose here in 2016:

The same thing is playing out this election cycle, with dead people registering to vote in Virginia.  And this isn’t just small scale; Mary Landrieu may have stolen the Senate seat by voter fraud over Woody Jenkins in 1996:

Jenkins has uncovered evidence that an organized effort to buy votes involved a network of drivers, large amounts of cash, and experienced supervisors. Jenkins has audio tapes of interviews with persons who admit to having voted multiple times for Mary Landrieu and with drivers who admit to facilitating this fraud.  The tape recordings, which have been provided to Senate investigators, contain shocking admissions. “I voted 10, 15 times.” “I was the driver of the van, picking up the people to go down there to vote at least 10 times or more.” “I made about $700 that day, starting at about 6 that morning to about 6:30 that evening.” “I voted about 10, 15 times . . . They kept letting me go back and vote.”

Al Franken may have won his 2008 Senate seat via voter fraud and Ellen Sauerbrey may have lost the 1994 Maryland governor’s election due to voter fraud.  I remember watching both the Landrieu and Sauerbrey elections, where large majorities of the vote totals across the state supported the Republican candidate, then late in the evening massive votes came out of New Orleans and Baltimore to seal the narrow come-from-behind victory.  There is no doubt voter fraud occurring, as some of the convictions above show; the question is does it cost elections?  Conservatives believe we’ve had our elections stolen many times by the liberal big-city machines, but perhaps we’re just seeing what we want to believe.

But let’s do an economic thought experiment.  Begin by assuming that Democrats and Republicans are equally honest with respect to elections.  Now, where are the concentrations of Democratic power? That would be the cities.  Where do Republicans rule?  Pretty much every where else.  If you are a Democratic operative, and you’re willing to risk it, you can steal large numbers of votes.  If you are a Republican hack, you can only steal a few votes, because your vote theft in rural areas covers far fewer people.  It would take far more Republican hacks to add up to what a few Democratic stealers could do.  So its all about incentives.  Just based on voter demographics, incentives highly favor Democratic vote theft, while discouraging Republican vote theft.  Even if they have the same underlying morality, you should expect to see relatively more Democratic voter fraud.    The 2nd Law of Economics is, Incentives Matter.  They matter in every facet of life, to include our politics.

Oh, somewhere in this favoured land the sun is shining bright, The band is playing somewhere, and somewhere hearts are light;  And somewhere men are laughing, and somewhere children shout, But there is no joy in Mudville—mighty Casey has struck out.


27 thoughts on “Voter fraud: an economic insight into electoral cheating”

  1. Dr. Haymond – From what I have seen and researched, there is scant evidence of significant voter fraud around the country. I also haven’t studied the subject in depth. Have you found otherwise?

    If there is little evidence of significant voter fraud, that leads response, mostly from Republicans (who, as you sort of left out, have their own interest in obstructing voting in cities) also comes off pretty disproportionate to the problem.

    1. Jonathan–
      Welcome back–I haven’t heard from you in a while on my posts. Thanks for the comment.

      Several ways I think about your comment. First, as the link above shows, in the Franken case, it doesn’t take “significant” cheating to affect the outcome–Franken only “won” by a little over 300 votes, and evidence after the fact showed that more felons than that voted among other iregularities. No matter what you think of felons voting, it was illegal at the time in MN. Likewise Landrieu only won by ~5000–so it wouldn’t take that big an effort to gather that many votes for the machine. And you may not recall, but we had a 50-50 split in the Senate in 2000, so that VP Cheney gave control of the Senate to the Republicans. When “Republican” Jim Jeffords switched to the Democrats in ’01 it gave control of the Senate to Democrats. Had Ms. Landrieu not had that seat, the Republicans would have maintained control and there would have been different outcomes. While I argued in my choice for the President that an individual vote doesn’t matter, it increasingly matters as the number of voters shrink, and correspondingly voter fraud gets increasingly more important.
      Second, given the increasingly high minority participation in states that have voter ID laws, I find very uncompelling the arguments that minorities can’t get access to an ID. As this Pew Research poll shows, Blacks had the highest voter turnout of any racial group in 2012.
      I have read many of the anecdotes out there where individuals have a tough time getting an idea (usually centered around birth certificates), and I think we should make it as easy as possible for anyone to vote that actually should. I’m very open to how we would accomplish that goal, as long as we can ensure it will be effective. Most people seem to support voter ID laws, even blacks, despite the constant refrain by progressives that everyone that wants voter ID wants to suppress the minority vote and disenfranchise blacks.

