The 2020 primary and general elections will see historic highs in the use of mail-in ballots. As a result a partisan debate has erupted over whether the widespread use of mail-in ballots is an invitation to election fraud. Two studies have examined the frequency of criminal prosecutions due to various types of election fraud, including crimes involving mail-in ballots. These studies, together with a 2012 Miami-Dade Grand Jury report and several recent highly publicized election fraud cases may provide an answer to whether concerns over mail-in ballots are warranted.
The study by the conservative Heritage Foundation involved a national sampling of election fraud prosecutions from 1998 to 2019 and found 206 instances of criminal prosecution for mail-in ballot fraud. A more comprehensive study conducted by News21 , a project of the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism at Arizona State University, covered a shorter period from 2000-2012 but involved a more thorough review of court records . News21 found 491 mail-in ballot fraud prosecutions from 2000-2012, which represented the highest percentage (24%) of all types of election fraud prosecutions nationally during that period.
It is important to keep in mind that both studies focused on cases where fraud was detected and a criminal prosecution was initiated. Neither study counted cases where fraud was detected but no charges were pursued, or where the matter was pursued in a civil case, such as an election contest between candidates. Also significant is that many of the cases examined by both studies involved fraudulent schemes using multiple bogus ballots, such as the now notorious 2018 9th Congressional District race in North Carolina which resulted in a new election because of pervasive mail-in ballot fraud. Even more recent allegations of multiple ballot fraud during the May 2020 New Jersey election have resulted in criminal charges against a candidate and several others after the US Postal Inspection Service found hundreds of allegedly bogus mail-in ballots in a mailbox. That election was conducted entirely by mail-in ballots due to the corona virus pandemic.
Perhaps the concern over the widespread use of mail-in ballots is best stated in the 2012 Miami-Dade County Grand Jury Report : Absentee Ballot Voting: Convenience and its Consequences. In this report the Grand Jury addressed in detail the security and logistical problems presented by the widespread use of mail-in ballots. After examining what it described as the lack of integrity in the absentee voting process, the Grand Jury concluded ” …the general sentiment that undetected fraud is occurring is a major problem for this Grand Jury and the citizens of this community. Can the public have confidence in the election results of close races? We are not certain they can”.