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Pennsylvania candidate for attorney general John Rafferty. Photo via Pennsylvania candidate for attorney general John Rafferty. Photo via

Pennsylvania candidate for attorney general John Rafferty. Photo via

By Anna Orso October 26, 2016

GOP Attorney General candidate can’t back up claim of widespread illegal voting in PA

Correction appended

Somehow, we’re still talking about whether or not voter fraud is widespread in Pennsylvania. And once again, we’ll repeat: Most studies and experts say it’s not.

During a debate televised on 6ABC on Oct. 16, Republican candidate for Pennsylvania attorney general and state Sen. John Rafferty was in the process of bolstering his calls for a statewide voter ID provision when he implied "illegal" voting in Pennsylvania is widespread.

"Recently though, the media has reported on thousands of illegal voters here in the commonwealth," he said during the debate. His opponent, Democratic candidate and Montgomery County Commissioner Josh Shapiro, shot back "That’s just simply not true" to which Rafferty responded: "Read the papers."

Concerns about voter fraud and illegal voting in Pennsylvania have been a major concern this election, especially as GOP presidential candidate Donald Trump has circulated factually inaccurate claims about voter fraud in Philadelphia. So we decided to check Rafferty’s claim.

His campaign provided PolitiFact with three citations to back up his claim that the media has recently reported on "thousands" of instances of illegal voting in the commonwealth. The first wasa nearly two-year-old report in the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, which reported that more than 700 Pennsylvanians may have cast two ballots or voted elsewhere in the 2012 general election. In that year, about six million votes were recorded in Pennsylvania, meaning those 700 votes would have accounted for less than 0.0001 percent of the vote. President Obama won the state by 300,000 votes.

The story cited Carol Aichele, Pennsylvania’s former Secretary of State and a proponent of the implementation of voter ID laws. (She oversaw its passage in Pennsylvania and testified in the trial that ultimately led to the state Supreme Court ruling the measure unconstitutional.) At the time, Aichele told the newspaper that more than 700 Pennsylvania voters had the "potential" to cast two ballots in the election.

Experts say double voting is actually quite rare. A report by the nonpartisan Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law noted that accusations of widespread double voting are often couched with a "might" and are probably more common than actual double voting.

"These cases are extremely rare — not because such documentation is hard to come by (many states require that such documents be retained), but because actual double voting is itself extremely rare," author Justin Levitt wrote in the report. "Moreover, the scarcity is expected, given the severity of the penalty (criminal prosecution), and the meager nature of the payoff (one incremental vote)."

The second media report cited by the Rafferty campaign was a January story by The Philadelphia Daily News about three former Philadelphia elections officials pleading guilty to violating the state election code. The story refers to two separate examples of voter fraud. The first was a case of a poll worker who cast a vote for her 23-year-old son in the 2015 primary. The second stemmed from the 2014 primary, in which the defendant voted for her mother.

The final citation provided by the Rafferty campaign was New York Times story detailing a fraud scheme in Philadelphia that encouraged hundreds of voters to cast absentee ballots even though they didn’t have a legal reason to. The story was from February 1994.

Those examples don’t add up to "recent" media reports about thousands of voters casting illegal ballots in Pennsylvania. PolitiFact was able to find two additional media reports that did cite "thousands" of illegal voters in Pennsylvania.

The first of those reports was an Oct. 11 report titled "Potentially Thousands of Illegal Voters in Pennsylvania" and was published by LifeZette, a website founded by conservative pundit Laura Ingraham. It cited an incident where mailers were sent to thousands of Pennsylvania voters — including, potentially, some undocumented immigrants — inviting residents to register to vote. It didn’t actually register them.

The second report was published this week — notably after Rafferty made his claim during the 6ABC debate — and was titled: "Proof: Thousands of GOP votes likely stolen in Pa." It was published by WorldNetDaily, a conservative news and commentary website founded by Joseph Farah, a noted "birther," or person who believes President Obama was not born in the United States. That story’s "proof" was a widely-debunked theory about 2012 voting in Philadelphia.

Elections officials in Pennsylvania say widespread illegal voting is often cited during contentious elections and conversations about implementing voter ID requirements but isn’t particularly common. A 2012 report on voting irregularities in Philadelphia suggests most are a result of clerical errors.

Our Ruling

During a 6ABC debate, candidate for attorney general John Rafferty said "Recently though, the media has reported on thousands of illegal voters here in the commonwealth."

To back up that claim, the campaign provided three citations: One of which was 22 years old and not recent, one that was related to instances of voter fraud that netted an additional two votes and one that suggested about 700 voters had the "potential" to vote twice, but there wasn’t evidence those individuals actually did. Those do not add up to the media "recently" reporting on "thousands" of instances of illegal voting.

We rate the claim Pants on Fire.

This article was corrected to reflect that in the 2012 general election 700 votes would have accounted for less than 0.01 percent of the vote.

Our Sources

Debate. "Inside Story: PA Attorney General candidates debate." 6ABC. Oct. 16, 2016.

News article. "731 Pennsylvania voters may have cast 2 ballots or voted elsewhere, secretary of state says." Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. Jan. 8, 2015.

News article. "Three former Phila. elections officials plead guilty." Philadelphia Daily News. Jan. 14, 2016.

News article. "Vote-Fraud Ruling Shifts Pennsylvania Senate." New York Times. Feb. 19, 1994.

News article. "Proof: Thousands of GOP votes likely stolen in Pa." WND. Oct. 27, 2016.

News article. "Potentially Thousands of Illegal Voters in Pennsylvania." LifeZette. Oct. 11, 2016.

News article. "Inside the Six Weeks Donald Trump Was a Nonstop ‘Birther.’" New York Times. July 2, 2016.

Report. "The Truth About Voter Fraud." Josh Levitt, Brennan Center for Justice. 2007.

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GOP Attorney General candidate can’t back up claim of widespread illegal voting in PA

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