Other Voices

Scant evidence for Abbott’s ‘rampant’ voter fraud

Gov. Greg Abbott says state’s effort is to clamp down on illegal voters, not expand number of voters.
Gov. Greg Abbott says state’s effort is to clamp down on illegal voters, not expand number of voters. AP

The governor of Texas thinks that fraud in the electoral system that put him and others in office is “rampant.”

He can’t back that up.

Greg Abbott was asked on Monday what he thought about President Obama’s throwdown last week on the state’s lousy voter turnout.

“The folks who are governing the good state of Texas aren’t interested in having more people participate,” the president told The Texas Tribune’s Evan Smith at South by Southwest Interactive.

The chief of those “folks” would rather limit turnout than expand on what he seems to think is a flawed election system.

“What I find is that leaders of the other party are against efforts to crack down on voter fraud,” Abbott said. “The fact is that voter fraud is rampant. In Texas, unlike some other states and unlike some other leaders, we are committed to cracking down on voter fraud.”

Strong word, rampant. The handy office thesaurus offers these synonyms: uncontrolled, unrestrained, unchecked, unbridled, widespread; out of control, out of hand, rife.

Does three cases of fraud for every 1 million votes strike you as unbridled?

“We don’t want to open the system up to methodologies or ways of voting that would promote or allow voter fraud,” the governor told a roomful of news people.

He argued about the state’s turnout being low, noting that turnout in this month’s two-party primaries combined was higher, in raw numbers, than ever before.

That’s true — and also incomplete. Almost 30,000 more people showed up to vote in the 2016 primaries than in the 2008 primaries.

But there are almost 1.5 million more registered voters now than there were eight years ago. Turnout this year was 30 percent. Turnout in 2008 was 33.2 percent.

Only one primary state that had voted before the governor spoke had a lower turnout: Louisiana.

Give the governor his due: He and Ken Paxton, his successor at the attorney general’s office, have found instances of voter fraud in Texas.

A study done by News21, an investigative journalism project at Arizona State University, looked at open records from Texas and other states for the years 2000-2011 and found 104 cases of voter fraud alleged in Texas over that decade.

If you only count the Texans who voted in November general elections — skipping Democratic and Republican primaries and also special and constitutional elections — 35.8 million people voted during the period covered by the ASU study.

They found 104 cases of voter fraud among 35.8 million votes cast. That’s fewer than three glitches per 1 million votes.

You can’t defend fraud, but you can decide how much attention it deserves.

In its 2013-14 biennial report to the Legislature, the Texas Ethics Commission charted how many ethics complaints it handled in those two years.

These are predominantly cases involving campaign finance and lobby reporting by candidates, officeholders and the people who are paid to try to win their influence.

In that single two-year period, the commission resolved 227 complaints through agreed orders out of 513 sworn complaints filed with the agency.

That’s twice as many ethics stinkers in two years than voter fraud stinkers in 10 years.

Ross Ramsey is executive editor and co-founder of The Texas Tribune.