Prosecuting Voter Fraud: Who Has Jurisdiction?
Generally, the matter of the regulation of elections falls to the states. The federal government only has jurisdiction for crimes committed against the electoral process. Crimes committed during campaigns, however, are left to the states to deal with unless the impugned activity violates a federal law. In other words, individual acts of wrongdoing are left to the states to prosecute; the federal government only assumes jurisdiction if there is an organized attempt to interfere with the voting process.
State Jurisdiction: Voters who feel they have been disenfranchised by mistakes that do not rise to the level of a criminal fraud, such as giving out erroneous times or machine malfunctions, can launch a civil action. These civil lawsuits must be brought in state courts.
Federal Jurisdiction: The federal government has jurisdiction when a candidate for federal office is on the ballot. Offenses dealing with voter registration fall under the purview of the federal Department of Justice, and the federal government has jurisdiction when an allegation of wrongdoing is made against an election official acting in the course of his or her duties.
Paying voters to register to vote, bribery or the illegal use of the mails in respect of an election also fall to the federal government to prosecute, and any type of voter intimidation is also prosecuted in federal courts.
Voter Fraud vs. Murphy’s Law
Although the term “voter fraud” is widely used, the actual number of criminally fraudulent acts is small compared to all the things that go wrong on Election Day.
United States Attorney’s Office (New Hampshire). Federal Election Fraud Fact Sheet. (2012). Accessed November 13, 2012.
Craig C. Dosanto. The Federal Crime of Election Fraud. (2012). Department of Justice Public Integrity Section. Accessed November 13, 2012.
News 21. Exhaustive Database of Voter Fraud Cases Turns Up Scant Evidence That It Happens. (2012). Accessed November 13, 2012.
Calgary Herald. Congressional delegate for US Virgin Islands supports fraud investigation into local election. (2012). Accessed November 13, 2012.
Houston Chronicle. Thousands report voting problems. (2012). Accessed November 13, 2012.
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