Here's what we know so far about voter fraud and the 2016 elections

With less than two weeks until the election, Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump has amped up charges that the election is “rigged” against him. His running mate, Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, has warned at rallies about voter fraud “around the country.”

While voter fraud is rare — one study found just 31 credible claims of fraud amid more than a 1 billion ballots cast since 2000 —  a few instances of voter fraud and voting irregularities have been found ahead of the election. At the same time, there have been accusations of voter suppression across the U.S., as civil rights groups have said Trump’s instructions to supporters to “go check out” polls in “certain areas” are a call to monitor minority votes. 

Here’s a recap of reports of possible election interference that have surfaced so far.

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Police said they found evidence of voter fraud in Indiana

The most prominent recent example of alleged voter fraud has been in Indiana, where the head of state police said last week that an ongoing investigation of a voter registration project turned up evidence of fraud. The group under investigation, the Indiana Voter Registration Project, submitted 45,000 voter registration applications this year from citizens who are racial minorities. 

Indiana State Police Supt. Douglas Carter said authorities had found examples of fraud. Carter did not share details of the nature of the alleged fraud nor how many instances of it had been found.

The group, which does nonpartisan registration but is affiliated with Democrats, says the investigation is a Republican-led political hit job. Carter is a Pence appointee, and tensions heightened last week when Indiana’s GOP Secretary of State Connie Lawson said “thousands” of name and date-of-birth changes on voting records could point to fraud. Lawson said she “turned … findings over to the state police, who are currently conducting an investigation into alleged voter fraud.” Days later, she said the changes the office found could be legitimate.

On Tuesday, TargetSmart, a Democratic-affiliated group hired by Patriot Majority USA, said an analysis it ran of the Indiana voter file kept by Lawson’s office found 837,000 voters with out-of-date addresses, 4,556 double registrations, 3,000 records without birth dates and 31 registered voters who are too young to vote.

“There is clearly bad, missing and incomplete data,” TargetSmart Chief Executive Tom Bonier told the Associated Press. “So if you're seeing a lot of names changing or dates of birth changing, that's likely because the information she had on the file is incorrect.”

The FBI is investigating reports that dead people were recently registered to vote in Virginia

Local police and the FBI launched an investigation in late September into 19 dead Virginians who had been re-registered to vote in Harrisonburg, Va. The investigation came after a clerk recognized the name on a registration as the recently deceased father of a well-known local judge. In another case, relatives of a dead man who was registered to vote received mail congratulating the man on registering.

All the registrations were submitted by a group called HarrisonburgVOTE, which focused on getting voters signed up in the area of James Madison University, according to the Richmond Times-Dispatch.

“Oftentimes we hear our [Democratic] colleagues suggest that voter fraud doesn’t exist in Virginia or is a myth,” state House Speaker William H. Howell said on a conference call about the investigation last month. “Well, it does indisputably exist.”

Democrats rebutted.

“Nobody cast a vote.… There’s still no evidence of that going on in the state,” Virginia House Minority Leader David J. Toscano told the Washington Post. “But there is evidence every time you turn around that the Republicans are trying to make it more difficult for citizens to vote in elections.”

Allegations of fraud have surfaced in Missouri, Texas, Oklahoma and Colorado

Cases of proven voter fraud in 2016, particularly those related to the presidential election, are few. But voting irregularities have led to accusations of fraud on several occasions in TexasOklahoma and Colorado, among other states. 

In a Missouri state House race this summer, incumbent Penny Hubbard won the Democratic primary nomination by 90 votes, boosted by a wave of absentee ballots — even though her opponent, Bruce Franks Jr., won the contest among in-person votes.

A judge later ruled that more than 200 absentee votes were improperly counted because they were not sealed in envelopes. In a do-over of the election, Franks won decisively. Jay Ashcroft, a Republican nominee for secretary of state — the office that oversees elections — pointed to the case as voter fraud, though the judge who called for a second election had blamed election officials for the botched process.

Separately, the FBI is also investigating possible voter fraud in Berkeley, a suburb of St. Louis where the mayor and his supporters have been accused of interfering with the absentee voting process.

