Mail-in voter fraud ‘exceedingly rare,’ says Rutgers expert
People worry that a mail-in election is vulnerable to ineligible scammers, stolen ballots and people casting multiple votes, but a New Jersey professor who’s an expert on the topic said those things don’t happen, at least not at a scale to worry too much about.
Rutgers University-Camden professor Lori Minnite said there’s not evidence that voters commit fraud, and she’s been studying it for almost 20 years.
“Voter fraud is a crime, and there’s little benefit to an individual to try to vote twice. So in general, I don’t think people should be worried about it,” Minnite said.
“You probably have to be a little more worried about the Postal Service getting things back on time if people wait too long than we do worry about whether that kind of fraud is going to distort the outcome of the election,” she said.
Minnite said she’s not saying fraud doesn’t happen but that it’s “exceedingly rare.” She said when fraud happens with mail ballots, it’s generally organized conspiracies in which a politician tries to manipulate the process. The risk is too large for individual voters – a third-degree crime, including jail time.
Minnite said vote-by-mail may be new for many voters but not county election officials and that there are safeguards in place around confirming identities and matching signatures.
“Mistakes can be made. Voters make mistakes. Election officials make mistakes. But those mistakes are not fraud,” Minnite said. “Fraud is an intent to deceive. So the mistakes, we don’t want them to happen, either. They often hurt voters.”
Minnite said it’s far more common that legitimate votes being rejected for things like a signature mismatch, a torn-off certificate or delayed mail delivery. She said that needs to considered when people focus on deterring fraud.
“An election in which people are denied their vote for whatever reason or technical reason, confusion, also lacks integrity,” Minnite said. “Election integrity means everyone who wants to vote is able to vote and have their ballot counted.”
Nationally in this year’s primaries, an estimated half-million votes were rejected, she said. That included nearly 41,000 in New Jersey, 2.8% of votes cast.
“There are legitimate citizens who can’t get their ballot counted because of these kinds of technical issues. Those votes are lost, and those votes should be counted. But they’re not,” Minnite said. “And it’s a much bigger problem than the issue of fraud.”
Michael Symons is State House bureau chief for New Jersey 101.5. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.