Reed Elections Expert Blasts “Myth” of Voter Fraud

Voting by mail is safe and reliable, says Prof. Paul Gronke.

By Chris Lydgate ’90 | October 20, 2020

Voting expert Prof. Paul Gronke blasted the “myth” of widespread election fraud during a presentation on his research into elections systems at the Forum For Advancing Reed on Saturday.

“Voter fraud in the United States is minimal, minuscule,” he said. “There’s so little it’s hard to track.”

Gronke, professor of political science and director of Reed’s Early Voting Information Center, acknowledged that absentee ballots are more prone to abuse than in-person ballots, in part because they require more steps to process. But the overall incidence of tampering in the US is remarkably low, he said, despite what he identified as false claims by President Donald J. Trump, Attorney General William Barr, and others. 

For supporting evidence, he pointed to a database of election fraud maintained by the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank, which tracks incidents of fraud stretching back more than 20 years. The database includes roughly 1,500 cases of fraud, of which about 300 centered on absentee ballots. “Virtually every case is ten ballots here, five ballots there,” he said, concluding that incidents of pervasive tampering are practically non-existent.

The only significant exception was the NC-9 general election of 2018, in which the Republican candidate for North Carolina’s 9th congressional district, Mark Harris, hired a campaign contractor who falsified more than 1,000 ballots. (The scheme was exposed and Harris later dropped out of the contest.) “North Carolina had a really bad system,” Prof. Gronke said. “They had no ballot tracking. If you put the right controls in place, vote by mail has less fraud, it’s more secure, and it’s very resilient.”

Social media is exploding with conspiracy theories about voter fraud, such as the claim that Democrats are planning to attack voters with “pulsed ELF electromagnetic emissions” or that foreign governments are counterfeiting millions of ballots. 

“You cannot counterfeit ballots,” Gronke said, referring to a recent post on which explained why counterfeiting ballots is practically impossible. “Voter fraud is a myth. It’s misinformation. It sows distrust in our system.”

Professor Gronke made his comments during a question-and-answer session on Saturday morning, October 17, at the Forum For Advancing Reed 2020. The title of his talk was Making a Difference and Getting Published While You Do It: How Academic Research Helps To Assure A Safe, Secure, and Accessible American Elections System,” and it was moderated by Christine Lewis ’07, Portland Metro Councilor and alumni trustee. FAR 2020 also featured a conversation with President Audrey Bilger and Vice President Hugh Porter, who provided an overview of Reed’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic.


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