What's being done to stop voter fraud? #askmpr

An early voting testing station in St. Paul.
An early voting testing station at a St. Paul elections headquarters on Sept. 9, 2016.
Mark Zdechlik | MPR News File

During the run-up to Election Day on Nov. 8, MPR News is finding answers to your election questions. Pose yours here.

Throughout his campaign, Donald Trump has warned Americans that this year's election may be "rigged" and that large-scale voter fraud will be rampant on Election Day. That's alarmed some voters.

Joe Padden of Hibbing, Minn., asked MPR News via its Public Insight Network to look into why more isn't done to prevent voter fraud.

Election experts and Minnesota officials say it's because nothing more needs to be done.

This election, the most commonly discussed type of fraud has been "voter impersonation" — the act of someone voting under a different identity. Experts say the act is almost nonexistent with one study finding only 31 substantiated instances in the U.S. from 2000 to 2014.

Some point to that lack of frequency as proof the system works. While states vary in what voters need to bring with them on Election Day, there isn't a state in the U.S. that lets anyone just walk in and vote.

"As you register you typically need to produce some sort of evidence that you live where you say you do," said Kjersten Nelson, associate professor of political science at North Dakota State University. "Whether it's an ID, or a bill with your address on it or it's a neighbor who says you live where you live."

She adds that some states, Minnesota included, will follow up with voters sending constituents postcards after registration to ensure that the address given was real and that the resident did vote that year.

Minnesota officials say these and other regulations are enough to prevent any potential fraud.

"It is almost impossible in Minnesota, on a statewide scope for an election like president of the United States, to rig or fix an election," Secretary of State Steve Simon said Tuesday. "We have a decentralized system across 87 counties and many hundreds of cities. We have well-trained nonpartisan election judges, 30,000 of them, in fact."

Nelson says the same is true on a national level.

"The decentralization of the U.S. system that we see in just about everything is also there for voting," Nelson said. "Which means that we just have little differences across even counties that would mean there's not going to be any uniform way to game the system on any sort of large scale."

In northwest Minnesota, Clay County Auditor Lori Johnson says election judges in each precinct are trained to check documentation and ensure the security of each ballot from start to finish, adding, "If they're not qualified to vote they won't let them vote."

When voting concludes, optical scanners read the ballot. Johnson said a tape is printed at the end of each ballot to create a record without actually revealing what choices the voter made, which is then collected by election officials.

The county also checks scanner security, she added.

"We're testing all of the cards, the memory cards that actually tally the votes," Johnson said. "We run all those through — originals, election day and back up (ballots) — and make sure that they're counting all the votes properly."

In addition to election judges, some political parties send poll watchers or challengers to ensure the validity of voters. Trump has asked his supporters to show up in force in this capacity, but in Minnesota there are limitations on what challengers can do.

But simple suspicion is not a legitimate reason to challenge someone's vote. In Minnesota, personal knowledge of the voter in question is necessary and the challenger must go through an election judge to prove they have that knowledge, Johnson said, adding that intimidation of the voter in question is absolutely not allowed.

Even with these precautions in place, some view the state's same-day registration as a potential risk.

"Here in Minnesota, the single biggest thing is the same-day registration loophole," Minnesota Republican Party Chairman Keith Downey said. "Literally 500,000 votes, conceivably, on Election Day where people are registering that day, their votes will be counted before their registration is validated."

While voter fraud has happened in the past, experts say they'd be shocked if it could be pulled off on a scale that actually affects the outcome of the election.

"(Widescale fraud) would speak to some level of coordination that any campaign would probably be jealous of," Nelson said. "To skirt that many rules, I suppose it's possible but not probable."

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