Former Congressman Michael “Ozzie” Myers, Pennsylvania Democrat, was sentenced to 30 months in prison last week for vote fraud. His scheme involved bribery, falsification of voting records, conspiring to illegally vote in a federal election, and stuffing ballot boxes for specific Democratic candidates. The fraud occurred during both the 2014 and 2018 elections.
One of the ways that this was accomplished was by an election judge stepping into a voting machine and “just add[ing] to the vote totals for specific candidates … he would just flip the switch, add the vote tallies or extra votes to the candidates on the little machine.”
It is difficult to catch these vote fraud crimes when both the vote buyer and the person accepting the bribes have an incentive to hide the crime. In this case, the fraud could be detected because the final number of votes counted was greater than the number of people who were listed as voting.
We had a simple goal: Match the number of voters with the number of ballots cast in precincts across the country. There have been accusations that ballots might have been destroyed or counted multiple times in the 2020 election, and a discrepancy could suggest nefarious conduct of this sort.
Our goal is not to relitigate past elections. But transparency is essential if we are to restore confidence. Unfortunately, transparency is lacking even in places that aren’t on anyone’s radar for vote fraud.
The America First Policy Institute issued public records requests to the 100 most populous counties in the14 swing states. But 94 of the counties didn’t even keep records of who voted in elections. Possibly more disturbing, even in the six counties that did keep records, there was on average a 2.9% discrepancy between the number of people voting and the number of ballots cast.
Only two counties in Florida claimed to have a list of who voted in the Nov. 3, 2020 election. In Miami-Dade, Florida, which Biden carried by 7 percentage points, the discrepancy was about 1.6% — a difference of 16,617 votes. Ninety-two percent of the precincts had more recorded ballots cast than voters (for a total of 15,854), and the other 8% had more voters than ballots cast (763). Since 12% of precincts were missing records, we didn’t include those.
In smaller Orange County, which is heavily Democratic and Biden won by 23 percentage points, the gap was much larger, 25,017 votes, or 3.82%. But here 89% of the precincts had more voters listed as voting than ballots cast (24,474) and the other 11% the opposite (499).
We don’t know if any possible overcounting of ballots or lost votes would have gone for particular candidates. But these sorts of gaps can very well swing elections. In 2018, Sen. Rick Scott won Florida’s U.S. Senate seat by 10,033 votes. It is much larger than Gov. Ron DeSantis’ victory margin in the governor’s race of 32,463 votes.
Only one county in Georgia had a list of who voted. But Cobb County, Georgia, had a massive discrepancy of 34,893 votes, or 8.8%. All but one of the precincts had more ballots cast than voters. The gap was more than 2 ½ times the 13,471 votes by which Republican David Perdue fell short of winning in Georgia’s first-round Senate race in November 2020.
We don’t know the discrepancies in the other counties in Florida and Georgia, but imagine the scale of the problem if the other counties had similar disparities. There could be a gap of hundreds of thousands of votes in both states.
The Federal Civil Rights Act of 1960 requires that “all records and papers … relating to any … act requisite to voting in such election [for federal office]” be kept for 22 months. But, within days of an election, the counties say that they are updating their voter list for people who have moved or died and saving over the original computer file. Presumably, these counties are just sloppy. But data storage is trivially inexpensive, and it would be easy to save a file time stamped on Election Day. Amazingly, these election bureaus claim that they don’t archive their data.
Former Congressman Myers’ conviction involves other types of vote fraud that are much harder to measure. He also hired people who “voted for individuals who they knew would not appear.” In-person voters were paid to cast votes for those not expected to show up at the polls. If the person did show up, he would receive a provisional ballot, but they would still get most of the votes they paid for.
It won’t solve everything, but if you want to allay people’s distrust or conspiracy theories about voting, we must at least be able to match the number of ballots counted with the number of people listed as voting. Unfortunately, the type of investigation that led to Rep. Myers’ conviction isn’t occurring in all these other counties across the country.
• John R. Lott Jr. is president of the Crime Prevention Research Center. Steven M. Smith is chief of staff at the America First Policy Institute.