O'Keefe's Video On “Eric Holder's Ballot”: Still Not Voter Fraud

James O'Keefe's Project Veritas has unveiled the latest chapter in its ongoing “voter fraud investigation”: a video that purports to show a young man nearly obtaining the ballot of Attorney General Eric Holder. Like O'Keefe's past “voter fraud” videos, however, this video fails to show actual voter fraud being committed, and it doesn't prove the existence of a widespread conspiracy to throw an election. That's because both are extremely rare.

The video shows the man entering a polling place in Washington, D.C., then cuts to the man asking a poll worker, “Do you have an Eric Holder?” After the O'Keefe associate confirms Holder's address, which is censored, the poll worker offers him the voter roll and says, “Please sign your name there.” The fake Eric Holder then says he left his ID in the car and leaves.

The video's accompanying blog post on Breitbart.com claims that Project Veritas has “proven” that “voter fraud is easy and simple -- and may be increasingly common in the absence of voter ID laws.” A Daily Caller article on the video claimed that Holder “could have himself been disenfranchised by white men because there is no federal voter ID law to protect voters in D.C.” from fraud.

This video doesn't prove any of these things. What it shows is a man coming close to committing a serious crime. But even if the man had fraudulently cast a vote under Eric Holder's name, D.C. and federal laws provide a number of protections against fraudulent votes.

First of all, if the imposter had fraudulently cast Holder's ballot, and the real Eric Holder then had shown up to vote and been told his name was already crossed off the list, the real Holder almost certainly could have still voted. Under the Help America Vote Act of 2002, any voter who is told by an “election official” that he or she is “not eligible to vote” must be allowed to “cast a provisional ballot.”

As a Washington Post blog post about the O'Keefe video states:

For instance, if a fraudster actually did go vote for Holder, and then Holder himself went to vote later in the day, he would discover he could no longer cast a regular ballot but would have to fill out a special ballot.

Special ballots are always counted, regardless of whether they could affect the outcome of the election ... Each special ballot is subject to inspection and challenge from the candidates. During that process, election officials can look at public records -- including signatures on poll books and voter registration forms -- to determine whether a ballot is genuine. If fraud is suspected, the Board of Elections and Ethics can refer the case to federal prosecutors for further investigation.

D.C. law also provides strict penalties for anyone knowingly casting a fraudulent vote: It's a crime punishable by up to $10,000 in fines or up to 5 years in prison. Federal law provides for similar penalties.

And as we have documented, actual voter fraud is extremely rare. The Brennan Center for Justice (h/t New York magazine) wrote in a 2006 policy brief:

[E]vidence from the microscopically scrutinized 2004 gubernatorial election in Washington State actually reveals just the opposite: though voter fraud does happen, it happens approximately 0.0009% of the time. The similarly closely-analyzed 2004 election in Ohio revealed a voter fraud rate of 0.00004%. National Weather Service data shows that Americans are struck and killed by lightning about as often.

The New York Times reported in April 2007 that between 2002 and 2007, about 120 people were charged and 86 convinced for voter fraud -- nationwide.

As a Department of Justice official told Talking Points Memo: “It's no coincidence that these so-called examples of rampant voter fraud consistently turn out to be manufactured ones.”

Experts have also pointed out that trying to steal an election with O'Keefe's strategy would be almost impossible. After O'Keefe's last “voter fraud” stunt in New Hampshire, in which several of his associates tried to get elections officials to offer them ballots under the names of dead people, experts noted it would be very difficult to change the outcome of an election with a handful of fraudulent votes. Talking Points Memo quoted election law expert Rick Hasen as saying: “Who in their right mind would risk a felony conviction for this? And who would be able to do this in large enough numbers to (1) affect the outcome of the election and (2) remain undetected?”

And a New York magazine blog post on the latest O'Keefe video noted:

The question is whether anyone should really care. Yes, if you wanted to, you could risk five years in prison and a $10,000 fine to vote for someone else, but we're not sure why you would, since a single vote, or even a few votes, will never make a difference. (Okay, almost never.)


There are a lot of disruptive things that people are capable of doing that they nevertheless don't do, and which we consequently don't need to freak out about. Someone could, hypothetically, go to a local supermarket and lick all the apples, just to savor the essence of apple without coughing up 30 cents. That doesn't mean we should lock up all the apples behind a plexiglass barrier.

In spite of all this evidence, however, right-wing media routinely drum up phony or baseless cases of voter fraud, which they then use to rally support for restrictive voter ID laws.