The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Despite GOP rhetoric, there have been fewer than two dozen charged cases of voter fraud since the election

One person has faced charges for every 10 million votes cast

Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) holds up a “Stop the Steal” mask on the steps of the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 4. (Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images)

On Election Day last year, a man named Ralph Thurman allegedly walked into Sugartown Elementary School in Malvern, Pa., to cast his vote. He allegedly asked whether he needed to produce identification and was told he didn’t. He then allegedly asked if he could vote for his son and was told he couldn’t. He left.

Forty-five minutes later, Thurman (again, allegedly) returned, wearing sunglasses. He claimed to be his son and asked for a ballot. Somehow, the people at the polling place saw through his scheme. Thurman faces felony fraud charges.

Before 2020, this is how President Donald Trump claimed voter fraud worked: People would vote, leave, come back in a hat and vote again. There was never evidence that this happened with any regularity, particularly given the challenge of pulling it off (as Mr. Thurman can attest). There was even less evidence that there was somehow a secret cabal orchestrating widespread fraud that could swing a federal election, something Trump suggested had been responsible for his 2016 popular-vote loss.

With the emergence of the coronavirus pandemic last year, Trump switched his focus. Out were the multiple-hatted fraudsters; in were vague allegations of fraud committed through absentee ballots. Out, too, was a casual, hand-wavey allegation of rampant fraud, replaced by a concerted, hyperactive insistence on it. That accelerated after Trump lost his reelection bid and continues even now, six months later: The 2020 election, he and his party claim, was riddled with illegal votes.

Yet for all of those claims and even with the Republican Party’s concentrated focus on the idea during the past six months, there remains no credible evidence that any significant fraud occurred. There’s lots of putative evidence, sure, random affidavits in which nonexperts allege weirdness or claims about ballot nefariousness that is quickly debunked. But even after months and months and months of formal and informal scrutiny, there have been no demonstrated examples of systemic efforts to commit voter fraud.

In fact, a review of local news reports shows there aren’t many examples of even individual voter fraud. By our count, there have been only 16 incidents in which someone has faced criminal charges stemming from their attempt to vote illegally. This includes instances in which it isn’t clear whether a ballot was cast but excludes failed efforts to obtain absentee ballots.

Those incidents:

  • Thurman, above.
  • A man and woman from Austin who allegedly tried to vote in Illinois by claiming residence in that state. It’s not clear whether they obtained ballots.
  • A man in Lisle, Ill., who allegedly signed a ballot certification with someone else’s name.
  • A man in Carol Stream, Ill., who allegedly filled out an online ballot application for someone who shared his last name. It’s not clear whether the ballot was provided.
  • A woman in Naperville, Ill., who allegedly signed a ballot certification with someone else’s name.
  • A woman in Buckingham, Pa., who allegedly signed a ballot declaration for her dead mother.
  • A woman in Quakertown, Pa., who claims to have accidentally mailed a ballot for her mother after she died.
  • A woman from Milford, Maine, who reported herself for voting twice, once by absentee at home and once in person at college.
  • A woman from Bowdoinham, Maine, who allegedly voted with an absentee ballot for a former roommate.
  • A woman in Cedarburg, Wis., who allegedly submitted a ballot for a dead person.
  • A man in Stockton, N.J., who allegedly submitted a ballot for a dead person.
  • A man in Carteret, N.J., who allegedly voted twice with different names.
  • A man in Woodbridge, N.J., who allegedly registered at his business instead of his home.
  • A man from Media, Pa., who admitted to casting a ballot for his dead mother.
  • A man from Canton, Mich., who admitted to filling out his daughter’s ballot when she was at college.

That’s it. That’s the total.

You’ll notice that none of these incidents hints at some deeper conspiracy. There’s no allegation that any of these people cast hundreds of ballots for their preferred candidates; in most cases, the allegation centers on casting a ballot for someone known to the person facing charges. It’s not even the case that all of these ballots were necessarily cast for Joe Biden. The man from Media, Pa., voted for Trump. In most cases, it’s not clear for whom the vote was intended.

The inevitable response to this from die-hard advocates of the idea that rampant fraud exists will be some sort of insistence that these are only the cases we know about, that this is the visible part of the iceberg. It’s the sort of claim that sustains the Loch Ness tourist industry or that prompted politicians in Russia to stage fake yeti sightings. The lure of the undetectable is part of the exercise.

But it’s unavoidably the case that the 2020 presidential election has faced more scrutiny than perhaps any other election in history and has been sliced into 1,000 pieces for examination. Yet despite all the dubious claims of fake ballots and statistical improbabilities, what we have in our hands are 16 incidents in which people have been charged, usually for voting on behalf of dead relatives.

The other inevitable response is that no illegal vote is acceptable. To which the natural response is: Sure, that’s why these people are facing criminal prosecution — even in cases in which it seems as though the allegation centers on a possible mistake. We similarly try to prosecute every homicide that occurs in the United States, but we accept that some homicides occur regardless. The standard we apply to our daily lives is not “preventing every homicide from occurring in the first place,” an obviously unobtainable goal.

Incidentally, there were a lot more homicides in the United States last year than alleged incidents of voter fraud.