Election Fraud, as you will see, does not fall under a single definition. Instead, the statute is a list of prohibited acts and qualify as election fraud. These acts can cause you to face either misdemeanor or felony level penalties.
Election fraud is a federal charge, but it starts at the state level in local elections. Federal jurisdiction applies when there is a federal election/candidate on the ballot.
False Information and Double Voting
Most election fraud comes in two forms:
- false information; and
- double voting.
If you vote in more than one jurisdiction for the same election that can be election fraud. Additionally, election fraud can happen when you false information to meet district requirements .
Prohibiting Someone From Voting
Finally, election fraud can happen when you prohibit someone from voting or if you do not count their vote. Read further to find out how election fraud could lead to other charges at both the federal and state levels, many of which go beyond election fraud.
What Constitutes Federal Election Fraud
The three types of federal election campaign crimes:
- Campaign Finance;
- Civil Rights Violations; and
- Voter Fraud and Voter Registration Fraud.
The fraud section encompasses two areas:
- Multiple voting; and
What Federal Statutes Deal WIth Election Fraud?
There are two federal statutes that deal with election fraud :
- 52 U.S.C. 10307; and
- 52 U.S.C. 20511.
The two statues seem similar and both list some penalties.
However, the difference is 52 U.S.C 10307 focuses on “prohibited acts,” whereas 52 U.S.C. 20511 focuses on “criminal penalties.”
What Do The “Election Fraud” Statutes Say?
Usually, criminal statutes include a description of a single prohibited act which is then broken down into parts. The statute on election fraud is different; instead, the statute has a list of various acts that are prohibited in relation to voting.
These acts include:
- Refusal to permit casting or tabulation of the vote.
- Intimidation, threats, or coercion.
- False information in registering or voting.
- Falsification or concealment of material facts or giving of false statements in matters within the jurisdiction of examiners or hearing officers.
- Voting more than once.
“Refusal” v. “Intimidation, Threats, or Coercion?”
After reading these acts, you may think that some of them look similar. However, each is different and has different consequences.
Refusing to permit casting or tabulation of vote, is different from intimidation, threats, or coercion. This is because by refusing to permit you could simply not allow a person to vote or you simply did not count their vote even though they are trying to vote.
If a voter comes to the door of the polling center and you do not let them in. Or if a voter hands you their vote and you do not count it.
“Intimidation, Threats, or Coercion”
On the other hand, intimidation, threats, or coercion means that you did something that made a person not want to vote, not attempt to vote or felt forced to vote.
If a person was walking to the door and you say something to them that makes them fearful about their decision to vote. Additionally, if you say something to a person that they either could not vote or had to vote a particular way.
Finally, this could also apply if you say something to a person to make them vote when they did not want to. To be clear, the act of each intimidation, threats, and coercion are very similar.
What is “False Information” in Voting?
Providing false information includes a voter’s name, address, and period of residence with the purpose of trying to vote or become eligible to vote.
Voting is broken up into various districts based on where a voter lives. The government is aware that some people are more interested in voting certain districts rather than others.
In some instances, this could mean that you have voted in two districts and have voted more than once. Voting more than once is prosecuted under a different section of the statute as explained below.
Further, if you are a candidate and you register in a different district than the district where you reside, this could apply to you. For example, say you live in a district, but you want to run for school board in another district, so you register to vote there and say that you live in that district. This could be a form of providing false information.
Penalties for Providing “False Information”
The penalty for providing false information is a fine of not more than $10,000 or imprisonment for not more than five years, or both.
Be aware; false information is not limited to those three things.
False information may also relate to citizenship, felon status, or mental status. The federal government has a broad statute that covers false information in relation to citizenship status.
False Claims of Citizenship When Voting
While it can fall under 52 U.S.C. 10307, you can also be prosecuted for false claims to register to vote, and false claims of citizenship. 18 U.S.C. 911.
Additionally, the false information section specifically mentions conspiracy as a separate punishment. While in most cases, conspiracy to commit a crime is an extra charge that carries a different penalty.
