Before and after every major election, John Fund can be found on Fox News and elsewhere in the conservative media hyping allegations of voter fraud that he insists are tainting our democracy and require legislative remedy, usually in the form of strict voter ID laws. And, sure enough, he's taken to National Review Online to wave around a Hamilton County, Ohio, investigation into 19 cases of possible voter fraud in the 2012 election. Unfortunately for Fund, those 19 cases represent a minuscule percentage of the hundreds of thousands of votes cast, and just two of the cases involve voters casting more than one in-person ballot, a type of fraud that strict voter ID laws are supposed to prevent.
Critics of voter ID and other laws cracking down on voter fraud claim they're unnecessary because fraud is nonexistent. For instance, Brennan Center attorneys Michael Waldman and Justin Levitt claimed last year: “A person casting two votes risks jail time and a fine for minimal gain. Proven voter fraud, statistically, happens about as often as death by lightning strike.”
Well, lightning is suddenly all over Cincinnati, Ohio. The Hamilton County Board of Elections is investigating 19 possible cases of alleged voter fraud that occurred when Ohio was a focal point of the 2012 presidential election. A total of 19 voters and nine witnesses are part of the probe.
Note that Fund's example of someone arguing that voter fraud is “nonexistent” is Waldman and Levitt arguing that it's exceedingly rare, which is obviously not the same as “nonexistent.” So already he's refuting an argument no one is making.
But what about the Hamilton County investigation that has Fund so excited? A whole 19 cases of possible voter fraud! Fund doesn't bother to mention that there were 421,997 ballots cast in Hamilton County in 2012*. So even if every single one of those 19 cases involved the fraudulent casting of a ballot, they would represent just 0.0045 percent of the total. That's pretty rare -- which is exactly the point Waldman and Levitt made.
Look more closely at the Hamilton County investigation, and things look even worse for the voter ID crusade. Ohio law currently requires voters who show up at polling places on Election Day to present some form of identification (driver's license, utility bill, pay stub, etc.) to cast a regular ballot. If they don't have an acceptable form of ID, they may cast a provisional ballot. Voter ID proponents like Fund insist that government-issued photo IDs must be required to vote in person. Of the 19 voters who are under investigation in Hamilton County, most voted early via absentee ballot and then went to cast provisional ballots at their polling place on Election Day. In each of those cases, the provisional ballot was rejected. So even if they were attempting to knowingly and fraudulently double vote, the system was already in place to catch them, and their second votes didn't count.
In fact, a review of the investigation indicates there were only two instances of ballots being cast in person under the same name at two different locations. One woman voted absentee in-person at the Board of Elections office, and says someone else cast a ballot using her name on Election Day. Another woman apparently cast a provisional ballot at her current precinct polling location, and then cast another ballot in her old precinct. That's two votes out of nearly 422,000 cast*.
So Fund might think that the Hamilton County investigation proves his point that voter fraud is a real problem, but in reality it demonstrates how extraordinarily difficult and, consequently, rare actual voter fraud is.
*An earlier version of this post used the Ohio Secretary of State's tally of votes cast for president in Hamilton County. It has been updated to reflect the total number of votes cast in the county, as tallied by the Hamilton County Board of Elections.