During our last presidential election, there were numerous concerns about false votes or miscalculations. Without getting political, we can say this is a concern as well with the upcoming 2020 Presidential Election. With mail-in voting, absentee ballots, impersonation, and false registrations, there are multiple ways that this election could skew one way or another. Again, keeping personal politics out of this, this is a huge concern for the country in the current conditions.
Article 2: Federal Election Crimes
Voter Fraud is a term that “covers many actions, from casting illegitimate ballots to vote buying to impersonating a voter,” as stated in an article by Voice of America (VOAnews.com.) While this covers a wide array of things, there is no one definition that is agreed upon across the globe (VOAnews.com.) There are many subcategories of Voter Fraud, and then there are those that constitute the term “Federal Election Offenses.” According to the FBI, Federal Election Offenses fall into three different categories: fraud by the voter, fraud by an elections/campaign official or other individual and then campaign finance crimes (FBI.gov.) Now, on the flipside, and only varying slightly, three different categories come from the US Government site. The first category is one that involves the candidates. Campaign finance crimes include situations where the candidate for office receives funding that is in violation of the permitted amounts or donors as stated under the law. Secondly, there is a civil rights violation that involves tactics such as intimidation, coercion threats and other things that suppress a person’s ability to hit the polls and cast his or her vote. Finally, there is voter fraud and voter registration fraud. This a serious concern and not something anyone thinks of but includes the casting of illegal votes under multiple circumstances. It’s something we all need to be aware of and understand just how this can occur (usa.gov). Let’s combine the two and provide details to ensure you understand what exactly governs a Federal Election Crime or Offense.
Election Crimes vs. Federal Crimes
Not all Election Crimes are considered Federal Crimes; however, there are some cases in which this reigns true. If officials of either an election or polling place abuses their office, if ballots have more than one federal candidate on them, if some falsely registers as a voter or if an activity violates Federal Campaign Finance laws, then this constitutes a Federal Crime (FBI.gov).
Campaign Finance Crimes
The FEC places enforcements on candidate campaigns and their finances (fec.gov). If anyone contributes above the legal limit to one campaign or another, this constitutes an offense (FBI.gov). In an article from TIME magazine, the Vice President of Policy & Litigation at Common Cause states that “the difference between a campaign finance violation that is a crime and a campaign finance violation is a civil matter is whether the action was taking knowingly and willfully,” (time.com). There is a fine line between the two, but a world of difference in the repercussions.
The Federal Election Campaign Act prohibits certain parties, such as foreign nationals, national banks and corporations, from donating to any party or candidate (transition.fec.gov). While these parties are not allowed to provide donations in any way, there are other groups who have stipulations on their donations. For anyone under the age of 18, they’re allowed to donate so long as they are knowing of where their money is going and are doing so voluntarily and under no coercion (FEC.gov). In the same article, it states that minors must be using their own money: whether it be on hand or from a trust in which they are the beneficiary. Under no circumstances are minors allowed to accept money from another individual or group and donate it on their behalf – this constitutes bigger problems. Certain LLC companies and partnerships are allowed to donate under strict guidelines that dictate which types of these companies are eligible to donate (FEC.gov). Visit the FEC website for other groups that are or are not allowed to donate to Federal Campaigns.
Moving along with finance crimes, another situation that causes problems is conduit contributions, or straw donor schemes (FEC.gov). This is a situation where people will contribute to a campaign and then receive reimbursement for the funds donated (FEC.gov).
There is no situation that would allow for campaign funds to be used for personal or unauthorized use (FBI.gov). What constitutes personal use? The FEC provides the “irrespective test” to determine the legitimacy of use of funds (FEC.gov). When taking this test, personal use is defined as anything that would exist “irrespective” of a campaign or the responsibilities that come along with holding a federal office (FEC.gov). This includes any expense, obligation or commitment that would be existent whether a campaign was occurring.
2020 has been a year unlike any other, and the election is no different. Many people are choosing to mail in their ballots as opposed to going to the polls, but the issues that could come from this are serious and should not be taken lightly. According to the New York Post, all proceeding information was divulged in an interview with an unnamed source. the primary election caused more than 80,000 New York Mail-In votes to be thrown out simply due to problems with filling out the form properly. In the same article, this unnamed source came forth to share just how real voter fraud is: he has been a part of it himself and caused votes to be swayed one way or the other. Political pros have no problem going through the voting process and fixing it.
