U.S. Senate Committee on Governmental Affairs
Dr. Larry J. Sabato
Director, University of Virginia Center for Governmental Studies
May 3, 2001
Mr. Chairman, Members of the Committee, thank you for this
opportunity to speak with you today about the intertwined issues
of voter registration and vote fraud in the United States.
Of course, this is a subject that has received considerable
attention during the months since the ballots were cast in the
2000 Presidential election.
Let me begin my remarks by stating what all of us familiar with
politics already know. Fraud
and corruption in the American electoral system did not start
with the 2000 Presidential election.
In fact, evidence of corruption spans the entire history
of our Republic.
What could be unique at this point in our nation?s history is
the degree to which we, as a nation, can embark on a serious
discussion of how to reform the system to limit the extent of
electoral fraud and corruption.
The November 2000 election can serve as the catalyst for such a
debate. By all
means, we should toss out antiquated voting machines that poorly
count properly cast ballots.
But we ought simultaneously to spend sufficient resources
to reduce vote fraud in several states.
When we look at the registration system and voting process in
the U. S., we have to balance two conflicting values, two
equally worthy objectives:
goal of full and informed participation of the
integrity of the system.
To the extent that we keep expanding the participation rate and
make it easier and easier for people to register and vote, we
almost certainly increase the chances for voter fraud. So, in a sense, it is a trade off. To move completely in the direction of one value as opposed
to the other is foolhardy.
We must achieve a balance between these two important
democratic values. Currently
we do not have a good balance.
As Election 2000 demonstrated, the problems are numerous.
I draw your attention to several of the most egregious
instances of fraud that were encountered last year, and in other
Last November, as reported by The Miami Herald, the votes
of a 90-year-old woman and 21-year-old man were among more than 2,000
illegal ballots cast by Florida residents who swore they were
eligible to vote, but in fact were not.
The woman voted absentee and in person, while the
man voted despite a felony drug conviction.
These 2,000 illegal ballots were discovered in just 25 of
Florida?s 67 counties ? this in a presidential race won by
only 537 ballots in Florida.
voters cast ballots even though their names were not on precinct
voter registration lists, because all they had to do was sign an
affirmation swearing they were eligible to vote.
Even though they were supposed to, poll workers never checked to
see if these 2,000 people were actually registered.
In addition to these 2,000, there were 1,200 instances of
convicted Florida felons who had been legally stripped of their
right to vote, but nevertheless managed to stay on the voting
rolls and cast their ballot in the last election.
There is also some indication that at least a few people
who maintain two residencies cast ballots in two different
states, one by absentee and the other in person.
Just a glance at the past decade shows many examples of
electoral fraud. You
don?t even have to look very closely to find, as I did in my
book Dirty Little Secrets: The Persistence of Corruption in
Extensive absentee ballot fraud in Alabama.
Hundreds of phony registrations in California.
Nearly 1,000 illegal votes in New Jersey including some by
people who were unregistered and others who were dead.
Significant absentee ballot fraud in Philadelphia.
Votes stolen from the elderly and infirm in Texas
And the list goes on and on.
Voter fraud is not limited only to these examples.
My strong suspicion ? based on scores of investigated
and unexplored tips from political observers and interviewees
over the years ? is that some degree of vote fraud can be
found almost everywhere, and serious outbreaks can and do occur
in every region of the country.
Whether fraud is Democratic or Republican, or located in the
North or the South or the West, the effect on American democracy
is similar. While
electoral hanky-panky affects the outcome in only a small
proportion of elections (mainly in very tight races), one
fraudulent ballot is one too many for the integrity of the
system and the confidence that the people have in the system.
The need for reform is urgent and clear. Voter turnout in the
United States is traditionally too low, and cynicism among
citizens too high, to permit the malodorous malady of election
fraud to continue unchecked ? or to spread.
No system is absolutely foolproof, but at the very least it
seems to me that we could all agree that a photo identification
card (of any sort) should be produced by each voter at the
Second, voters should be asked at the time of registration to
give a number unique to them ? a social security number, a
driver?s license number ? that can be prerecorded on the
voter list provided each precinct?s workers.
Third, every voter should have
to sign his name on the voting rolls at the polls so that the
signature can be compared to the one on the registration form to
see if they match up. This
comparison would probably be made only in the event the results
of a close election were challenged, although again, the
computer technology already exists for instantaneously
scrolling, side by side, the poll signature and the registration
Fourth, all potential voters ought to be advised at the polls,
whether orally by an elections official or by means of a printed
statement of the eligibility requirements for voting and the
penalties for fraudulent voting.
A similar warning should be prominently featured on all
absentee and early-voting/mail-in ballots.
These four overlapping safeguards are not too burdensome
for voters and poll workers, but they would to a long way toward
discouraging fraud at the precinct stations on Election Day.
Fifth, no early-voting/mail-in and absentee ballot should ever
be separated from its cover sheet and counted until the
voter?s signature has been carefully checked against the
registration file signatures.
Every envelope containing the marked absentee or
early-voting/mail-in ballot should also be signed by an adult
witness whose address should also be listed.
Finally, Mr. Chairman let me say that these regulations, even if
adopted universally and followed to the letter, will be
registrars and elections offices are not staffed and
the statutes do not punish fraud severely ? major
felonies are required, not minor misdemeanors;
law enforcement authorities do not make voter fraud a
priority and press for substantial legal penalties
against those found violating the fraud statutes; and
the news media do not begin to look for evidence of voter
fraud ? a probable prerequisite to
finding it. A good
first step would be for every news organization to establish and
publicize a ?campaign
The examples I listed earlier, and others throughout the
nation make it obvious that the solutions required for voter
fraud must necessarily be adapted to each locality?s culture
and practice. But
one imperative unites all the cases:
While registration and voting should be as easy as
possible, the process should also be as fraud-proof as possible.
Thank you Mr. Chairman.