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Voter Fraud Warnings Overblown, Says Election Law Expert

Jacob Ryan/WFPL

Republicans, including presidential candidate Donald Trump, have called on voters to be vigilant of a “rigged election” on Tuesday. But according to an election law expert, voter fraud is unlikely to be rampant or to sway ballot results.

Joshua Douglas, a professor at the University of Kentucky College of Law, said voter fraud doesn’t happen as frequently as some politicians suggest because it’s not a very effective way of getting votes.

“It would be a pretty strange and stupid way to try to rig an election,” Douglas said. “You’d need a whole lot of people involved and the likelihood of changing the outcome would be pretty small.”

Voter fraud became a hot-button issue after Trump repeatedly suggested that this year’s election would be “rigged” in favor of his Democratic opponent, Hillary Clinton.

Trump claimed that voter fraud is rampant across the country and that ballots are cast by undocumented immigrants and people using the identifications of dead voters. He also said that the media is unfairly biased in favor of Clinton’s candidacy.

On Monday, the Republican Party of Kentucky called on voters to be vigilant for fraudulent activity at the polls. A statement released by RPK Chairman Mac Brown Monday morning warned citizens to be especially watchful for vote buying and voter fraud in Eastern Kentucky.

“We hope law enforcement will redouble their efforts throughout the region so that the people of Eastern Kentucky can be assured that their elections are being contested freely and fairly,” Brown said. “We encourage any Kentuckians – Republicans, Democrats or Independents – who see anything suspicious between now and when the polls close in Tuesday to call the Kentucky State Police voter fraud hotline.”

Vote buying does have a long tradition in the eastern part of the state, with recent convictions of three people in Magoffin County who conspired to buy votes for candidates running for local offices.

But reported instances of voter fraud don’t happen frequently. A study conducted by a professor at Loyola Law School, Los Angeles showed out of about 1 billion ballots cast between 2000 and 2014, only 31 cases of voter fraud were reported.

“That’s not to say that vote-buying or voter fraud doesn’t exist at all,” Douglas said. “It has existed some on a fairly small scale, but not the kind of way that many people are talking about.”

Despite the few reported instances of voter fraud, the American public thinks it occurs more frequently — according to a Washington Post-ABC News poll, 46 percent of Americans believe that voter fraud occurs very or somewhat often.

Kentuckians are required to show a driver’s license, Social Security card, credit card or ID card with a picture and signature in order to vote.

University of Kentucky’s Election Law Society will host a live blog dedicated to any legal issues that arise on Election Day, including voter fraud and contested election results.

Ryland Barton is the Managing Editor for Collaboratives for Kentucky Public Radio, a group of public radio stations including WKMS, WFPL in Louisville, WEKU in Richmond and WKYU in Bowling Green. A native of Lexington, Ryland most recently served as the Capitol Reporter for Kentucky Public Radio. He has covered politics and state government for NPR member stations KWBU in Waco and KUT in Austin.
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