After the Voter ID bill became law, I gave some testimony at the State College Borough Council meeting about how rare in person voter fraud was in Pennsylvania. The response I got from my critics was, “Well you have your facts (mine include actual convictions of in person voter fraud in PA), and I have mine, and we just don’t agree.” That’s for a different post.
After getting this response numerous times, I decided to take a different tack: I’m an election official, how could the system be rigged? More importantly, how could one rig the system to give one candidate a 1% boost in the polling results?
As a “math guy,” I ask what do we know about the numbers and what would it take to move them?
Here are the basic assumptions and approximations:
- I can only add fraudulent votes; I can’t take away legitimate ones.
- I can only add votes by committing in person voter fraud on the day of the election.
- The numbers in the 2016 Presidential election will more closely resemble the 2012 results vs. the 2008 results in terms of total numbers of votes.
That being said, the total number of votes for President in the 2012 election was 5,753,546. To change by 1% (0.01), I need to add N votes to the total in such a way that:
0.01 (5753546 + N) = N, N rounded up to the next whole number.
I’ll leave the algebra as exercise to the reader, but I get N = 58,117 votes.
Now that I know my target, how do we get these votes? Again, let’s state what we know, and then state our assumptions.
- In Pennsylvania, voting takes place from 7 am to 8 pm, for a total of 13 hours. There is no early voting in PA.
- Each Pennsylvania precinct/ward receives a poll book, which includes, the name, address, date of birth (from which I can determine age), party affiliation, and signature of the each eligible voter.
- A fully staffed Election Board includes an odd number of poll workers, about half of which come from each of the two major parties, i.e., Election Boards are bipartisan bodies which act in a non-partisan manner.
We will assume:
- It takes me 15 minutes to get through the line, sign the poll book, get a ballot, fill it out (In PA, I can fill in one oval to cast votes for all the candidates from one party), and place the ballot in the ballot box.
- It takes another 15 minutes to get to a nearby polling place or to get back into line at the current one (more risk of getting caught) and go through the process again.
- While the polling places in the bigger cities may be closer together, the queues might be longer, so I’ll stay with my 30 minute estimate for getting in line voting and going to the next precinct/ward regardless of location.
- I will vote once as myself, which counts in the “before fraud” totals.
Based on these assumptions, each of our nefarious agents could, after casting his own vote, cast 18–24 additional votes if he is completely successful, skips meals, and doesn’t run into long lines or traffic problems. Let’s assume on average, each agent can cast 20 votes (one for himself and 19 by committing successful in person voter fraud). If everyone is successful, we can accomplish this with approximately 3,060 agents across the Commonwealth. To be safe (some of our agents get cold feet, get stuck in traffic, get lunch with friends, get caught in long lines…), we’d probably need 10–20% more agents, for a total of 3,300–3,600.
Now assuming that I can build this large of a “team” of agents, how does one go about committing in person voter fraud?
- I have to present myself at the polling place and state the person’s name
- I have to be the same gender of that person.
- I have to look approximately the same age as that person.
- The person I am impersonating must not be required to show ID (as do first time voters in that precinct/ward or inactive voters)
- The person I am impersonating cannot have already voted. (I get caught)
- The person I am impersonating will not vote later in the day or will not have already voted by absentee ballot (I may not get caught, but the fraud is exposed).
- No one on the Election Board knows me or the voter I am impersonating (I probably recognize about 400 of our 650 or so registered voters in my precinct).
- My signature has to look reasonably like the person I am impersonating (I admit, I really don’t check this too closely and a person’s signature does change over time).
I have presented the most rosy of conspiracy examples here. If I need to move the vote more than 1%, or if I only ask my agents to vote 9 times or 6 times, the size of the conspiracy gets several times larger. Regardless of the size of the conspiracy, the most important thing is that no one can get caught! Once the fraud is exposed by a few, the whole conspiracy falls apart (Remember, “There is no honor among thieves?”).
So in summary, I need to assemble a team of several thousand people willing to commit numerous acts of in person voter fraud (have I said how I would compensate them?), each has to loosely resemble the person they are voting as, none of them can talk about it, and most of all none of them can get caught.
Sounds simple, right? What if it’s so simple that the other side does it too!?