The Difficulties of Prosecuting Vote Fraud

Published Mon, Sep 12 2011 11:32 AM

Andi Pringle, deputy chief of staff to D.C. Mayor Vincent C. Gray, voted in September’s D.C. primary even though she lived in Maryland for eighteen months.  After only taking office a week prior, Pringle resigned, calling her voting in the September 2010 D.C. primary a “distraction” from Gray’s administration.             

Pringle claimed her residency in Maryland was temporary and that she would be moving back to the District.  Pringle issued a statement that:  “In September 2010, I voted in the D.C. primary with the understanding that since I had not severed ties with my community nor established residency in Maryland, I should vote at the precinct where I had voted for the past eight years. If this was in error, I apologize.” 

Community activist Dorothy Brizill discovered Pringle cast a ballot in D.C. and filed a formal complaint with the D.C. Board of Elections and Ethics.  Brizill said, “Anyone who has been in the District for a long time is concerned about people voting from outside the city.”

Pringle’s case emphasizes the difficulty of pursuing vote fraud prosecutions.   First of all, election officials did not uncover these voting irregularities, but a community activist did.  Vote fraud investigations, while important, are unfortunately not high on priorities of law enforcement.  Second, what evidence would a prosecutor have in this case?  Despite the evidence of her voting, Pringle claims that she was really a resident of D.C. and that she did not intentionally break the law.  

Last Thursday,  Congressman Todd Rokita testified to the Senate Judiciary Committee at a hearing that few prosecutions does not mean that there is not vote fraud.  Moreover, A Milwaukee Police Department Report of the November 2004 election recognized that there were few prosecutions despite the likelihood of fraud.  The report found that despite the fact the Police Department believe there was vote fraud, the prosecutors could not proceed forward with a case because of the poor record keeping by election administration officials and even an admission by those who committed vote fraud was not enough. As the Joint Task Force in that investigation concluded: “Simply put: it is hard to prove a bank embezzlement if the bank cannot tell how much money was there in the first place.”

The U.S. Attorney has discretion whether to prosecute.  Vote fraud is a felony punishable by 10 years in prison or a $20,000 fine.  

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