Friday, August 10, 2012

Voter Fraud: Debunking the 0.7

In the past year we’ve heard about the 1% and the 99%; now we’re hearing about the 0.7. That’s comedian Jon Stewart’s estimate of the number of cases of voter fraud that occurs in each state every year.

0.7: Jon Stewart discusses voter fraud.
Photo source: The Daily Show

Mr. Stewart introduced 0.7 on Wednesday’s episode of The Daily Show. It was impressive comedy (“Next up: leash laws for unicorns!”) but less impressive statistics. He based it on a Republican National Lawyers Association survey that found 340 cases of voter fraud in 46 states over a 10-year period [340/(10x50)=0.7].

The 0.7 is something of a concession: this is the first time I ever heard any liberal admit that the incidence of voter fraud is greater than zero. Nevertheless, there are two problems with the statistic. First, the survey counts prosecutions or convictions. Since many of these cases involve multiple incidents of fraud, merely counting the number of cases understates the number of votes affected. More serious is that the RNLA survey was merely a sampling of cases, not a comprehensive study. RNLA says it “conducted a limited survey to indicate whether vote fraud charges have been filed in states across the country since 2000. We looked for at least one example in each state.” Clearly, this survey is not a gauge of the size of the voter fraud problem.

As far as I know, no comprehensive study has ever been done. Conducting one would be complicated, thanks to the number of cases that partisan election officials decline to prosecute—as we saw in Worcester, MA in 2010.

Still, I hope someone can overcome these obstacles and put some science behind the debate. The anecdotal accounts—which RNLA reports almost daily on its website—are sufficient that all of us, regardless of political persuasion, should be concerned.

If we ever lose the integrity of our electoral system, democracy is over.

Michael Isenberg is the author of Full Asylum, a novel about politics, freedom, and hospital gowns. Check it out on


  1. Democracy ended when the government decided to back up corrupt institutions instead of pursuing justice and preserving the rule of law. Because the financial industry is over 40% of our country's economy and is now able to provide unlimited financial backing to any politician, expect corruption and the wearing down of our republic from the inside to go unabated. Meanwhile, the political establishment has us distracted with a dreamed-up threat, like voter fraud, in order to misdirect our energies and conversations. I don't think it's worth it.

  2. logic.prevails: Thanks for commenting.

    My point is that we don't know whether voter fraud is a dreamed up threat or not - but it's a threat whose consequences are sufficiently serious that we ought to find out.

    The 40% statistic you cite is rather startling - I hadn't seen that before. Where does it come from?

  3. Is that the math he used? It's terrible. Problem is, no one can determine how prevalent voter fraud is because the statistics are nearly impossible to gather. I know there's a huge case of decades-long voter fraud being investigated and prosecuted in my home state Kentucky right now (in and around Breathitt County, my ancestral home, and no surprise). But how do you figure systemic voter fraud into an equation?

    Regardless, even if it's a rate of 0.7%, that's still enough to have serious influence in several key elections lately - the 2000 Florida presidential and the Minnesota Al Franken election, for instance. With so many states on the borderline this year, voter fraud at that low rate in any one of them could swing an entire election.

  4. Good point, especially about the Al Franken election. According to a column by Byron York at, 1099 felons voted (illegal in Minnesota) in an election won by 312 votes.

  5. kywrite: 0.7 incidences of confirmed voter fraud DOES NOT EQUAL 0.7% rate of confirmed voter fraud.

    Michael Isenberg: The MN Supreme Court Records don't support Byron Yorks claims. In fact, Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman and the Republican lawyers that worked on the election disagree, as well.