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Since 2020, we have seen an unprecedented amount of viral falsehoods and misinformation about voter fraud and elections. PolitiFact wanted to answer some common questions voters have about the security of elections. In a related story, we answered questions about how elections operate.
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Election security starts with voter registration, but there are additional steps election officials take during the voting process to protect the integrity of the election.
A wide variety of voter ID requirements and verification processes exists. About three dozen states have laws requesting or requiring voters to show some form of identification at the polls. Some states require a photo ID while others allow identification such as a bank statement or utility bill. Georgia and Texas have specific rules about voter ID information for mail ballots.
Election officials also take steps to prevent someone from casting a ballot twice in the same election, either by mail or in person. In Florida, when voters cast ballots in person, their nine-digit identification numbers appear in voter registration records — either in an electronic poll book or an actual printed book. Election officials can check whether someone has already cast a ballot in the same election to make sure that person doesn’t vote twice.
"It’s like an on-off switch," said Wesley Wilcox, supervisor of elections in Marion County, Florida, and the president of the Florida Supervisors of Elections. "We go into elections, and everybody’s switch is off, but as soon as you vote, that switch goes on, and that will block the return of any other ballot."
Ballot drop boxes are set up by local election officials, often in front of government buildings. The boxes allow voters to bypass the post office and return their ballots directly to their local election offices.
The boxes typically weigh more than 600 pounds and have tamper-proof mechanisms. States that use ballot drop boxes set their own laws on whether they must be under video surveillance, as well as hours and locations.
There is no evidence that ballot drop boxes have been a tool of mass voter fraud – they have been used for about two decades without controversy, including in Republican-led Utah.
States set their own rules about who can return mail ballots on behalf of other voters. Opponents of this practice call it "ballot harvesting" while election officials usually refer to it as "ballot collection."
Dinesh D’Souza, who has a history of spreading falsehoods, produced a documentary about ballot drop boxes. D’Souza said he found criminal use of ballot drop boxes, but elections experts have cast doubt about his methodology, and fact-checkers and Georgia-based journalists have debunked his claims. D’Souza is a convicted felon who was later pardoned by former President Donald Trump.
There is no national database of registered voters. This means each local election office is responsible for removing dead voters or those who moved to another jurisdiction or state.
Election officials receive death records either from the U.S. Social Security Administration and/or a state office. More than half of the states and the District of Columbia belong to the Electronic Registration Information Center, a consortium that helps states share and update voter registration information, including death records that identify voters who died in-state and out-of-state.
Nevertheless, every election cycle, someone casts a ballot on behalf of a dead person. Election officials say it’s usually a family member who casts the ballot on behalf of a dead relative. But these incidents are so isolated they would not add up to enough to change the outcome of an election.
It’s also possible that some voters don’t realize they are breaking the law, but it’s a crime to cast a ballot on behalf of someone else and a crime to cast more than one ballot in the same election.
Election experts have told us that no system to update voter rolls is perfect.
A Marple, Pa., man who voted for Trump on behalf of his long-dead mother in 2020 told the judge: "I was isolated last year in lockdown. I listened to too much propaganda and made a stupid mistake."
More than a year after the presidential election, the evidence has only grown that there was a secure election. The Associated Press in December 2021 found fewer than 475 potential voter fraud cases in six battleground states: Arizona, Georgia, Michigan, Nevada, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.
Pets are not allowed to vote, but there have been anecdotes about people’s dogs or cats getting some type of election-related mail. Here’s how that can happen: People put their pets’ names on subscriptions or mailing lists, and then third-party groups buy commercial mailing lists and send voter registration materials to pets.
We’ve never met a dog or cat that is capable of casting a ballot, so if that were to happen, it would be fraud on the part of the pet’s human companion.
That’s what happened in 2006 in Washington state when Jane Balogh fraudulently registered Duncan, her Australian shepherd terrier mix. Balogh returned the ballot in her dog’s name with an image of a paw print for the signature and wrote "void" on the ballot. Balogh said she did it in an effort to point out flaws in the voter registration system. After she was charged with making a false statement to a public official, Balogh took a plea deal and agreed to perform community service and pay a fine. Criminal charges were later dropped.
The dog was removed from the voter roll.
Being registered to vote in two states at once is not a crime; it usually happens when someone moves and doesn’t take steps to cancel a former registration. A 2012 Pew study found that about 2.75 million people had voter registrations in more than one state.
But federal law does make it a crime to vote more than once in an election for candidates for federal office. The penalty is a fine of up to $10,000 or prison up to five years, or both. Many state laws also list double voting as a felony.
The National Conference of State Legislatures in 2021 found double voting to be rare, but also said it is difficult to identify. In The Villages, a conservative area in Florida, four residents were charged with voting in Florida and another state. An anonymous email tipped off state election officials.
National Conference of State Legislatures, Election resources, Jan. 5, 2022
Brennan Center, 2020’s Lessons for Election Security, Dec. 16, 2020
NPR, Voting Security Has Come A Long Way Since 2016 — But Vulnerabilities Remain, Nov. 3, 2020
The Conversation, Articles on Voting security, 2016-2019
Election infrastructure initiative, New Report Finds That More Than $50 Billion is Needed to Modernize and Run State and Local Elections Infrastructure, Dec. 14, 2021
U.S. Election Assistance Commission, Election security preparedness
VoteBeat, How election administrators can protect elections by speaking up, Nov. 22, 2021
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Politico, ‘Reckless and stupid’: Security world feuds over how to ban wireless gear in voting machines, Feb. 9, 2021
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Atlanta Journal-Constitution, U.S. cybersecurity agency reviews hacking risk to Georgia voting system, Feb. 11, 2022
8 News Now, Nevada man who voted twice using dead wife’s ballot sentenced to probation, fined $2,000, Nov. 16, 2021
Hamilton County, Ohio, Video about absentee ballots, Oct. 22, 2021
Electronic Registration Information Center, Website, Accessed May 9, 2022
U.S. District Court for Northern District of Georgia, Donna Curling vs Brad Raffensperger, CISA status report update, April 18, 2022
Washington Post, Hackers were told to break into U.S. voting machines. They didn’t have much trouble. Aug. 12, 2019
Georgia Public Radio Stephen Fowler, Twitter thread, May 10, 2022
Atlanta Journal-Constitution, What ‘2000 Mules’ leaves out of ballot harvesting claims, May 10, 2022
PolitiFact, What can the federal government do right now to protect voting rights before the 2022 midterms? Feb. 18, 2022
PolitiFact, Ballot drop boxes have long been used without controversy. Then Trump got involved, Oct. 16, 2020
PolitiFact, The faulty premise of the ‘2,000 mules’ trailer about voting by mail in the 2020 election, May 4, 2022
Email interview, Gerri Kramer, spokesperson for the Hillsborough County Supervisor of Elections (Florida), May 10, 2022
Email interview, Tammy Patrick, a former Maricopa County elections official and expert on elections at the Democracy Fund, May 10, 2022
Email interview, Shane Hamlin, Electronic Registration Information Center executive director, May 10, 2022