A new study about voter fraud coupled with the story of a perhaps outcome-altering mistake at a Topeka polling place last week may make Kansans wonder just where the greatest threat to election integrity actually lies.
News21, a Carnegie-Knight investigative reporting project, this week released an analysis of reported voting fraud cases in the United States. The reporters for the project sent thousands of requests to elections officers in all 50 states asking for every alleged case of election fraud involving registration, absentee ballots, vote buying, false election counts, campaign fraud, ineligible voters such as felons or non-citizens casting ballots, double voting and voter impersonation.
News21 looked at 2,068 fraud cases and found 491 cases of alleged absentee ballot fraud and 400 cases related to registration fraud. But despite the recent rush of state legislatures to pass laws requiring voters to show photo identification at the polls, the project found only 10 cases in the nation of alleged in-person voter fraud since 2000.
Of course, Kansas is one of the states that now requires ID at the polls. Next year, a new requirement that voters show proof of citizenship when they register for the first time in Kansas will go into effect. Although those efforts are touted as a way to ensure the integrity of elections in the state, it doesn’t solve every problem — as illustrated by the experience at one Topeka polling place in the Aug. 7 primary.
When Shawnee County commissioners canvassed the primary vote on Monday, they agreed not to count 25 of the 26 provisional ballots cast by people who failed to show ID either at the poll or later at the election office. The much bigger problem in Shawnee County was the voters at one polling place who received the wrong primary ballots because a supervising judge at that poll had not properly followed the county’s election protocol. It was unclear how many ballots were involved, but since one race on some of the ballots was won by just 41 votes, commissioners decided some corrective action was needed. Therefore, a special election has been set for Aug. 28 for about 425 people who cast their ballots in the precinct in question.
A special election may have been the best the county could do, but one of the interesting sidelights to this story is how much havoc one irresponsible or careless election official can cause on an election. In this case the actions of the election judge probably were entirely accidental and, fortunately, were discovered and dealt with promptly. Think how much worse it could be if someone with malicious intent were involved, especially someone with the capability to manipulate a computerized voting or vote-counting system.
Although some Kansans still have concerns, the ID requirement didn’t appear to have a significant impact on voter turnout or convenience during last week’s primary. The situation in Topeka, however, is a good reminder that there are many other ways — either innocent or malicious — to undermine the integrity of the voting process.