National Review Online is repeating the claims of conservative groups who compared voter registrations in Maryland and Virginia and flagged potential instances of “double voting” -- voters with the same name and birthdate who may have voted in both states. This method of election integrity has been discredited due to its high rate of false positives and significant risk of voter disenfranchisement.
National Review Online Warns 17 Potential Instances Of Duplicate Voting “May Be” Just The Beginning
Hans Von Spakovsky: “Illegal Voters” In Maryland And Virginia “May Be The Tip Of The Iceberg.” NRO contributor Hans von Spakovsky, a frequent champion of unneccessarily strict voter ID laws, suggested that the discovery of 17 potential instances of double voting in Maryland and Virginia -- and the possibility of tens of thousands more -- vindicated his suspicions about non-citizen voting in Virginia:
[T]he current [Virginia electoral] board has discovered 17 individuals who voted in both Fairfax County and Montgomery County, Maryland, in the 2012 election and “in some instances, on multiple occasions going back for a considerable period of time,” according to letters the board sent to the Justice Department, [Fairfax County Prosecutor Raymond] Morrogh, and Virginia attorney general Mark Herring on Aug. 22.
This is not a case of voters with the same name being mistakenly confused as the same individual. All 17 voters were identified by their full name, date of birth, and Social Security number, according to the Virginia Voters Alliance (VVA), a citizens' organization that turned these names over to the electoral board.
It was the VVA -- along with another citizens' group dedicated to election integrity, Election Integrity Maryland (EIM) -- that did the research on the voter files in Virginia and Maryland to find these illegal voters. And this may be only the tip of the iceberg: VVA and EIM turned the names of 43,893 individuals who appear to be registered in both states over to the State Boards of Elections in Virginia and Maryland. Fairfax County alone has more than 10,000 such duplicate registrations. These 17 voters are only a subset of at least 164 voters their research showed voted in both states in the 2012 election.
This in a state in which the 2013 attorney general's race was won by Democrat Mark Herring by fewer than 1,000 votes out of 2.2 million cast, and the 2005 attorney general's race was decided by fewer than 400 votes.
Will Eric Holder, Mark Herring, or Commonwealth attorney Raymond Morrogh do anything about this voter fraud? Or will they ignore it like both Holder and Morrogh did before? After all, Holder claims that efforts to curb voter fraud are merely attempts to deprive individuals of their right to vote -- or in this case, their right to vote twice. [National Review Online, 8/28/14]
Right-Wing Media Promoted Highly Suspect And Debunked Claims Of “Double Voting” In The Past
Dick Morris: “Concrete Evidence ... Of Massive Voter Fraud” Has Been Found In North Carolina. On an appearance on Fox News' Hannity earlier this year, columnist Dick Morris echoed right-wing media claims about double voters in North Carolina, and went on to argue that there were “probably over a million” people who double voted during the 2012 election. Experts quickly debunked both Morris' math and the unreliable cross check method by which these alleged double voters were found. [Fox News, Hannity, 4/8/14 via Media Matters]
Potential Double Voters Are Not Proof Of Voter Fraud And Voter ID Doesn't Stop Double Voting
Baltimore Sun: Duplicate Votes Are Often Due To “Human Error.” Because the risk of double voting compared to the risk of voter disenfranchisement is so disproportionate, the editorial board of the Baltimore Sun characterized efforts to prevent that sort of fraud through strict voter ID “the equivalent of using a sledgehammer on a fly.” Analyses of proven cases of double voting lead to statistically insignificant instances of voter fraud, that are “often due to clerical error”:
So what is going on exactly when you have nearly 44,000 people who hold dual registrations in Maryland and Virginia? In Maryland, it means that newly-registered voters likely failed to indicate on their registration forms where they lived previously. Had they done so, authorities in Virginia would have been notified to drop those individuals from the voter rolls.
People living in the Washington, D.C. area change their state of residence all the time. It's commonplace for an individual to move from Montgomery County, Md. to Fairfax County, Va. or the District of Columbia and back again in a few years' time. Meanwhile, the voter rolls are only expunged if the state has been notified by the voter, the person has died (in which case there's a shared database called the Electronic Registration Information Center that may come into play) or hasn't voted in several elections in which case the registration may become inactive.
But what about the 164 who may have actually voted in both places? Again, this is often due to clerical error. Audits reveal that claims of fraud are often overstated because a vote has been wrongly accounted for. John T. Smith was checked in by a volunteer election judge as John P. Smith or John T. Smith Jr. or maybe Jane Smith because she's next to him on the rolls. Sometimes, people with the same name even have the same birthdays. Double-voting also might be deliberate but not malicious -- an elderly person voting in one state and sending in an absentee vote in the other because he or she wasn't certain which would count.