Conspiring to Provide False Information
If you conspired with someone to provide false information, you would be held accountable to the same level as if you were the individual who provided the false information.
As mentioned above, election fraud comes attached with many other crimes and penalties. Some of which can be very serious. You will need to consult a defense attorney, someone who can spot additional charges that may arise from your accusations of voter fraud.
What is “Voting More Than Once?”
While voting more than once sounds basic, it can mean many things. It is clear that the government wants you to cast one vote for one candidate, but the voting once can have different meanings.
The statute limits an individual to voting once in any election, especially where there is a federal candidate on the ballot. However, it is important to note, that an individual may vote an additional time if the prior votes were invalidated.
Penalties for “Voting More Than Once”
The penalty for voting more than once is a fine of not more than $10,000 or imprisonment for not more than five years, or both.
Harsh penalties for election fraud
Even though some may think that the penalty for committing one of the prohibited act is not that serious. If you are alleged to have committed one of these acts, it is likely that you will be charged with a second act as well.
If you have provided false information to allow you to vote in a different jurisdiction from where you actually reside and then you actually vote, that would be considered false information. Then take it to the next step, say you then vote a second time, but this time in your true jurisdiction. Depending on what you voted for, you can be charged for dual voting.
Each Fraud Charge Carries a Separate Penalty
Each of those two charges would carry their own separate penalty. However, there is more. That does not include the additional fraud charges arising from the forged or falsified documents.
Because these actions and crimes are like white collar crimes, the charges can stack up, and they can stack up quickly. Before you know it, what you thought was one act turns out to be multiple crimes.
It is important to note that the penalties for federal election fraud apply to elected officials, non-elected officials, poll workers, and voters.
As mentioned above, the basic penalty for violating one of the prohibited acts of election fraud is a fine of not more than $10,000 or imprisonment for not more than five years, or both.
Implications of other laws
While there are penalties if convicted election fraud, once you have been charged with any of those crimes you can be charged with other charges as well.
In Seattle, a man who sent letters to voters to try to intimidate with the goal of them not voting pleaded guilty to his criminal charges. Yet, the government still went after him for violating civil rights.
There are many additional changes, but a short list would include:
- Offering false instrument for filing,
- Falsifying business records, and
- Criminal possession of a forged instrument
- Violations of civil rights
Each of which would be separate from the election fraud felony and with their own set of consequences. So, even if you are charged with a misdemeanor election fraud charge, your actions could amount to a more serious felony charge.
How can a state vote become federally punishable?
Even though most voting is done for local purposes, the violating voting statutes can make a voter federally liable. In the instance that an election includes a federal candidate, federal jurisdiction can be established. However, federal jurisdiction can be established without a federal candidate if the fraud includes “necessary participation of public officers and election officials acting ‘under the color of the law,’ voting by non-citizens, fraudulently registering voters, or paying voters in violation of state law.”
Election Fraud as a State Crime
Because federal charges usually stem from voting within your state, it will be important for you to become informed about your state laws.
Each state will have its own set of punishable and prohibited acts when it comes to voting. Probably at both the misdemeanor and felony levels.
The state of New York has more than twelve acts that classified as misdemeanor election fraud. Additionally, New York has acts similar to those of the federal statute that is classified as felony level acts.
Does the Government Have Jurisdiction Over My Case?
If you are being prosecuted for federal election fraud, it will be important to make sure that the federal government actually has jurisdiction over your case. Just because you are being accused of committing election fraud does not automatically mean that the federal government is the agency who should be prosecuting you.
How is Election Fraud Investigated?
The manual on Federal Prosecution of Election Offenses explains the processes for investigating Election Fraud. Generally, law enforcement is alerted to potential election fraud because they have received a complaint.
Generally, the complaint would come from a state election officer at which point the complaint does not necessarily mean there will be a federal offense. The Department of Justice will investigate to determine whether there is a crime and whether the crime is federally prosecutable.
Absentee Ballot Fraud
For absentee ballot fraud, law enforcement will often subpoena the relevant election documents such as absentee ballots. They will analyze the documents to identify whether there have been any similar and additional actions of fraud.
