Jaywalking analogy busts myth voter fraud doesn’t exist just because documented incidents are rare.
The Philadelphia Police Department last year wrote a grand total of 10 jaywalking tickets.
By the logic of the Left, that means that illegal street-crossings are so vanishingly rare in the City of Brotherly Love that they are practically nonexistent.
“That points to the absurdity of their position, And in this case [illegal voting], it’s a felony.”
“There you go,” said Old Dominion University political science professor Jesse Richman. “We might as well drop jaywalking from the books.”
Richman, who has studied voter fraud, said the jaywalking analogy is a good one. It is impossible to say how many illegal ballots are cast each election because authorities mostly do not look for it. It usually only arises in the instances where people recognize illegal voters and alert authorities.
Those who are skeptical of voter-fraud allegations often point to research by Loyola University, Los Angeles law professor Justin Levitt, now on leave from his teaching post to work as a deputy assistant attorney general overseeing voting-rights cases. He documented just 31 ballots — out of about a billion cast nationwide since 2000 — from voters pretending to be someone else.
From the jaywalking citations issued, however, one could conclude that jaywalking in Philadelphia is even more rare than voter fraud in America. In a city of 1.5 million — plus hundreds of thousands of visitors — a billion would seem to be the bare minimum estimate of the number of times someone crossed a Philadelphia street in 2015.
But common sense and daily experience living in a big city strongly suggest that illegal street crossings almost certainly exceed the 10 times police wrote tickets.
“That points to the absurdity of their position,” said Joseph Vanderhulst, a litigation counsel with the Public Interest Legal Foundation. “And in this case [illegal voting], it’s a felony.”
Vanderhulst said activists often misrepresent Levitt’s findings. The 31 cases he documents relate only to impersonation fraud — someone voting under the name of another voter. But that is far from the only way to break election law. For instance, Levitt’s data would not include someone who is ineligible to vote — a non-citizen or a felon, for instance — and manages to register and cast a ballot.
“It depends on what the definition of is, is,” Vanderhulst said. “They’re defining voter fraud extremely narrowly.”
Revised Study Still Points to Fraud
Richman made a splash in 2014 when he published a study using the Cooperative Congressional Election Study, a massive survey drawing on census data, to estimate that as many as 6.4 percent of non-citizens voted in the 2008 election.
After some academics challenged the methodology, Richman and his co-authors revised study. Critics suggested that the non-citizen voting rate could be attributed to errors — citizens inadvertently making the wrong selection when asked their citizenship status, or survey takers mistakenly recording the data incorrectly.
In a working paper published this month, using 2012 data, Richman and his colleagues counted only people who identified themselves as non-citizens in both 2010 and 2012. They also examined their answers to a series of immigration-related questions in the survey to add confidence that the respondents were, in fact, non-citizens.
They found that 14.2 percent of non-citizens in the census survey reported that they were registered to vote. Using a database called Catalist of 240 million voting-age U.S. residents, researchers were able to validate 10.6 percent of non-citizens were registered to vote in 2012. Some of them appear to have voted. The paper points to data indicating that 11.8 percent of all non-citizens in the survey reported voting in 2012. Using Catalist, researchers validated 2.1 percent of non-citizens cast ballots.
Richman said actual voting by non-citizens could be higher since some may lie to survey takers given the fact that voting is illegal for non-citizens. “Non-citizens have real motives to lie here,” he said. What’s more, 1.96 percent of non-citizens who claimed in the survey not to have voted actually did cast ballots, according to the Catalist data.
Even using the conservative estimate of 2.1 percent means a large number of ballots cast by non-citizens — perhaps hundreds of thousands of votes by non-citizens nationwide in 2012. That would represent a small fraction of the 118 million or so votes cast in 2012 — probably less than 1 percent. But Richman said even a small number of people can swing a very close election.
Richman’s estimates are in line with findings of North Carolina officials who cross-referenced voter registration rolls with residents who signed up for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, program, created by President Obama’s executive action to halt deportations of illegal immigrants who came as children. None of those 15,000 North Carolina residents qualifies to vote, yet 145 were registered to vote. That represents about 1 percent of DACA participants.
“There is a degree of non-citizen participation,” Richman said. “There are a lot of people who want to pretend that it so very low that we shouldn’t pay attention to it. I think that’s a mistake.”
Illegal Votes vs. Jaywalking Tickets
When it comes to determining whether non-citizens are voting in U.S. elections, estimates based on statistical models are not necessary. The Public Interest Legal Foundation has uncovered specific evidence of ineligible people on voter rolls and — in some cases — casting ballots. The legal group found last month that 1,046 non-citizens had been removed from voter rolls in eight Virginia counties and that nearly 200 of them had cast ballots.
In a separate report, the organization found Philadelphia elections officials removed 86 non-citizens from the voter rolls from 2013 through 2015. Almost all of those voters alerted officials that they were improperly registered. Still, 40 had voted in at least one recent election.
That means that the number of illegal Philadelphia voters in those years exceeded the total number of jaywalking citations — 30 — that the city issued during the same time period. Vanderhulst, the Public Interest Legal Foundation attorney, said it is nearly certain that the true number is higher for both jaywalking and illegal voting.
He said illegal voters likely remain on the rolls unless they take themselves off. Authorities mostly don’t look for illegal voters and rarely prosecute when they do find them, he said.
“The reality is, that’s voter fraud, and they completely ignore that,” he said. “There’s a lack of a willingness to prosecute.”
Vanderhulst said some jurisdictions follow the “patently absurd” interpretation of the motor voter law that provisions requiring elections officials to make efforts to remove ineligible voters from the rolls are voluntary. He said the result is that in some places, officials almost never remove non-citizens from the rolls. He pointed to his legal group’s current suit against Broward County, Florida, officials. Elections workers have removed just 18 non-citizens in five years — in a county where some 13 percent of the nearly 1.9 million residents are foreign-born.
“That’s just an implausible level,” he said.