      So if you join me in the call that everyone that is actually eligible to vote should be able to vote, but no one that is ineligible to vote should, then we have to have some mechanism that accomplishes both of these goals. We can’t simply say it doesn’t matter–there is no vote fraud happening, or “its not very significant.” Just as African-American’s justifiably have concerns over a history of those politically in power trying to suppress their vote, if someone in Ohio is allowed to vote illegally they have effectively disenfranchised me. Everyone should be in favor of curtailing election fraud.

      1. Dr. Haymond – I think you over-exaggerated my point about the significance of the voter fraud. My purpose in using that word was to draw a focus on the *proportion* of the response to alleged voter fraud. The response, in my view, is likely to obstruct far more legitimate voters from voting that cease illegitimate/illegal votes from taking place.

        Of course, everyone should be in favor of curtailing election fraud, as you said, and I am as well. However, we should only champion a response to curb alleged voter fraud if that response is proportionate and not unnecessarily obstructive to legitimate voters (many of whom do not have ready access to the kind of registration requirements often recommended).

        Also, you did not address the economic motivation argument (which you drafted) that also applies Republicans; they have a strong “economic” incentive to discourage voting in urban areas because those areas trend quite left.

      2. Jonathan–
        Let me explain why I think your proportion concern is invalid. First, it doesn’t matter the proportion–if I fundamentally have my vote stolen by voter theft, that is wrong and should be stopped, if possible. Second, let me first grant that you’re right in that the “cure shouldn’t be worse than the disease.” But The fact that anecdotally some have a slightly harder time getting access to a vote in no way means that disenfranchising me is an acceptable alternative. If the left can spend millions in organizing vote drives, can’t they set up a non-profit to help fund getting people’s birth certificates straightened out? But let me agree–as I said above–I’m very happy to make the law as easy as possible to implement, if we can convince ourselves that we have reasonably prevented any voter fraud. You suggest a reasonable approach that will accomplish the legitimate goal I’ve outlined above at the least hardship to marginalized voters. I’m all ears to your proposal. I have personally had to take the time to write and request a new copy of my birth certificate before and I believe its possible without too much work to get a new social security card. Anecdotes of people having more difficulty are just that–anecdotes. The macro data linked above show African-Americans vote at a higher proportion than any other racial group, so its hard to see the evidence of systematic voter suppression. Bottom line for me–for all to have to have slightly more difficult access to votes (albeit slightly more difficult for some marginalized voters) is an acceptable option to preclude disenfranchisement of legitimate voters by fraud.

        Now to your comment that by my economic logic, Republicans will have a higher incentive to put obstacles in the way of African-Americans to vote. First, let me state it a different way. Its true that Republicans would have a higher incentive to do that–if the theft of votes occurs most often in inner cities where there is a significantly higher percentage of African-Americans. This is no different than inner cities often having steel bars across store windows. Would you suggest that because inner cities often have a high percentage of minorities that store owners in the inner cities erecting bars are targeting the action against blacks (or hispanics or any other minority population group)? Second, it cannot be just a benefit. Republicans face the cost of opposition calling them racist when they try to force honest elections. So even if their reasons are nefarious, they couldn’t with impunity push these issues. And that is why they do this, since all groups believe a voter ID is a reasonable precaution (from polling data).