Once all actions have been determined, law enforcement will determine all voters that are possibly involved by assessing whether an individual whose name is on a ballot actually voted and if so why they voted the way they voted. Here law enforcement is looking to see if a person voted a certain way because they were forced to do so.
Law enforcement will also look at ballots for handwriting purposes. The handwriting will be analyzed to determine whether it is authentic or forged. They do this by comparing handwriting and signatures.
Overall, law enforcement is trying to compile as many witnesses as possible. Both to make the case stronger with more testimony, but also to create their best case with the most facts.
For ballot-box stuffing cases where you are a poll official and are suspected for placing illegal and fraudulent votes to be tallied. Generally, law enforcement will subpoena the voting ballots to examine them and look at the signatures.
This will be followed by handwriting samples from you and all other poll officials that might have had access to that box. Once that is complete, law enforcement will interview the voter whose name is in the signature line and determine whether they actually voted and how.
Interviews and Investigations
As you can see from this, there is a lot of interviewing going on, and you will know if law enforcement is investigating a case that you may be involved in because it is likely that they will also interview you.
As mentioned above, this investigation will be conducted by the United States Department of Justice. Specifically, the unite is the Public Integrity Section.
Criminal trial for election fraud
Generally, after the investigation has been completed and it has determined that a federal crime has been committed, they will bring federal charges against you.
What is a “Target Letter?”
First, you will be informed of the potential charges in the form of a “target letter” listing the charges and will be given a date and time of the upcoming Grand Jury.
What Happens At the Grand Jury?
At Grand Jury, the US Attorney will present the case by reading the charges to the jury, instructions to the jury, and then eliciting testimony from witnesses.
You will be able to provide your own testimony as well. However, it will be important that you consult with a defense attorney before you make that decision.
What Happens After the Grand Jury?
After the Grand Jury has heard the evidence, they will then deliberate to determine whether there is probable cause for the crimes being charged. They will either true bill (make a finding of probable cause) no bill (finding of no probable cause) the indictment.
How Should I Prepare For Trial?
In preparation for trial, your attorney will review the discovery and interview witnesses to find issues with the case. While timely, it will be to your benefit because it will allow your attorney to determine what motions need to be filed, how to attack evidence being used against you, and also what leverage to use during plea negotiations.
You should be aware, that while you will not have to testify at trial, any statements that you made to law enforcement can still be used against you while in court. This is why it is important to consider calling a defense attorney for advice when being accused of a crime and questioned by law enforcement.
What if My Case Goes to Trial?
If the case goes to trial, the thorough preparation done by your attorney will allow them to effectively question the witnesses against you. This will help to cast doubt in the federal government’s case against you.
When charged with a crime, it is not your burden to prove innocence nor to put on a case. However, it is important to provide your attorney with the facts as best as you remember. Even though you will not be putting on a case, your attorney may be able to help you come up with a defense for the charges against you.
These defenses can come in various forms.
Maybe there is a dispute of facts such as you not being at that specific poll.
What evidence is the prosecution going to put on that shows that you knowingly or acted willfully negligent?
Your set of facts can help an attorney cross-examine a witness to show that you did not act knowingly or willfully negligent, but rather that your acts were simply negligent or made a mistake.
If the prosecutor is relying on handwriting comparisons to prove you forged absentee ballots, you can challenge their findings with your own handwriting expert.
Defenses help to cast doubt in the case against you and can possibly lead to a verdict or a resolution in your favor.
What Should I Do if I Am Being Accused?
If you are being investigated or have been charged with election fraud, either federally or by a state entity, it will be important that you contact an attorney. Attorneys are informed of the legal issues in the area of election fraud, they can advise you on whether you should give a statement.
Additionally, because an attorney is aware of the law, they are also aware of the legal issues involved in your specific case. Further, because of an attorneys experience in the area, they are able to assess the strengths and weaknesses in your case and can reach a conclusion to a possible outcome.
Please reach out to one of our election fraud attorneys to set up a free consultation today.