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Katie Sanders
By Katie Sanders March 2, 2012

Are shark attacks more common than voter fraud in Florida?

On March 1, 2012, Comedy Central’s Stephen Colbert moved in on Florida’s controversial new election law for a recurring segment, "People Who Are Destroying America." The target: a Panhandle teacher named Dawn Quarles, who turned in 76 voter registration forms from her students beyond the state’s new 48-hour deadline. She could face a $1,000 fine.

 

One of the people Colbert interviewed for his sarcastic report is Howard Simon, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida. Florida officials claimed they needed to pass the law to prevent voter fraud, but these cases are actually pretty rare, he said.

 

"There are probably a larger number of shark attacks in Florida than there are cases of voter fraud," he said.

 

We couldn’t resist diving in: Are there more shark attacks than cases of voter fraud in Florida?

 

We compiled this chart using data from the Florida Department of State, which monitors elections, and the Florida Museum of Natural History in Gainesville, which has a renowned ichthyology department. (Ichthyology  is the study of fish.)

 

The shark attack figures include documented instances of sharks attacking human victims. The voter fraud cases indicate the number of cases deemed legally sufficient for an investigation by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. 

 

FLORIDA

2008

2009

2010

2011

Total

Sharks attacks

28

19

14*

Featured Fact-check

11

72

Voter fraud cases

16

9

10

14

49


*includes one fatal attack

 

If we were considering 2011 alone, when voter fraud cases exceeded shark attacks, this could have been ruled False. But spreading our data out over four years shows shark attacks happen more frequently than voter fraud cases.

 

Florida regularly leads the country in unprovoked shark attacks. In 2011, Florida’s 11 attacks comprised 38 percent of the nation’s total and 15 percent of the world’s attacks. Volusia County, home to the spring-break mecca of Daytona Beach, had the most attacks (six).

 

While the shark attack figures are cut and dry (sorry!), the voter fraud numbers are not. There could be more cases than we know about, involving more people. The numbers may not represent total voter fraud cases, as those could be handled by local supervisors and state attorneys.

 

Also, one "case" may represent multiple counts of voter fraud, perpetrated by multiple people, said agency spokesman Chris Cate. He points to a November 2011 case that resulted in the arrests of nine people from the North Florida town of Madison, including the supervisor of elections.

 

On the other hand, the fraud list does not count only convictions. So some of these cases could be proven unfounded.

 

The ACLU’s claim is true on its face, but we’re knocking it down a peg with consideration of a few things. One, the state’s count doesn’t represent a complete set of possible fraud being prosecuted in the state. Two, a "case" does not always include just one instance of fraud.

 

Using the Madison case as an example, we know nine people were arrested in just one case.

 

We rate this Mostly True.

Our Sources

"Civic-minded teacher snared by new election law," Tampa Bay Times, Dec. 13, 2011

 

"People Who Are Destroying America: Teachers," The Colbert Report, March 1, 2012

 

Email interview with Chris Cate, Department of State spokesman, March 2, 2012

 

"UF report: 2011 shark attacks remain steady, deaths highest since 1993," University of Florida news release, Feb. 7, 2012

 

"Shark attacks rise worldwide but drop in Florida," USA Today, March 2, 2012

 

Interview with Dan Brown, Florida Program for Shark Research program technician, March 3, 2012


Count of Florida shark attacks, 2000-2011

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Are shark attacks more common than voter fraud in Florida?

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