By Dr. Keith Damon
President Trump has charged that significant voting fraud occurred during the 2016 Presidential election and has asked for an investigation of the problem. The media have questioned the need for any investigation and have attacked and laughed at the President for his concern. The New York Times has even called President Trump a liar. A variety of state election officials have stated that there is no voting fraud in their states. While the media reaction is consistent with their intense dislike of the President, the issues raised are legitimate.
We do not know if President Trump’s charges are correct nor is there currently any way to evaluate the allegations. And that is the problem in a nutshell! Since we do not have sufficient means to judge the issue, President Trump is absolutely correct in asking for an investigation.
The major problem in understanding voting fraud is that most observers do not understand what voting fraud is. There are at least six separate and different facets of voting fraud that must be evaluated to obtain a complete picture of the potential danger:
- Voting fraud is electronic interference (hacking) with voting equipment and networks to alter the recording and reporting of election results. Voting equipment consists of specially-adapted computers using standard networks technology, both of which are vulnerable to hacking. Do the state laws and the practical application of them adequately protect against hacking? Virginia provides adequate protection.
- Voting fraud is inadequately maintained voting lists where people ineligible to vote in a state remain on the lists for years. Only U.S. citizens who are otherwise qualified to vote in their state of residence should be on these voting lists. Do the state laws provide for a detailed and periodic maintenance of their lists and are their laws actually implemented? Virginia laws are quite good, but the implementation is poor since informal studies show that “deadwood” exists on our lists.
- Voting fraud is inadequate control of voting registration so that people ineligible to vote (per the laws of a state) are able to register to vote. Do the state registration procedures and forms require proof of an applicant’s status as a means of screening the application? A fundamental weakness of the laws in Virginia and most other states is allowing applicants to self-declare, without proof, their U.S. citizenship.
- Voting fraud is inadequate control of voting itself where persons who are not eligible to vote (per the laws of a state) are able to vote either early, absentee or on Election Day. Are the laws and practices adequate to ensure that a person coming to vote is actually a registered voter? Virginia is one of few states requiring a photo ID for in-person voting although currently Virginia requires no ID whatsoever for mail-in absentee voting.
- Voting fraud occurs when state and local election authorities who interpret the election laws of their state as they wish them to be rather than as they were written. All of the states have central and local election authorities who develop the procedures to implement their laws. Do these procedures reflect the “spirit” of the law as written? In Virginia, the control of the election process across the state is given to the political party of the Governor, which may contribute to this problem.
- Voting fraud occurs when laws inadequately define voting fraud or when limited punishment is administered for committing fraud. It is difficult to detect and prove voting fraud, and the problem is generally considered as a low priority by prosecutors. Do the laws clearly indicate where/when fraud is committed? Do the laws provide for sufficient punishment to be a deterrent? Virginia clearly defines the conditions for violations of election laws, but the stated punishments are not adequate. Prosecutors in Virginia rarely act on voting fraud.
State/local election authorities and other observers can easily state that there is no election fraud. Without addressing all of the above issues, however, these “no fraud” statements cannot be considered as definitive proof that no election fraud exists. President Trump has made an excellent recommendation.
About the Author
Dr. Keith Damon is a long-time Republican activist. A former member of the Republican Party of Virginia State Central Committee, he is currently the Elections Committee Chairman for the Fairfax County Republican Committee. Since 2008, Dr. Damon has studied the election laws in Virginia, has monitored and recommended election law legislation, and has worked to combat voting fraud.