Criminal Attorneys Aren't Just for Criminals

Voter Fraud: What You Should Know Before You Cross That Line

by Eva Holmes

As the U.S. moves closer to its next Presidential election, allegations of election fraud are surfacing again. While there is a lot of dispute over how much of it actually happens, it's important to realize exactly what is considered voter fraud—and what can happen if you commit it. This is what you should know.

What exactly is voter fraud and when does it happen?

One of the most common times for voter fraud to occur is during registration. There are several things that people do that can result in serious criminal charges:

  • registering someone who is deceased, incompetent, or otherwise unable to cast their own vote
  • registering an animal as if he or she were a person (even if you do it as a joke)
  • registering under a false identity in order to vote when you are underage or an illegal immigrant
  • registering to vote despite a felony conviction (in states where that bars you from voting)

Election day is probably the other point in time where voter fraud is most commonly seen. It can also include a number of different activities:

  • pretending to be someone else and casting a vote in his or her place
  • threatening or bribing someone to vote the way that you prefer
  • accepting a bribe to vote a specific way
  • tampering with someone's ballot
  • challenging someone's right to vote or threatening their safety if they vote

Voting more than once in a single election is also a common type of fraud. For example, one Tennessee man voted 3 times in the 2012 presidential election. Some fraudsters make use of absentee ballots and will even cross state lines to cast multiple ballots.

Is voter fraud really taken that seriously?

The last few years have seen quite a few new laws enacted to try to prevent voter fraud. Most of the laws center around voter identification, requiring voters to present ID at the polls in order to vote. In some states, your ID has to have a photo. In others, certain forms of ID aren't acceptable, even with a photo. For example, Oklahoma voters can't use a photo ID that's already expired, which is acceptable in many other states.

In addition to taking steps to prevent voter fraud, states are also putting more effort into investigating allegations of voter fraud. They're also prosecuting those they find in violation of the rules.

Voter fraud carries serious penalties in all states. While punishments vary, you can generally expect a 5-10 year jail sentence and fines that range from $5,000 to $10,000 if you're convicted. For example, a former poll worker in Ohio received a 5-year prison sentence for casting multiple votes, including those for her sister who was in a coma. 

Are there any defenses to voter fraud?

Only your attorney can really evaluate your situation and recommend a specific defense in your case—and some cases are likely to be harder to defend than others. For example, if you knowingly vote more than once in the same election, you may not be able to find a solid justification for your actions. In that situation, your attorney may try to work out a plea agreement that minimizes your sentence.

However, there are some situations that could merit a good defense. For example, if you registered when you weren't entitled, you may have been honestly confused and really believed that you had the right to vote. For example, if you live in a state where a felony conviction affects your right to vote but doesn't permanently bar it, you may have truly believed that you were eligible to vote again. Your immigration status may have had you similarly confused.

If you voted for someone else, you may have thought that it was okay if you had their permission. For example, if your sister was hospitalized right before the election but asked you to go in her place, you may have thought you could legitimately do so. 

If you're charged with voter fraud, it's important to discuss the situation with your attorney as soon as possible. A felony defense attorney will be able to evaluate your situation and work with you to get the best possible outcome.