By Stephanie Philbrick
We have reached a precarious moment in American politics. Divisive rhetoric and fear politics have taken an ugly turn and threaten the most basic of our democratic rights: voting. The myth of voter fraud is so dangerous precisely because it chills voter participation and leads to proposals that restrict voter access. And voter intimidation like we saw from Governor LePage during the election serves as backdoor disenfranchisement because citizens are intentionally confused about the election process and their access to it.
Before the election, a candidate predicted that the only way he could lose was if the election was “rigged.” Now that he has won and been installed as our president, he still says there was widespread voter fraud—because he didn’t win the popular election. It’s unclear why he’s perpetuating this idea and many lawmakers agree there is no evidence to back his claim.
But this is clear: the myth of voter fraud is very dangerous and widely believed. This myth instills fear in us as citizens so we look for villains and question our neighbors. Worse, it leads legislators to propose and pass laws that restrict our rights. Let’s be honest: perpetuating the myth of voter fraud without evidence is a political tactic designed to undermine voter rights and participation. The goal is to delegitimize the one part of the political process that all citizens should have access to.
There is no evidence of rampant voter fraud—especially impersonation fraud. The Brennan Center for Justice found that the incident rates for this type of fraud was between 0.00004 and 0.00009%. Most of these were clerical errors or other mistakes. They calculate that you’re more likely to be struck by lightning than to impersonate someone else at the polls. Currently, there are no studies and no court cases that report large instances of voter fraud. This is a non-existent problem and is pulling our attention away from other things happening at the state and federal level.
There is also no evidence to support the idea that people are voting more than once or voting in two states. Governor LePage, before the election, targeted college students with false information claiming they would need to register their car here or get a Maine license before they could vote here. Why the Governor targeted college students is unknown to us, but he was wrong. College students, according the U.S. Supreme Court, can vote in their home state or where they attend college.
We have a strong election system that is managed by trained and conscientious—especially here in Maine. Unsubstantiated stories of fraud undermine our political process and demean the work of our election officials. These false accusations threaten our democracy. Voting is the core right in our political system and key to citizen participation. No matter what beliefs we may hold as individuals, the right to vote is one of the few things that unites all Americans. No one should be disenfranchised or discouraged from voting. We should all be working to protect this most precious of rights.
We in Maine turn out to vote. We have some of the highest voter turnout rates in the country. That is something to be proud of; it’s intensely patriotic. And there is no evidence of fraud. That, too, is something we can be proud of.
And yet there are bills before the Maine Legislature this session that call this into question and threaten voter access. LD 121 would require photo ID for voting and LD 155 would require students, in particular, to comply with motor vehicle law before voting. There are no known voter fraud problems —so why are we considering bills to combat voter fraud? It’s a fix for a problem we don’t have, and it very well may prevent some people from voting.
What you can do
- Know your rights (see our Making Your Vote Count pamphlet) and exercise them.
- Follow our work in this area. Voting rights and voter access are key issues for the League and always have been. We’ll be following every voter rights and election administration bill before the Maine Legislature this year. We post regular updates on our blog—make sure you follow us.
- Call your local State Reps and State Senators and ask them to protect voter rights and vote against Voter ID.
- Consider the source. When you hear these stories about voter fraud ask for data. There are facts and there are opinions—so far, there are no facts supporting widespread voter fraud no matter what people believe.