The mid-term elections are just around the corner, and it’s important for everyone to ensure they are registered to vote so their voice can be heard. It can sometimes be difficult for individuals to get registered, depending on the complexity of state laws. For example, some North Dakota polling places have indicated they will not accept certain ID’s from Native American tribes. And the party line of the ‘ruling class’ seems to be that voter fraud is a real threat, emphasizing the importance of voter ID laws.
In fact, most statistics demonstrate that voter fraud is a very minimal threat and that individuals who are caught trying to defraud the system are heavily punished. One Loyola law school professor, Justin Levitt, tracked credible allegations of voter fraud between 2000 and 2014, finding just 35 credible allegations for over 800 million ballots cast.
In Texas, a woman voted in the 2016 election using a provisional ballot. She missed the small print on the provisional ballot she cast which stated that she could not vote in an election for which she knows is not eligible. She had previously been convicted of tax fraud but did not know that made her ineligible to vote. Despite the fact that she voted using a provisional ballot – which did not count – she was sentenced to five years imprisonment. Some of the worst voter fraud has been done by elected officials, using absentee ballots with the names of dead people and felons to pad their electoral numbers.
By and large, the voter ID laws do not stop this kind of voter fraud from happening. In fact, in North Carolina, its voter ID laws made it easier to obtain and vote by mail-in absentee ballots, and does not require absentee voters to provide a copy of their own photo ID.
When it comes to enforcing the laws for voter fraud, a vast matrix of both federal and state regulations come into play. States have broad jurisdiction over the election process, although it is not absolute. Most states have similar laws, such as making it illegal to falsify voter registration, vote multiple times in one election, or intimating or bribing voters. Most states also classify these crimes as felonies and require fines and prison sentences if convicted. In some states, if someone is convicted of a voter fraud crime, they can actually permanently lose their right to vote.
Federal law is largely used to ensure that the voting process is free from corruption and in combatting the discrimination felt by Americans of color over the last century. There are some federal statutes that are particular and on-point for voter fraud. In other cases, general statutes (like the one prohibiting mail fraud) have been utilized in cases prosecuting voter fraud.
For individuals accused of voter fraud, it is important to obtain a lawyer who is well-versed in both state and federal laws, and the interplay between them. The consequences of a conviction can be severe, but in many cases, convictions result in a criminal fine and little to no prison time. The bottom line is, voting is an important process in American democracy – so go and register so you can do so legally.