09 Mar Obsession with voter fraud: A distraction from the real issues Texans face with voting

By Taylor Loynd

Leading up to the 2016 election, voter fraud was a frequent topic of conversation, in headlines and around the dinner table. These conversations are continuing after the election, spurred by disingenuous and inaccurate comments from public officials, despite a statement by the National Association of Secretaries of State that it is not aware of any evidence that supports these public comments.

With free and fair voting as part of the bedrock of our democracy, these false claims are particularly troubling and prove to be distracting from the real hurdles Texans face in having their voices heard in the election process.

In Texas, some public officials, including the current and former Secretaries of State, have come out and rejected the claims that votes in Texas have been tainted by fraud. The numbers back up these responses. Since 2012, the Texas Attorney General’s office has seen about 360 allegations of voter fraud. However, only fifteen cases were successfully prosecuted. Furthermore, within those fifteen convictions, only four involved the conviction of voters. The remaining convictions were of elections officials and third-party volunteers.

The drop-in-the-bucket numbers go back even further. Researchers found that out of 2,068 alleged election-fraud cases across the entire country between 2000 and 2012, only ten cases of voter impersonation were found. There were 146 million voters registered at the time. Researchers also noted that these ten cases were the only kind that “could be prevented by voter ID at the polls.”

Despite this evidence, discriminatory voting laws across state Legislatures, including Texas, surged during that time.

The focus on allegations of voter fraud have distracted Texans from the more serious voting problems that persist: the fact that many eligible Texans are not registered to vote and that those who are, are not casting ballots.

Just before the 2016 election, then Secretary of State, Carlos Cascos, announced that that a record breaking 15 million voters were registered in Texas. However, this is only 78% of potential Texas voters – meaning 4 million eligible voters are not even registered. This is not an accident, current policies in Texas have a direct negative impact on voter registration.

The problem does not stop there. Even once voters are on the books in our country, there is a 1 in 8 chance that there are inaccuracies or problems with the validity of their registration, creating problems for them when it comes time to cast a ballot. For that reason and more, the 2008 and 2012 elections were missing the votes of over 5 million registered Texas voters. The available data about the 2016 election shows a further decrease in the turnout rate.

The problem with Texas voting trends is not one of rampant voter fraud, as some prominent officials have incorrectly stated. The problem is the failure of the state to ensure that eligible Texas voters are properly registered and ready to vote. As a result, TCRP will continue to keep working towards modernizing the voter registration process so that more eligible Texas voters can make their voices heard in our election process.

Taylor Loynd is a law clerk at the Texas Civil Rights Project.