The forms that are sent to people for mail-in voting are easy to copy and forge. There is no specific quality that makes it stand apart from any copies, and this is where the trouble begins. Without having a marker, no one will be able to tell if the ballot is true and valid, so people capitalize on this and make multiple copies and fill them out with the candidate or candidates of their choice and proceed as if nothing is amiss. While the actual ballot form is no problem to duplicate, the envelopes they are to be mailed back in are what causes the trouble with successfully committing voter fraud. The tipster about voter fraud from the New York Post stated that he and other people like him would go door to door and convince people that they were able to mail the ballots in for them and “save them the trouble,” but in reality, they did this simply to get the valid envelopes. They would then unseal the envelope and put that fake ballot in and then reseal it and ship it off. This is something that, though time-consuming, it definitely is a concern that everyone needs to keep in mind when it comes time to mail in ballots if you choose to forgo the polls.
Fraud by Voter
There are a multitude of situations that can be considered Fraud by Voter. One of these is Voter Impersonation. Voter Impersonation is a situation that, while not extremely common, exists here and there. While it is not a major issue, it is a problem that needs to be considered simply to broaden your knowledge. There are different routes that can be considered Voter Impersonation. You can vote more than once or by using someone else’s name (FBI.gov). Certain states, at polling sites, do not require any ID from the person waiting to vote. This can lead to people “faking” responses, or in some cases, like one in Wisconsin, people can register at multiple different locations and vote more than once in an election (The Washington Post). ID does not prevent this from happening. ID is a preventative measure to prevent people from having one person show up to cast more than one vote. In four states that have some of the strictest ID laws, in general elections, there have been a reported 3000 cases of that have been rejected due to lack of ID (The Washington Post). It is unsure if these were fraudulent or not; however, it’s a possibility. There always the flipside of things where legitimate voters could’ve been turned away, but at the time of the article, it was not positive.
Another side of this is voting when you’re ineligible to vote. Whether you are not registered to vote or not a US citizen, if you show up to vote, this is considered fraudulent (FBI.gov). If you “register” to vote by using and providing false information, this again is considered Fraud by Voter (FBI.gov). If you register to vote, which you should, providing accurate and up to date information is of the utmost importance.
Fraud by Officials or Other Individuals
Fraud can be committed by any elections or campaign official as well as other individuals. Elections officials can commit this type of fraud by changing the tally of ballots or by any other behavior that can be considered “corruptive” (FBI.gov). If a voter is provided with anything of value, be it monetary or other, in exchange for providing their support and vote to a specific candidate or party, this is considered fraudulent because it stacks the odds in the favor of the party or candidate providing the value (FBI.gov).
Other forms of Fraud by Officials or Individuals include threats of violence or financial harm if votes are not cast for a certain part or candidate in a federal election (FBI.gov). These threats are considered to be fraud because fear is being instilled in the voter and in order to protect the health and well-being of both the individual and their family, they will do what they need to in order to stay safe.
Lastly, if someone lies about the specifics of the election polls, i.e. the date, time or location, this is considered Voter Suppression and qualifies as fraudulent behavior (FBI.gov). Voter Suppression is defined as “any effort, either legal or illegal, by way of the laws, administrative rules and/or tactics that prevents eligible voters from registering to vote or voting” (demandthevote.com).
Federal vs. State Election Crimes
There is a difference between Federal Election Crimes and each individual state. Each state has its own election laws and you should research your state or contact local law enforcement if you have questions or concerns.
The following are all examples that do not categorize as federal election crimes: (FBI.gov)
- Providing transportation to voters to get to the polls or giving them time off to go vote
- Offering mail-in or absentee ballot voters a stamp to complete their voting process
- Making false claims about other candidates or oneself
- Creating fake or forged nomination petitions
- Campaigning too close to the polls
The FBI is tasked with protecting the rights of all Americans, and this doesn’t discount the right of Americans to vote. Every election year, each American must do his or her part to help the FBI keep the democracy of the US safe and protected. The FBI has instituted a Protected Voices Campaign in which you can find ways to protect any problems from occurring during elections. Find all the tools and resources provided by the Protected Voices Campaign here to ensure your safety, and the safety of all Americans, during elections. If you suspect any election crimes or voter fraud to be occurring around or near you, contact your local FBI field office so that they can help protect each American’s right to vote in all future elections.