That sounds laughable, but veterans of election boards say stranger things happen. There's as much human error in the accounting of votes as there is in any human enterprise.
Still, the bigger mistake would be to see allegations of possible double voting as evidence to support a voter ID law. Not only would such a restriction be useless in cases of double voting, as there's no claim that voters misrepresented themselves, but the effect of such laws would be the equivalent of using a sledgehammer on a fly -- potentially suppressing thousands of votes to discourage the rarity of actual fraud, which was estimated at .000009 percent after a review of alleged double-voting in New York after the 2002 and 2004 elections turned up only two incidents, according to a 2007 study by the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University.
Right wing organizations like to scream from the rooftops about voter fraud because reducing turnout, particularly by minority groups, can turn a close election in the GOP's favor. That's not to suggest Maryland or any state tolerate fraud, but the possible remedies should not be worse than the problem. This latest allegation of double-voting merits inquiry -- as authorities in Virginia are already doing -- but not necessarily any more than that. [The Baltimore Sun, 9/2/14]
Election Law Professor Justin Levitt: “Trumpeting Of The 'Tens Of Thousands' Of Duplicates” Could Lead To Voter Suppression. Justin Levitt, a professor of law at Loyola University, supports an investigation into duplicate voters, but worries that hundreds of “real, eligible voters” might be purged from the rolls. Levitt explained that the cross check method of uncovering double voting can “unintentionally sweep up different people with the same name and birthdate. ...That's just how the math works”:
Two groups (Election Integrity Maryland and the Virginia Voters Alliance) claimed to have discovered “tens of thousands” of electors on the rolls in both states, and hundreds of double voters. Those lists were apparently compiled by “comparing 3.4 million current voter records in Maryland and 5.5 million in Virginia” by name and date of birth. Elections officials in Fairfax County followed up with a tighter scan, looking for matching SSN digits as well ... and found 17 potential double voters. (Some of the 17 are likely double voters. Some are likely the product of clerical recordkeeping errors.)
I'm all for the Fairfax follow-up. But I worry about the less careful trumpeting of the “tens of thousands” of duplicates, based on a comparison of name and birthdate alone. As Michael McDonald and I have shown, when you compare millions of records with millions of other records, statistics demonstrates that you're going to unintentionally sweep up different people with the same name and birthdate. Different people. Not duplicates. That's just how the math works.
This enthusiasm without precision can lead to real trouble. ... Ada County, Idaho, admitted that it had wrongfully purged 750 registrations -- real, eligible voters, and more than the margin of victory in several of Ada's primary elections in May. The problem? It purged based on name and birthdate matches from an interstate comparison of millions of records. Ada's David Miller was purged because some other David Miller had later registered in Arizona.
Cleaning up the rolls is a good thing (and upgrading the voter registration system to follow individuals as they move, facilitating cleaner rolls at lower cost, is even better). But doing it right takes care. Too much screaming in too much of a hurry just leads to avoidable mistakes. [Election Law Blog, 9/1/14]
Election Law Expert Doug Chapin: Actual Examples Of Double Voting Are Rare And Strict Voter ID Law “Wouldn't Have Prevented This.” Doug Chapin, the director of the Program for Excellence in Election Administration, explained that while it is important to investigate potential instances of double voting, “in the past ... most if not all of the matches did not in fact represent fraud”:
At first blush, this case looks a lot like other allegations of double voting or other election irregularities: an outside advocacy group uses two voter lists to generate a large number of matches based on name and birthdate and then submits the results with great fanfare to election officials for resolution. In the past, that resolution has, more often than not, been to find that most if not all of the matches did not in fact represent fraud.
For that reason, many critics -- who believe that these investigations (which generally come from conservative groups) are actually aimed at discouraging Democratic voters -- think that election offices should treat these matches with a healthy dose of skepticism. Moreover, they argue that publicizing such investigations is itself irresponsible since it perpetuates the myth that voter fraud is widespread.
But in this case it appears that Fairfax County, at least, has already done the first winnowing from an initial list of 15,000 and identified a small handful of cases that appear to justify further review. While it may turn out that even those cases don't pan out, I believe that it is important for election officials to disclose such investigations as a way to remain transparent and demonstrate that even if fraud is rare, they take it seriously.
Also worthy of note: voter ID (now the law in Virginia) wouldn't have prevented this -- what will is the growing effort to link voter rolls in a way to make sure that voters can bring their registrations with them when they move, without leaving old registrations behind. [Election Academy, 8/29/14]