Get Out the Vote: How much voter impersonation is there?

This entry is part 9 of 10 in the series Get Out the Vote

Tip O’Neill in his prime.

NOTE FROM DR. WAYNE BAKER—Columnist Terry Gallagher has been exploring Americans’ voter apathy and challenges to raising the level of participation.

In Tip O’Neill’s autobiography, Man of the House, he used the phrase “Chinese hat trick” to describe a form of voting fraud.

On election day, a ward boss would hire Chinese men and have them vote repeatedly under different names. “Each time they came to the polls, however, they would be wearing a different hat, the idea being that to Caucasians, all Chinese people looked alike,” according to O’Neill.

But after winning a close race for re-election to the Massachusetts house, O’Neill introduced legislation to punish that kind of malarkey.

“I didn’t like people stealing elections–and I especially didn’t like people stealing them from me!” he wrote. “The bill passed easily, and that particular brand of corruption virtually disappeared from Massachusetts.”

Yesterday’s post looked at the growing political strategy called “voter suppression,” like requiring potential voters to show a photo ID, to reduce turnout among those who are likely to oppose your candidate. The common rationale is to prevent the kind of fraud O’Neill saw in Boston back in the day.

But how common is that really, where someone shows up at the polls pretending to be someone else?

Not very, according to an analysis reported in the Washington Post last week.

Loyola University Law School Prof. Justin Levitt looked at more a billion votes cast in elections across the country from 2000 through 2014, and found only 31 credible cases of voter impersonation.

“Election fraud happens,” Levitt wrote, including ballot-box stuffing by officials in on the scam. But those methods are not going to be stopped by requiring photo IDs.

When turnout is so low already, why would we make it more difficult to vote?

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