    1. Nathan–
      I have suspicions about many–including those above. But I’m in no position of detailed understanding to say that any have been stolen. In part because there is always quite a movement to “move on” and for folks not to appear as sore losers. Nevertheless, it is incontrovertible that there is electoral fraud, however much we may disagree on the impact of that fraud.

      1. I think we both are probably in general agreement on the amount and impact of electoral fraud. I was just curious.

  2. So if voter fraud is such a concern, why don’t they make people show their IDs? What happens if a person votes pretending to be someone else and then the real voter votes opposite? Is there a system that’ll catch this?

  3. The cruel irony is that both sides would use such tactics to win, but only one side has the incentive to do so. Make no mistake, the same would still be happening if the support for parties flip-flopped.

  4. Excellent point about the incentives of voter fraud. Always interesting to see economic principles playing out in real world scenarios. I know academically that incentives matter, but seeing it so clearly takes it a step farther.

  5. Do you think voter fraud is increasing? And if so, do you think there will come a point where it becomes an issue that will need to be addressed?

  6. Voter fraud is really crazy in how it is carried out and sometimes it can be an elusive scam like people busing others around for money like the YouTube video said. However, I don’t see this to often and people that commit voter fraud probably only vote 10-15 times more for that candidate which I don’t believe will have an effect on the election. When it becomes thousands of votes and its a big plan carried out by hundreds of people with intricate designs and motives is when I believe it becomes a problem. However, I believe there are stops for this and have faith in our country that we can pick up on fraud like this to prevent it.

  7. I never knew that voter fraud was such a problem. I had honestly never heard of dead people being able to vote. How do they not catch these people until after the election? Is there a way to catch people doing this before the election so that the votes aren’t skewed?

  8. Interesting article, however I don’t fully understand your last point about Republicans’ and Democrats’ voter fraud incentives. It’s true that cities are primarily Democrat, but while this means Democrats may steal large numbers of votes, it would also mean that Republicans may unfairly obstruct voting in these areas. Wouldn’t the incentive work both ways?

      1. And my reply. :) I think you’re right, Michael. The political incentives apply to both or neither, not simply one or the other.

    1. It is also important to remember that Democrats would have the same level of incentive to make voting in cities easier as Republicans would have to make it more difficult. The incentives of both parties would work in opposition; whereas, Dr. Haymond’s statement points to the fact that Democratic incentive to cheat would outweigh the effect of similar incentive in Republican areas.

  9. It is crazy to me how much cheating and how many scandals go on in this world. In the sports world it is very common to hear of different cheating scandals and also I personally hear about it a lot because I am into sports. However, I did not realize how common it was when it came to voting. After reading this article, I researched the topic and can’t believe people will vote under names of deceased people.

  10. It’s scary how much voter fraud and scheming goes on in today’s politics! Sad that our world is so broken!

  11. I find it hard to believe that in certain areas people are not required to show an I.D. to vote. That just seems like its inviting voter fraud.

  12. Would it be safe to assume that since it would be relatively easier to engage in all kinds of voter fraud in Republican ruled areas, wouldn’t the same logic allow for more fraud to take place in those areas allowing it to even out and not make a significant impact? Just a thought.

  13. The amount of cheating that takes place in all areas of the world nowadays is unbelievable. Like you said, incentives matter. Lots of athletes when weighing cost/benefit determine that taking performance enhancing drugs increases their athletic profit. You also claimed that democrats are more likely to have voter fraud because of demographics. However you would think that Republicans would be more successful with voter fraud because they are spread out and under less regulation. I could definitely be wrong, but it seems like it would be harder to commit voter fraud in a city where there are more watchful eyes.

  14. This reminds me of the 3rd debate when Mr. Trump could not say he would accept if he did not win the election in November. It’s crazy how this year we are able to see how visibly our political system is very flawed. I’m a city-person that is a Republican haha.

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