In the American Revolution, people gave up their lives to secure our system of government. During the women’s suffrage movement, some protested and risked it all so women could participate in elections. And during the civil rights movement, some endured violence and prosecution to secure the right to vote.
Americans throughout history have made tremendous sacrifices to safeguard our democratic republic—and with it, the right to vote. We cannot disregard their sacrifice or squander their precious gift to us.
Today, the threat to our voting system is election fraud. This is a very real issue, as recognized by the Supreme Court. Every instance of fraud undermines the efforts so many Americans have made to earn their right to vote.
Steps must be taken to combat fraud and other weaknesses in our electoral system that could result in stolen votes and elections.
Nobody knows for sure how much election fraud actually is committed. But it is beyond dispute that American elections are vulnerable to fraud and administrative errors that could make the difference in a close election—especially in state and local elections, and even federal elections. Example: the 9th Congressional District race in North Carolina that was overturned in 2018 due to absentee ballot fraud and illegal vote harvesting.
Election Fraud Denial Also a Serious Threat
Despite the threat that fraud poses to our democratic republic, the left consistently denies the existence of election fraud. Even after being presented with case after case after case of evidence, those on the left often dismiss the problem as “not widespread” enough to warrant action.
How “widespread” does it have to be before it should be taken seriously? I doubt the voters of the 9th Congressional District share that attitude, or the voters of Paterson, New Jersey, where a new municipal election recently was ordered due to absentee ballot fraud that tainted the results.
To say that “widespread” is the only criteria worth considering is absurd.
My organization, the Heritage Foundation’s Election Fraud Database demonstrates that there are many ways to engage in election fraud, and that it occurs often enough that we should be concerned about it and should try to address it. Media attacks on the database have not been able to find a single instance of an error.
Instead, media attacks try to diminish the culpability of those found guilty of fraud despite the fact that every single case represents an instance in which a public official, usually a prosecutor, thought the offense serious enough to act upon it.
A 2005 report by the Commission on Federal Election Reform, a bipartisan commission led by former President Jimmy Carter, was clear that election fraud does exist, that it must be deterred to preserve election integrity, that it could make the difference in a close election, and that absentee ballots “remain the largest source of potential voter fraud.” We have an obligation to secure our elections against these vulnerabilities.
In fact, one has to consider: Why has a legion of election fraud deniers so suddenly and so rapidly materialized at this moment in history? And why are they against common-sense reforms that the vast majority of Americans support, such as voter ID and maintaining the accuracy of voter registration rolls?
Tragically, election fraud has become a politicized topic. Americans—especially those in vulnerable communities who are the most susceptible to fraud—will suffer if we let partisanship come before what should be our shared goal of ensuring our elections are secure, accurate, and transparent.
Characterizing Election Integrity Efforts as ‘Voter Suppression’ Falls Flat
A popular claim among election fraud deniers is that working to ensure the integrity of our elections is simply a cover for making voting more difficult—presumably for those who will vote for leftist candidates. This is a complete misunderstanding of our election integrity efforts, and likely a willful one.
Every eligible American citizen should have the opportunity to participate in our electoral system. One of the greatest gifts of American citizenship is political participation. But that gift is subverted when election integrity is not taken seriously and safeguards to protect it are not put in place.
When election fraud or administrative errors by election officials occurs, that means someone else’s vote was stolen, diluted, or rejected.
Common-sense protections help promote election integrity. Simple steps such as witness signatures on absentee ballots, official postmarks, in-person voting by all who are able, and photo ID at your polling place and with absentee ballots ensure that every American’s vote counts.
These reforms do not make it more difficult to vote and do not “suppress” anyone’s vote, as election turnout data over the past decade proves in states that have implemented such reforms. The reforms are intended simply to ensure that we have fair and secure elections. Any claims to the contrary are wrong.
The media and the left have decided to focus on foreign interference in our elections, which is deserving of our attention. But they seem uninterested in taking the time to find and prevent the threats from within that could undermine our election integrity.
Why I Am All In for This Fight
I became passionate about this issue after witnessing voter intimidation while volunteering as a poll observer at a local election at the beginning of my legal career.
I long have been interested in protecting individuals’ votes and the integrity of our elections, particularly because I am a first-generation American whose parents experienced the horrors of tyrannical dictatorships without the liberties and freedoms that our election process helps ensure.
I have fought to ensure that each eligible voter’s ballot counts, including when I served as a county election official in Georgia and Virginia. I joined the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice to enforce the Voting Rights Act and other federal voting laws in order to help safeguard our elections.
Our job was to uphold the civil and constitutional rights of all Americans—and that’s what I did. In fact, the Bush administration filed four times as many cases as the Obama administration to enforce the main provision of the Voting Rights Act, Section 2.
Election fraud deniers are signaling that they intend to do nothing about this very real problem. In fact, leftists are pushing for changes that would make election fraud more likely.
The Heritage Foundation will continue to work tirelessly to protect the integrity of our elections despite the unfair, unjustified, and dishonest attacks on Heritage and my personal work on this vital issue.
The survival of our democratic republic depends on Americans’ belief that their vote counts and their continued faith in the fairness and security of our electoral process.
Hans A. von Spakovsky is a Senior Legal Fellow at The Heritage Foundation's Center for Legal and Judicial Studies, where he manages the Election Law Reform Initiative.
Editor's Note: This piece originally appeared on The Daily Signal.