By Vignesh Ramachandran, Colorado News Collaborative (via AP Storyshare)
Colorado is known for its mail-in-ballot system that some election experts have called the “gold standard” in the nation. But with unfounded claims of massive voter fraud rampant, some state residents remain concerned about whether their vote will get counted.
The Colorado News Collaborative is speaking with nonpartisan election experts to help the public understand more about the integrity of the vote. One of them, M.V. (Trey) Hood III, is a professor of Political Science at the University of Georgia. His state has been the epicenter of high-profile claims of voter fraud in the 2020 election, which have been found false.
This Q&A has been edited for clarity and length.
How easy is it for someone to mess with the vote?
Certainly every state has a lot of things that have been put in place to prevent voter fraud, so a lot of safeguards are in place. It’s not necessarily easy to commit voter fraud. It does happen — it’s pretty episodic and rare, though. But, the fact that it does happen some – that’s what gets into the news and that’s sort of what reinforces the belief that it’s just completely rampant.
[Editor’s note: In Colorado, the conservative-leaning Heritage Foundation has documented 16 cases of voter fraud in the entire state since 2005.]
Georgia has been in the news in the last few years because of Trump supporters and allies claiming fraud in the 2020 Election. What are your thoughts about these claims, which have been found baseless?
In Georgia, all kinds of claims were made, and there has just been no evidence at all.
Outside of a handful of cases, there’s no evidence at all that there was voter fraud anywhere at the level that would flip an election. We had an initial presidential count, we had a machine recount and we had a full hand recount of the presidential election — all showing the same thing.
The only difference was that, administratively, we found out there were a couple of precincts and a couple of counties where their [results data] were not uploaded properly. So that was an administrative issue. It wasn’t fraud or anything like that. And they got corrected through the recount process. But even that didn’t come anywhere near to changing the outcome.
In Colorado, we have more than 3.7 million active registered voters. The conservative-leaning Heritage Foundation has documented 16 cases of voter fraud in the entire state since 2005. So what’s the takeaway from those numbers?
In general, cases of proven, verified voter fraud are rare.
State (governments) are sort of the arbiters of elections, and even within that it’s really devolved down to the county level, or in some states, even to the township level. That’s where elections are being carried out at a very low level in the U.S. To perpetrate some kind of massive fraud, that makes it even more difficult given how devolved elections are in the U.S. It’s not like we have one central counting place in Washington, D.C.
You’d really need more than just voters. You need the cooperation of election officials, which is not going to happen, obviously. You should feel confident when you cast a ballot that it’s going to get counted and counted correctly.
What is a primary safeguard to ensure the integrity of the vote in U.S. states like Georgia, for example?
In Georgia, there are a lot of safeguards in place if you vote in person. You have to have a government-issued ID. So if you vote early, or on Election Day, it would be fairly difficult to try to impersonate someone. Even if you’re successful, that’s just one vote. I’m not saying that it’s not important to even stop fraud in terms of one vote, but it’s difficult to produce fraud on a massive scale.
We do have absentee-by-mail ballots. We used to use signature verification. So the election office would compare the signature on the ballot envelope to the signature that’s in the registration system or the DMV system to see if they match. We moved from that safeguard to having to now put your driver’s license or state ID card number on not only your ballot envelope, but even on your application to get a ballot. There are exceptions — say you have a passport, for instance, you can photocopy that and attach it. But for most people, it’s putting their driver’s license or state ID number on their application to get a ballot or on their ballot envelope when they return it.
Every state has some kind of verification process that they use, whether it’s signature verification for absentee ballots, or a couple of states like Georgia using state ID numbers. In North Carolina witnesses sign your ballot affidavit or your ballot envelope as an affidavit that you are who you are.
What if someone just uses a fake ID to vote?
You would have to be in the Department of Motor Vehicles system. So you’d have to create a fraudulent identification, essentially, for that to work, which is probably not going to happen.
What mistakes can happen with absentee ballots?
A lot of things that may look like fraud are a husband accidentally sends in his wife’s absentee ballot and vice versa. So not fraud — just a mistake that needs to be rectified.
Or someone who is dead votes. Well, what happened? They mailed their absentee ballot before they passed away. So not fraud. Now, it depends on the state as to whether that would count or not since the individual is deceased. Technically, in Georgia, it shouldn’t count. But it’s not fraud by any means.
For voters who have concerns that our systems are secure, what can they do?
I would just encourage people to the extent to which they are concerned, to look into things — see what safeguards are there and how they’re being employed, as opposed to just thinking something is going on without investigating. A lot of the election process in a lot of the places in the U.S. is a very open system. Obviously, the ballot is secret, but the administrative part of it is very open. Most counties have a board of elections or a board of registrars — or both sometimes — and there are open meetings. There’s no shortage of information nowadays.
There is a lot of thought that has gone into this in any state. There are a lot of security and safeguards that are placed in the state’s election code to specifically prevent fraud. I would welcome anyone who’s brave enough to look at their state’s election code. It’s not the most interesting thing, but you can get an idea of just how many safeguards are in place.
People can also certainly sign up to work the polls or in other capacities.
Are there other voting issues Americans should be focusing on?
What we should be doing is trying to increase voter confidence in the system for all partisans, whatever stripe. Now this seems to be easier said than done, unfortunately.
This story is brought to you by COLab, the Colorado News Collaborative, a nonprofit coalition of more than 170 newsrooms across Colorado working together to better serve the public. Learn more at https://colabnews.co