Is There Rampant Voter Fraud? The White Lady Doth Protest Too Much, Methinks.
If you watched the news at any point following the 2020 U.S. presidential election, you probably heard Donald Trump’s repeated claims that widespread voter fraud contributed to his loss to Joe Biden. He fed the flames of a “Stop the Steal”campaign, which alleged that the election had been stolen from him despite losing both the popular and the electoral college vote. Despite Trump’s belief that Biden unfairly won, investigations into voter fraud concluded that Trump’s claims were completely false.
While systemic voter fraud did not occur with respect to the 2020 presidential election, numerous individuals have been charged with illegally or fraudulently voting in recent years. With the supposed severity of the threat of voter fraud, we might wonder how the criminal legal system punishes those who commit voter fraud. Two individuals recently charged with voter fraud are Pamela Moses and Tracey Kay McKee. Pamela Moses is a Black woman from Tennessee who was convicted of registering to vote illegally. She had prior felony convictions, and when she asked about her ability to vote, she was given the impression that her prior convictions did not prohibit her from registering. Moses later learned this was not true, and after being convicted of illegally registering to vote, she was sentenced to six years in prison. Fortunately, after a large public outcry, she was granted a new trial and prosecutors later dropped the charges against her.
Tracey Kay McKee, on the other hand, is a white woman from Arizona who was convicted of attempting to illegally vote after she submitted a 2020 election ballot on behalf of her mother, who had died two days prior to the ballots being mailed. Prosecutors in McKee’s case asked that she serve 30 days in jail, but the judge disagreed and sentenced her to two years of felony probation (no jail time). Notably, when McKee was being investigated for her crime, she was recorded making claims of ‘rampant voter fraud’ and denied mailing her mother’s ballot. It was upon the condition of the plea bargain her attorney made that she admitted guilt and expressed remorse.
To be clear, Moses merely registered to vote. She at no point submitted a ballot or attempted to vote in an election. And yet, she was sentenced to six years. She would likely still be in prison if there had not been such an overwhelmingly negative response and public pressure to reopen the investigation. On the other hand, McKee freely admitted in court to intentionally forging her dead mother’s signature to submit a ballot on her behalf and was given leniency. Unfortunately, this disparity is incredibly common. Punishment for voter fraud has been incredibly inconsistent and tends to depend on who committed the crime and the state in which it was committed.
As a nation, we are undoubtedly going to continue to hear the conservative rhetoric surrounding voting fraud as we inch closer to election time. However, we must ask ourselves -- if voter fraud is as serious a threat to our democracy as GOP politicians claim, then why are people who are knowingly and intentionally committing voter fraud going virtually unpunished? Why do the Tessa Kay McKee’s of America get lighter sentences for the crimes that they have declared a serious threat to democracy when the Pamela Moses’ are given outrageously harsh sentences for crimes that don't even come close to having the same impact? As much as I try to make sense of it, I struggle with the clear cognitive dissonance of McKee committing voter fraud while spreading the rhetoric that it is putting our country at risk. But as the saying goes, whoever smelt it dealt it.