Voter impersonation

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Voter impersonation (also sometimes called in-person voter fraud)[1] is a form of electoral fraud in which one person who is not eligible to vote in an election does so by voting under the name of an eligible voter. In the United States, voter ID laws have been enacted in a number of states since 2010, including Texas, with the aim of preventing voter impersonation.[2] A 2015 paper argued that voter impersonation should be made illegal, which it already was in Texas, as of 2012.[2][3]

Studies have shown that voter impersonation is an extremely rare crime, and very difficult to implement in any widespread fashion, and there is no evidence that it has changed the result of any election. Conversely, claims that voter impersonation has been occurring has been used to disenfranchise voters in large numbers.


Several instances of voter impersonation have surfaced in the United States. Of the 6,000 dead people registered to vote in Nassau County, NY in 2013, 270 of them had cast ballots, though county officials blamed many of the fraudulent votes on clerical errors.[4] In 2013, state election officials found at least 81 dead voters in North Carolina[5] and 92 dead voters in Oregon.[6] Historical examples include the 1997 Miami ballot fraud, which tainted the city's mayoral election and produced 36 arrests.[7]

A 2012 report by the Pew Center showed that over 1.8 million dead people are registered to vote nationwide and over 3 million voters were registered in multiple states.[8] Registration irregularities do not intrinsically constitute fraud: in most cases the states are simply slow to eliminate ineligible voters. These irregularities have left some concerned that the electoral system is vulnerable to the impersonation of dead voters.

Conservative lawyer Hans von Spakovsky has claimed that significant in-person voter fraud occurred in Brooklyn from 1968 to 1982, but Richard Hasen has argued that this fraud, because it involved election officials colluding with one another, could not have been prevented by a voter ID law.[9]


Critics of voter ID laws have argued that voter impersonation is illogical from the perspective of the perpetrator, as if they are caught, they will face harsh criminal penalties, including up to 5 years in prison and a fine of up to $10,000 for citizens and possible deportation for non-citizens. Even if they are not caught, they will have cast only one vote for their candidate.[2] Similarly, these critics have noted that is would be very difficult for someone to coordinate widespread voter impersonation in order to steal an election, because if they paid people to vote for their preferred candidate, they could not confirm whether the people they paid voted at all, much less the way they were paid to.[10]

Estimates of frequency

Critics of voter ID laws have argued that voter impersonation, which such laws are designed to prevent, is extremely rare; for instance, ABC News reported in 2012 that only four cases of voter impersonation had led to convictions in Texas over the previous decade.[2] A study released the same year by News21, an Arizona State University reporting project, identified a total of 10 cases of alleged voter impersonation in the United States since 2000.[11] The same study found that for every case of voter impersonation, there were 207 cases of other types of election fraud. This analysis has, in turn, been criticized by the executive director of the Republican National Lawyers Association, who has said that the study was "highly flawed in its very approach to the issue."[12] Also in 2012, a study was published that found no evidence that voter impersonation (in the form of people voting under the auspices of a dead voter) occurred in the 2006 Georgia general elections.[13] In April 2014, Lynn Adelman ruled in Frank v. Walker that Wisconsin's voter ID law was unconstitutional, and found that "virtually no voter impersonation occurs in Wisconsin," noting that "The defendants could not point to a single instance of known voter impersonation occurring in Wisconsin at any time in the recent past."[14] In August 2014, Justin Levitt, a professor at Loyola Law School, reported in the Washington Post's Wonkblog that he had identified only 31 credible cases of voter impersonation since 2000.[15] Levitt has also claimed that of these 31 cases, three of them occurred in Texas, while Lorraine Minnite of Rutgers University–Camden estimates there were actually four during the 2000-2014 period.[1] The most serious incident identified involved as many as 24 people trying to vote under assumed names in Brooklyn, but even this would not have made a significant difference in almost any American election.[16] Also that year, a study in the Election Law Journal found that about the same percentage of the U.S. population (about 2.5%) admitted to having been abducted by aliens as admitted to committing voter impersonation. This study also concluded that "strict voter ID requirements address a problem that was certainly not common in the 2012 U.S. election."[17]


  1. 1.0 1.1 Booker, Cory (18 August 2015). "Lightning strikes more common in Texas than in-person voter fraud, says Cory Booker". Politifact. Retrieved 2 March 2016.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 Bingham, Amy (12 September 2012). "Voter Fraud: Non-Existent Problem or Election-Threatening Epidemic?". ABC News. Retrieved 9 December 2015.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  3. Slater, James (June 2015). "In Defense of Democracy: The Criminalization of Impersonation". Election Law Journal. 14 (2): 165–185.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  4. Greg Cergol (October 31, 2013). "More Than 200 Dead People Shown to Have Voted in NY County Elections: Report". NBC New York. Retrieved January 18, 2016.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  5. Alex Pappas (April 2, 2014). "At least 81 dead people have been voting in North Carolina". The Daily Caller. Retrieved January 18, 2016.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  6. Shelby Sebens (May 16, 2013). "Too nice for voter fraud? Some say OR election system vulnerable despite few cases". Retrieved January 18, 2016.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  7. "18 are arrested in 1997 Miami Ballot Fraud". The New York Times. October 29, 1998. Retrieved January 18, 2016.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  8. Pam Fessler (February 14, 2012). "Study: 1.8 Million Dead People Still Registered to Vote". NPR. Retrieved January 18, 2016.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  9. Mayer, Jane (29 October 2012). "The Voter-Fraud Myth". The New Yorker. Retrieved 11 March 2016.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  10. Gilbert, Michael (April 2015). "The Problem of Voter Fraud" (PDF). Columbia Law Review. 115 (3): 739–75.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  11. "Report: Voter impersonation a rarity". UPI. 12 August 2012. Retrieved 9 December 2015.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  12. Davis, Janel (19 September 2012). "In-person voter fraud 'a very rare phenomenon'". Politifact. Retrieved 9 December 2015.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  13. Lua error in Module:Citation/CS1/Identifiers at line 47: attempt to index field 'wikibase' (a nil value).
  14. Reilly, Ryan (29 April 2014). "In-Person Voter Fraud Is Virtually Nonexistent, Federal Judge Rules". Huffington Post. Retrieved 1 March 2016.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  15. Levitt, Justin (6 August 2014). "A comprehensive investigation of voter impersonation finds 31 credible incidents out of one billion ballots cast". Washington Post. Retrieved 9 December 2015.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  16. Bump, Philip (13 October 2014). "The disconnect between voter ID laws and voter fraud". Washington Post. Retrieved 7 February 2016.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  17. Alien Abduction and Voter Impersonation in the 2012 U.S. General Election: Evidence from a Survey List Experiment