democracy is a work in progress

Frequently Asked Questions

The short answer: voter fraud is not very common.

Studies of voter fraud have found no evidence to suggest it is a widespread problem nor one that has affected the outcome of any race. The consensus from credible research and investigation is that the rate of illegal voting is extremely rare, and the incidence of certain types of fraud – such as impersonating another voter – is virtually nonexistent. The Brennan Center for Justice provides links to over 30 studies and court filings on voter fraud claims.

One source often cited to support fraud claims, The Heritage Foundation’s database of over 1000 alleged cases of voter fraud, includes cases spread over a 30-year period – that’s about 70 alleged cases every election cycle, occurring in far fewer than 1% of electoral races. The Brennan Center reviewed this database and found that it was “grossly exaggerated and devoid of context.”

Despite repeated claims that millions have voted illegally, examination after examination of such fraud claims reveals that fraud is very rare and voter impersonation is nearly non-existent. Many of the problems associated with alleged fraud relates to unintentional mistakes by voters or election administrators.

We have two responses to the question. First, regarding the effort to educate oneself, experience suggests that if obstacles to accessing useful information are removed, more people will make use of the information.

Second, the purpose of this question appears irrelevant at best, and counterproductive at worst, to the goal of protecting the right of all citizens to vote. Whether or not people have educated themselves about issues or candidates is not a determinant to their right to vote, no more so than the ability to pass a literacy test or pay a poll tax. In the earliest days of our democracy, the founders recognized that it would best thrive if its citizens were educated participants in civic life, but they made no demands in this regard. Instead, we have a long history of mostly incomplete and failed efforts to establish a common education that prepares each generation for the civic challenges of its time.

There are three fairly straightforward reasons why we don’t question the idea that encouraging all eligible citizens to register and vote is a good idea:

  1. The Declaration of Independence makes no distinction when it declares that “all men are created equal” – a phrase that has been expanded through the generations to include men of all races and religions, and women, too; and
  2. The Constitution of the United States – our constitution – was ordained and established by “We the People of the United States” – again, making no distinction among skin color, gender, language spoken, wealth, intelligence, or any other characteristic that distinguishes one person from another.

In this context, we agree that the right to vote is an inalienable right belonging to all eligible citizens. While society has determined that certain of its citizens should not be eligible to vote, such as those who disqualify themselves from enjoying the rights of society by committing certain crimes, such determinations, while seemingly well-intentioned, have in the past and still today are used to exclude people of color and those with little wealth from the right to vote.

Finally, reason 3) The more people who vote, the more people that are engaged in our democracy. Democracy thrives best when there is participation from its citizens. When participation is low, the democracy becomes more vulnerable to the rise of non-democratic elements of the society.

We’re pretty sure there are many other reasons, but these are the three we think are most relevant.

Related Problems: Money in Politics, Income and Wealth Inequality

Contributors: George LinzerMichael Deal, Kyle Mullins

Reviewed by: Center for the Study of the Presidency and Congress

Published: December 5, 2019

Last Updated: June 16, 2021

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