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Voter fraud is identity theft--is it a threat?

Wisconsin considering voter identification
Wisconsin considering voter identification
Jefferson County Clerk WI, Election Information

The Wisconsin Legislature is following the trend lead by other states to require proper identification in order to vote. Voter fraud occurs when an imposter casts a vote in the name of another person—it is identity fraud. Like other forms of identity theft, voter identity fraud is nearly impossible to detect and few cases are prosecuted.

Wisconsin State Senator Spencer Coggs (D-Milwaukee) says voter identification laws are, “a solution in search of a problem?” Opponents of the law, like Coggs, suggest that because there have been few prosecutions for voting violations that it logically follows that there are few incidences of voter fraud.

"In the course of our work we have never found any evidence to support allegations of organized, large-scale vote fraud or dissuasion," Milwaukee County District Attorney John Chisholm, a Democrat, wrote in a letter to the Wisconsin Senate Transportation and Elections Committee. "Before we do anything that alters existing access to voting we should make sure we do it for a compelling reason based on a clear need," (Milwaukee Journal Sentinel).

Opponents to voter identification use flawed logic inconsistent with commonly known facts about identity theft.

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel goes on to say, that Wisconsin Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen, a Republican, has a sharply different view. "Under current law, it is easy for those willing to lie to commit voter fraud and difficult for poll workers, law enforcement and prosecutors to detect irregularities," Van Hollen said in written testimony. "A photographic identification rule will have a strong deterrent effect on voter fraud while imposing minimal burdens on voters."

Excluding voter identity fraud, there are approximately 10 million reports of identity theft each year, and it is likely that the same number of incidences or more go unreported annually. Few of the reported incidences result in criminal charges because the identity thieves are not identifiable. For example, on average it takes victims 12-14 months to learn they have been victimized—long after the crime has been committed.

Several years ago, the research group Gartner concluded that criminals faced a 1-in-700 chance of being caught for financial identity theft. Financial identity theft is one of the most common and easiest to types of identity theft to detect and prosecute.

Although some types of identity theft may be detected easily, it still takes several months after the initial crime for signs of identity theft to surface. Other types of identity theft such as character, medical and voter identity fraud can go undetected for long periods, but can also result in the most devastating of circumstances for victims. Unlike the other types of identity theft, voter identity fraud is not likely to have a consequence to the victim, but it is nonetheless illegal.

Voter fraud may be detected when an imposter shows up at the polls to register with obviously false or suspicious documentation. Are poll workers, a majority of which is senior citizens, trained to detect document fraud? Moreover, what would they do if they were able to determine fraud? Would they take steps to apprehend the imposter?

Voter fraud may also be detected when an imposter or the voter attempts to vote, after a vote has already been cast in the name of the registered voter. One would hope that the second voter would not be allowed to vote again unless they were the true registered voter. What action would poll workers take to document or apprehend the imposter or the unlucky victim that shows up to vote after the imposter already voted.

The consequence to the victim of voter identity fraud in this example is that the victim of identity theft may not be allowed to vote, violating his or her constitutional right because of the lax identification practices at polling places.

How common is voter fraud in Wisconsin? Maybe poll workers should be interviewed. A decade ago, a long-time poll worker and retired schoolteacher recounted her observations of fraudsters coming in to vote multiple times on Election Day. She recalled that one of the more boastful fraudsters told her she would see him again later. She said that each time she reported voter fraud to the supervisor that her report was ignored.

Another scenario of voter fraud occurs when the registered voter does not vote for any of a variety of reasons such as age, illness, mental competency or relocation. An imposter can simply cast a vote in that person’s name. This type of voter identity fraud is simple to commit in Wisconsin because no identification is required to vote in Wisconsin once a voter has completed the one-time registration process. How would this type of voter identity fraud be detected?

Proactive action by registered former voters could detect this type of voter identity fraud after it occurred. Voters can review their voting history online at the State of Wisconsin Voter Public Access Website.

How many voters would take the time to review their voting history to check for voter identity fraud and then report fraud? Most Americans will not check their credit report reports annually to determine if they have been a victim of financial identity theft, which compared to voter identity fraud has significant financial consequences on victims.

The most effective way to prevent identity theft is by authenticating the identity of people by using picture identification.

Today, Social Security numbers and Social Security cards combined with other easily counterfeited identification such as birth certificates, utility bills, and certain types of picture identification are used to authenticate people. To prevent identity theft, a stronger method of authentication is required.

Wisconsin currently requires a photocopy of any one of the following to register to vote (and no identification to vote thereafter):

  • A current and valid Wisconsin driver’s license or Wisconsin identification card.
  • Any other official identification card or license issued by a Wisconsin governmental body or unit
  • An identification card issued by an employer in the normal course of business, which has a photograph of the cardholder, but not a business card.
  • A real estate tax bill or receipt for the current year or the year preceding the date of the election.
  • A college ID card with a photograph of the cardholder, if student is listed on certified housing list.
  • A utility bill for the period commencing not earlier than 90 days before the election.
  • A bank statement.
  • A paycheck.
  • A check or other document issued by a unit of government.

Picture identification is required for most everything we do in a modern society. There are no exceptions for age, religion, race or health. Under federal law, one cannot open a bank account, get a job or board a plane without current and valid government picture identification.

My 90-year-old mother had to get a Wisconsin identification card when she moved to Wisconsin to open a bank account and to obtain medical services. She used the same Wisconsin identification card to register to vote last year.

If a 90-year-old woman who needs assistance walking can get an official state identification card at the DMV, why is it that Spencer Coggs constituents cannot obtain proper identification? Or is it that Coggs and his opponents to the proposed law are creating excuses to object to a solution to prevent voter identity fraud.

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