Donald Trump‘s claims that the U.S. presidential election is “rigged” has riled up internet conspiracy theorists and drawn backlash from public officials. And it’s only getting more intense as we approach Election Day.
The presidential candidate has called for “vigilante” poll watchers to monitor voting sites for any suspicious activity while also urging his supporters to vote twice in the event their mail-in ballot won’t be counted. Concern that Trump’s rhetoric could lead to voter intimidation has even prompted the DNC to take legal action against Trump.
A lot of call-ins about vote flipping at the voting booths in Texas. People are not happy. BIG lines. What is going on?
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 27, 2016
Trump’s actions have left many wondering: What exactly is voter fraud—and just how likely it is to occur?
The Brennan Center for Justice offers a pretty straightforward definition of voter fraud, describing it as “when individuals cast ballots despite knowing that they are ineligible to vote, in an effort to defraud the election system.” The Florida Division of Elections goes a bit further and defines voter fraud as any “intentional misrepresentation, trickery, deceit, or deception, arising out of or in connection with voter registration or voting.”
The issue of illegal voting gained new ground in the aftermath of the 2000 election and the Florida recount. Thousands of ex-felons were purged from Florida’s voter rolls shortly before Election Day in 2000. When the NAACP sued the state of Florida for violating voting rights laws, it was discovered that 12,000 voters—44 percent of whom were African-American—had been wrongfully turned away at the polls. As the Nation reported, that was 22 times George W. Bush’s margin of victory in the state of Florida.
Studies of voter fraud point to the issue being far less common than is mythologized by Trump and Republicans before him. One review of 12 years of voter fraud allegations found only 10 cases of confirmed fraud. Another study found 31 cases of voter impersonation out of the billion votes cast in all of the general and primary elections that occurred from 2000 to 2014.
Even still, the internet is teeming with videos with titles like “Hillary Clinton Supporters Commit Voter Fraud in Nevada” or “HIDDEN CAM: NYC Democratic Election Commissioner, ‘They Bus People Around to Vote.'” Trump’s supporters are tweeting such videos in droves.
Here are some of the most common vote fraud myths that have gained traction on the internet in recent weeks.
1) 1.8 million dead people are registered as voters
— Andrew the Celt (@Andrew_the_Celt) October 20, 2016
Both on the campaign trail and the debate stage, Trump has cited a 2012 Pew report that claims 1.8 million dead people are registered as voters.
“If you look at your voter rolls, you will see millions of people that are registered to vote — millions, this isn’t coming from me — this is coming from Pew report and other places — millions of people that are registered to vote that shouldn’t be registered to vote,” said Trump on the night of the third presidential debate.
While Trump is correct that there are 1.8 million dead people are registered as voters, he leaves out one critical fact: None of them actually voted.
In fact, David Becker, the author of the 2012 Pew study favored by Trump, went on a tweetstorm in order to debunk Trump’s claims.
— David Becker (@beckerdavidj) October 21, 2016
The study found no evidence of voter fraud, either due to out-of-date records or deceased individuals still on the rolls. -3
— David Becker (@beckerdavidj) October 20, 2016
Voter rolls are more accurate than in 2012, thanks to the 20 states that participate in @ericstates_info! Good data = good elections. -END
— David Becker (@beckerdavidj) October 20, 2016
Voter fraud on the behalf of dead people does happen—just not at the scale alleged by Trump. Reports have emerged of ballots being cast by dead people in Colorado and by a student who registered 20 dead people to vote in Virginia .
2) Democrats illegally bus voters into swing states
The mythical bus full of out-of-state voters—usually immigrants or ex-felons or young people—appears to be an Election Day myth, according to a 2012 New York Times report. This myth gained traction due to a hidden camera film video by James O’Keefe hidden camera video of Scott Foval, who serves as the regional political coordinator for liberal think tank People for the American Way.
Foval said he used to take part in operations by Democrats to bus people to vote in Iowa.
“It’s a very easy thing for the Republicans to say, ‘Well, they’re busing people in [to vote],'” Foval said. “Well, you know what? We’ve been busing people in to deal with you f***ing [people] for 50 years, and we’re not going to stop now. We’re just going to find a different way to do it.”
Immigration reform activist Caesar Vargas, who also appears in the video, accused O’Keefe in a Facebook post of editing the video to distort the story. (O’Keefe’s editing techniques and “hidden-camera” style of filmmaking has been accused of being misleading and ethically questionable in the past as well.) The video depicts a conversation between Vargas and a Project Veritas operative. The operative proposes a plan that involves busing in voters from other states.