By a margin of 52% to 40%, voters believe that “cheating affected the outcome of the 2020 U.S. presidential election.” That’s per a Rasmussen Reports survey from this month. This stands in stark contrast to the countless news stories editorializing about “no evidence of voter fraud” and “the myth of voter fraud.”
It isn’t just Republicans who believe this cheating occurred. Even 34% of Democrats believe it, as do 38% of those who “somewhat” support President Biden. A broad range of Americans think this: men, women, all age groups, whites, those who are neither white nor black, Republicans, those who are neither Republicans nor Democrats, all job categories, all income groups except those making over $200,000 per year, and all education groups except those who attended graduate school.
And with good reason. New research of mine is forthcoming in the peer-reviewed economics journal Public Choice, and it finds evidence of around 255,000 excess votes (possibly as many as 368,000) for Joe Biden in six swing states where Donald Trump lodged accusations of fraud. Biden only carried these states – Arizona, Georgia, Michigan, Nevada, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin – by a total of 313,253 votes. Excluding Michigan, the gap was 159,065.
The point of this work isn’t to contest the 2020 election, but to point out that we have a real problem that needs to be dealt with. Americans must have confidence in future elections.
Some Trump allies, such as attorney Sidney Powell, who famously promised to “Release the Kraken” and then provided no evidence, have helped to discredit these concerns.
Courts have rejected challenges to the 2020 presidential vote, generally citing the lack of evidence that any alleged fraud would have altered the outcome in a particular state. The Republican plaintiffs argued that since their observers couldn’t watch the vote counts or were prevented from seeing other evidence, they couldn’t provide such proof without investigations backed by subpoena power. Still, while some judges have agreed that irregularities occurred in 2020, they weren’t willing to grant discovery in the absence of evidence that fraud could reverse the election results. Republicans thus faced a Catch-22 situation.
Recounts haven’t been useful in resolving fraud concerns, as they merely involve recounting the same potentially fraudulent ballots.
Signature verification is far from perfect, as election employees have as little as five seconds to check a signature. Amidst unprecedented numbers of mail-in ballots in the 2020 election, many states didn’t even try to verify signatures. If someone mailed in multiple ballots, there was virtually no way to catch them. And without tamper-resistant photo IDs, fraud is difficult to prove. Unless someone tries voting multiple times in the same precinct, there is no way to catch them.
My research provides three tests of vote fraud.
First, I compared precincts in a county with alleged fraud to adjacent, similar precincts in neighboring counties with no fraud allegations. Precincts tend to be small, homogeneous areas, and many consists of fewer than a thousand registered voters. When comparing President Trump’s absentee ballot vote shares among these adjacent precincts, I accounted for differences in Trump’s in-person vote share and in registered voters’ demographics in both precincts.
While precincts count in-person votes, central county offices are responsible for counting absentee or mail-in ballots. A county with systemic fraud may count absentee or mail-in ballots differently from a neighboring county. We can try to detect this fraud by comparing the results in bordering precincts that happen to fall on opposite sides of a county line. These precincts will tend to be virtually identical to each other – voters may simply be on the other side of the street from their precinct neighbors.
In 2016, there was no unexplained gap in absentee ballot counts. But 2020 was a different story. Just in Fulton County, Georgia, my test yielded an unexplained 17,000 votes – 32% more than Biden’s margin over Trump in the entire state.
With the focus on winning the state, there is no apparent reason why Democrats would get out the absentee ballot vote more in one precinct than in a neighboring precinct with similar political and demographic characteristics.
Next, I applied the same method to provisional ballots in Allegheny County, Pennsylvania. Contrary to state law, voters were allegedly allowed to correct defects in absentee ballots by submitting provisional ballots on Election Day. My analysis found that such permissions in Allegheny County alone contributed to a statistically significant 6,700 additional votes for Biden – in a state decided by fewer than 81,000 votes.
Finally, artificially large voter turnouts can also be a sign of vote fraud. This fraud could come in the form of filling out absentee ballots for people who didn’t vote, voting by ineligible people, or bribing people for their votes.
Republican-leaning swing state counties had higher turnouts relative to the 2016 election. Democratic-leaning counties had lower turnouts, except for the Democratic counties with alleged vote fraud, which had very high turnouts.
My estimates likely understate the true amount of fraud with absentee ballots, as I didn’t attempt to ascertain possible in-person voting fraud. Allegations have arisen of many ineligible in-person voters in Georgia, Nevada, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin. In Fulton County, Georgia, 2,423 voters were not listed as registered on the state’s records, and 2,560 felons voted even though they had not completed their sentences.
Vote fraud erodes trust in elections and makes people less motivated to vote. Compared to Europe and other developed countries, America is unique in its lax approach to voting fraud. When all demographic and political groups in the U.S. support voter photo IDs and even 46% of Democrats believe that mail-in voting leads to cheating, ignoring Americans’ concerns won’t make the problem go away.
John R. Lott Jr. is the president of the Crime Prevention Research Center. Until January 2021, he was the senior adviser for research and statistics at the U.S. Department of Justice’s Office of Legal Policy where he dealt with issues of vote fraud.