Trump erroneously said a Pew study found widespread voter fraud

In recent weeks, Trump has cited a Pew report as evidence of widespread voter fraud.

“If you look at your voter rolls, you will see millions of people that are registered to vote — millions — this isn't coming from me, this is coming from Pew report and other places — millions of people that are registered to vote that shouldn't be registered to vote,” he said at the final presidential debate.

Trump was referring to a 2012 Pew study that said 2.4 million voter registrations were no longer valid or significantly inaccurate. More than 1.8 million dead people were listed as voters, the report said, and 2.75 million people were registered to vote in more than one state.

According to FactCheck.org, a nonpartisan watchdog group, Trump has been incorrectly citing Pew’s findings as indicative of voter fraud. "The report did not allege the 1.8 million deceased people actually voted. Rather, Pew said that it is evidence of the need to upgrade voter registration systems," FactCheck says on its website.

Meanwhile, the Justice Department can no longer deploy as many election observers

On Tuesday, the Justice Department released part of its election plans, which include email and phone hotlines as well as a website complaint form to report voting issues. Employees will be dispatched to polling places to monitor elections, though the department said it would not disclose those monitors’ locations until closer to election day.

In 2012, the Justice Department sent observers to voting sites in 13 states that were required to allow them entry into polling places. This year, the department plans to send observers to four states where there are specific court orders in place that allow observers.

The reason for the cutback: a 2013 Supreme Court decision that struck down a major portion of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

“In the past, we have … relied heavily on election observers, specially trained individuals who are authorized to enter polling locations and monitor the process to ensure that it lives up to its legal obligations,” Atty. Gen. Loretta Lynch said to a Latino civil rights group this summer. “Our ability to deploy them has been severely curtailed.”

The department still plans to send hundreds of monitors to the polls in around 25 states, but those monitors will have less power. They won’t be allowed through the doors of polling sites unless election officials invite them.

But voting rights advocates are winning in court against restrictive voting laws.

On Oct. 19, a panel of three judges in Kansas issued a unanimous ruling saying eligible voters should be able to vote without giving proof of citizenship, following an appeals court ruling in September that blocked proof-of-citizenship voting provisions in Kansas, Alabama and Georgia.

Civil rights groups have filed lawsuits over voter identification laws and other laws they say promote voter suppression, racking up several wins as well as a few losses against laws that have passed since the Supreme Court eased federal control over the ability of certain states and jurisdictions — many in the South — to change voting rules.

Several states have since pushed voter ID laws and increased other restrictions on voting, saying new laws are needed to prevent fraud. Democrats have countered that voter ID rules and related laws suppress the votes of minority groups such as African Americans and lower-income voters, who tend to vote Democratic.

Many suits are still pending, including a case against Alabama’s photo ID law that goes to trial in 2017. The most notable victory for civil rights advocates came this summer in North Carolina, where a federal appeals court struck down the state's voter ID law and other restrictions because they “target African Americans with almost surgical precision.” The Supreme Court refused to intervene.

Recent cyberattacks raised fears over the security of U.S. voting systems

After cyberattacks brought down major U.S. websites last week and WikiLeaks published hacked Democratic Party emails, tech experts say that worries about election day hacks aren’t unwarranted — but that the chance of them happening is unlikely.

That’s the takeaway from Bruce Schneier, chief technology officer at the IBM-owned security company Resilient, who runs the blog Schneier on Security.

In an interview with Journalist’s Resource, a project based at the Harvard Kennedy School’s Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy,he said hacking concerns focused on voting rolls, touch-screen voting machines and tabulation system through which machine votes are combined into final results.

“All of those three areas are vulnerable to hacking, although the practical problems of pulling off a successful hack are much more complicated than is generally reported.… My primary concern surrounding election day is not that the election will be hacked, but that it will be claimed to be hacked and we will have no way to verify that it wasn’t,” he said.

jaweed.kaleem@latimes.com

Jaweed Kaleem is The Times' national race and justice correspondent. Follow him on TwitterFacebook and Instagram.

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