IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

Republican voter fraud units prove to be a predictable bust

Republicans created election integrity units to uncover evidence of systemic fraud. The fact that investigators came up empty matters.


After Republicans responded to the 2020 elections with an avalanche of conspiratorial lies, GOP officials embraced a variety of regressive policy measures, including new voting restrictions, intended to address a problem that didn’t exist in any meaningful way.

But in several states, Republicans decided to go further, creating “voter fraud units” and “election integrity units” composed of investigators who would focus exclusively on election-related crimes.

Predictably, they’re failing to produce evidence of a systemic problem because, as reality keeps reminding us, there is no systemic problem. The Associated Press reported over the weekend:

State-level law enforcement units created after the 2020 presidential election to investigate voter fraud are looking into scattered complaints more than two weeks after the midterms but have provided no indication of systemic problems. That’s just what election experts had expected and led critics to suggest that the new units were more about politics than rooting out widespread abuses.

Paul Smith, senior vice president of the Campaign Legal Center, told the AP, “I am not aware of any significant detection of fraud on Election Day, but that’s not surprising. The whole concept of voter impersonation fraud is such a horribly exaggerated problem. It doesn’t change the outcome of the election, it’s a felony, you risk getting put in jail and you have a high possibility of getting caught. It’s a rare phenomena.”

In theory, reports like these are important in helping set the record straight. Rank-and-file Republican voters have heard — and come to believe — so many lies about the integrity of our electoral system that accounts like these from the AP should serve as an antidote to misinformation. The public can read the report and take comfort anew in the process.

But in practice, it doesn’t seem to work out that way.

When Arizona Republicans created an election integrity unit, for example, the idea was to ferret out evidence of voter fraud in the state. It was a spectacular failure: As a Washington Post report summarized in September, over the course of three years, “a high-profile investigation team found little fraud, sapped government resources and deepened suspicions.”

And why, pray tell, did the absence of fraud “deepen suspicions”? Because of a ridiculous partisan dynamic:

  1. Republicans decided their bogus conspiracy theories about voter fraud were real.
  2. Republicans created election integrity units to find elusive evidence to bolster the conspiracy theories they already concluded were real.
  3. When investigators failed to uncover evidence that didn’t exist, Republicans assumed there must’ve been a problem with investigators and the election integrity units.

It's like creating a government office specifically to hunt down Bigfoot, and when no creature is found, responding, "Clearly we need better Bigfoot hunters."

Indeed, after watching the initiative fail in Arizona, Republicans elsewhere could’ve learned a valuable lesson. Instead, GOP officials in Florida, Georgia, Ohio, and Virginia decided to make the same mistake.

If recent history is any guide, now that Republicans have gone through another cycle without evidence of systemic fraud, they will respond to reality by increasing the scope of the investigations, confident in the knowledge that their white whale is waiting for them on the horizon.