There is a long history of voter fraud and election security concerns in the United States, but we have come a long way from the voting buying, electoral fraud, voter intimidation, and repeat voting of the nineteenth century. We no longer declare our votes out loud at the polls for everyone to hear like they did in the colonial times, and our voting technology is far superior to the glass-sided ballot boxes once used. While these problems have not been eradicated, our voting process has evolved to the point where election fraud is an anomaly unlike the rampant voter intimidation, suppression, and violence that characterized the presidential election of 1876.
Today, there are many election protections put in place by federal, state, and local governments because of the vital role fair elections play in American democracy. Some of the security measures currently being practiced by various states include using hand-marked paper ballots that leave a paper trail, signature verification, having bipartisan teams of election workers, chain of custody procedures that account for all steps in the moving and processing of ballots, testing equipment before and after the election, and much more.
There was a lot of anxiety leading up to the last federal election due to concerns about the susceptibility of mail-in and absentee ballots to fraud; however, multiple independent studies and government reviews have shown that cases of voter fraud are extremely rare and far from the levels needed to sway a federal election. Claims circulated that countries such as China and Russia would likely try to influence the U.S. election since foreign actors interfered in recent election cycles, including Russian cyber efforts to gain access to election infrastructure in the 2016 presidential election.
In response to concerns about the security of the 2020 elections, several states passed legislation and took additional steps, such as requiring voters to present a photo ID, to increase election security leading up to the election and continued to do so afterwards.
While fears leading up to the 2020 general election were significant, especially regarding the possibility of violence at polling places, they largely came to pass. There were some isolated incidents of possible voter intimidation and suppression, but on the whole, Election Day unfolded relatively uneventfully. This is possibly due to the number of people who elected to vote via absentee ballot or before Election Day instead of in-person the day of the election because of the COVID-19 pandemic and the expansion of nontraditional voting access that occurred in many states as a result.
In March 2021, the Departments of Justice and Homeland Security released a joint report with their findings on the impact of foreign governments and their agents on the security and integrity of the 2020 U.S. federal elections. The report determined that there was no evidence of foreign interference that compromised the election’s integrity. The Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency and other members of the Election Infrastructure Government Coordinating Council proclaimed it the most secure election in American history.
Anxieties regarding the possibility of election interference or fraud resulted in upwards of sixty lawsuits being filed contesting election processes and vote counting and certification in states such as Arizona, Georgia, Michigan, Nevada, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin; almost all of the lawsuits were quickly dismissed due to a lack of evidence. While claims of fraud mostly died in court, the fear that elections could be stolen continues to be echoed by candidates and incumbents as we head into the 2022 midterms.
Election fraud and security legislation passed during the 2021 and 2022 legislative sessions are organized below by state. Click the links under a state to see how election procedures will be different from 2020 in the upcoming general election.
Election Fraud Laws:
Election Security Laws:
This was written by Katie Thompson and Ashley Peldiak. Katie is the director of Officials Research at Vote Smart, with a degree in political science and sociology from Iowa State University and a specialization in demography. Ashley is a communications associate at Vote Smart, with a degree in English and experience creating and editing content for various mediums including social media.