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Report says government not keeping consolidated data on voter fraud

The Government Accountability Office released a report this week that said no single entity in the federal government is responsible for tracking in-person voter fraud, and that in most states, tracking voter fraud is handled by multiple agencies.

GAO said these facts make it very difficult to examine how often people try to claim someone else's identify at the polls.

A new government report says there are no consolidated statistics about voting fraud, either at the federal or state level, making it hard to determine how often in-person voting fraud happens. (AP Photo/Mark Duncan)

GAO examined the issue as part of a study on whether states' voter ID laws are leading to lower turnouts at the polls. The study was requested by Senate Democrats, who also asked GAO to assess how often voter fraud occurs — Republicans in particular have defended state-level voter ID laws as a way to help reduce voter fraud.

But GAO said it is not easy to understand how often voter fraud occurs because data on voter fraud is not being collected in one place at either the federal or state level.

"Based on our review of these information sources, we found that various challenges and limitations in information available for estimating the indigence of in-person voter fraud make it difficult to determine a complete estimate of such fraud," the report said.

"[T]here is no single source of information on possible instances of in-person voter fraud and variation exists among federal and state sources in the extent to which they collect information on election fraud."

At the federal level, GAO noted that the Department of Justice has said there have been no cases in which someone has been charged for in-person voter fraud since 2004. But it said four federal databases contain some information about voter fraud, although it is hard to sift through these four databases.

At the state level, responsibility often falls between local and county officials to track voter fraud, which makes it hard to break down state-level data. Additionally, local efforts to track fraud are not necessarily reported back up to the states.

"Given the multiple entities that may be involved in identifying, investigating, or prosecuting in-person voter fraud, it is difficult to obtain data sufficient to support an incidence determination," GAO said.

As a result, GAO relied on several studies on vote fraud as it conducted its examination. While some of these studies found cases of in-person voter fraud, GAO said the accuracy of these studies is questionable in large part because there is no easy government source on voter fraud they can use.

While GAO was unable to substantiate GOP claims that voter fraud is a problem that demands voter ID laws, GAO did support the Democratic view that these laws are hurting voter turnout.

Specifically, the report compared voter turnout levels in Kansas and Tennessee, where voter ID laws were put in place, to four other states that made no significant changes to their voter laws. While voter turnout fell in all of these states in 2012, GAO said turnout in Kansas fell another 2 percent, and fell 2 to 3 percent in Tennessee.

GAO said the data "suggests that the turnout decreases in Kansas and Tennessee beyond decreases in comparison states were attributable to changes in the two states' voter ID requirements."

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