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Election Fraud Is Real

Just maybe not in the way you were thinking. It is very rare for people who are not eligible to vote to cast ballots. And even some of that fraud is accidental, for example, green card holders or former felons thinking they were allowed to vote and then following through.

But there is another kind of election fraud that is real. That relates to signatures on petitions to get candidates or initiatives on the ballot. Candidates often need a certain number of signatures to get on primary ballots and all voter-initiated ballot measures need signatures to make the ballot. In some cases, especially for hot-button culture-war ballot initiatives like abortion, it is easy to find enough volunteers to gather signatures. But in other cases, the candidate or group sponsoring the measure usually hires a signature-gathering company to do the work. In fact, there is a whole industry of such companies out there. These signature petitions is where the fraud occurs.

For example, in 2022 in Michigan, five candidates who wanted to get on the Republican primary ballot were disqualified due to invalid signatures (i.e., not enough valid signatures). Election officials found evidence of "round tabling," in which a bunch of canvassers sat around a round table and passed petitions from one person to another so consecutive lines would be done in different handwriting and different pens. Officials estimate that at least 68,000 invalid signatures appeared on the nominating petitions.

A lot of the problem is economics. Back when canvassers were paid $2 for a signature, fraud didn't pay enough to make it worthwhile. Now signatures cost upwards of $20-$30 each and fraud is far more profitable, so there is a lot more of it. Prices have gone up because companies can't find people willing to work for $2 per signature. The work consists of standing outside a shopping center, movie theater, sports arena, etc. and trying to get people to sign the petition. Many are not eligible (e.g., in many states only registered Republicans can sign a petition to put a Republican on the primary ballot). The pandemic has made people unwilling to talk to strangers on the street and low unemployment means fewer people are forced into canvassing because it is the only work they can find. Also people are suspicious of signing things they don't understand these days, so it can take quite a while to get a single valid signature. That has driven the price up and led to fraud.

One way to reduce fraud is to pay canvassers per hour rather than per signature. But that means canvassers can stay home and play video games and file for payment. Fisherman are generally paid for the number of fish they catch, not the number of hours they spent fishing.

Some secretaries of state want to crack down on "bad actors," companies that wilfully and intentionally put bogus signatures on petitions. Colorado Secretary of State Jena Griswold (D) wants to change the law about holding companies responsible from a standard that they are guilty only if they knowingly submitted false signatures to a standard where mere negligence is enough for a conviction. She also wants to increase penalties for fraud. Finally, she wants to require canvassers to take a required course run by her office. One observation that election officials have made is that when the canvasser is just doing the work for the money, there is actually less fraud that when the canvasser is passionately interested in having the candidate or initiative make the ballot. That's where the big-time fraud occurs. (V)

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