November 12, 2004
By: Sandra Norman-Eady, Chief Attorney
You wanted to know (1) the public official required by law to detect voter fraud, (2) who prosecutes voter fraud on the local level, and (3) whether the statewide voter registration system detects attempted fraud.
Voter fraud occurs when legally qualified voters vote more than once during an election or when people who are not qualified electors vote. A person may not qualify to vote for a number of reasons including age, mental capacity, and criminal history.
Registrars of voters and town clerks have election-related duties and as such are both legally required to make sure that elections are conducted fairly and without fraud. If they suspect that fraud has taken place, these officials refer the matter to the State Elections Enforcement Commission (SEEC) for investigation. If SEEC determines, after an investigation, that a crime was committed it refers the case to the Chief State’s Attorney’s Office for prosecution. It is theoretically possible for a local state’s attorney to prosecute incidents of fraud committed during a vote on a local referendum question, but in practice most suspicions are referred to SEEC.
The state’s centralized voter registration system, called connverse, does not automatically detect voter fraud but it provides elections officials with a mechanism for maintaining voter registry lists and checking duplicate registrations.
DUTY TO DETECT VOTER FRAUD
Registrars of voters and town clerks are responsible for detecting voter fraud. These officials are in positions to know when the most common types of voter fraud occur. In other words, they are in a position to know when legally qualified voters vote more than once during an election or when people who are not qualified electors vote. Registrars are responsible for registering voters; removing the names of voters who have moved, died, or are otherwise disenfranchised; redistricting voter lists; canvassing voters to ascertain residency; preparing voting lists for polling places; and supervising poll workers and moderators. Town clerks share voter registration duties and are responsible for issuing, receiving, and filing absentee ballots.
Process for Handling Fraud Suspicions
A registrar or town clerk who suspects voting fraud can submit a complaint to SEEC. SEEC can investigate alleged violations of any law relating to any election or referendum, including holding hearings, subpoenaing and examining witnesses (CGS § 9-7b(a)(1)). The commission refers to the Office of the Chief State’s Attorney any evidence it finds bearing upon criminal violations of election law, including voter fraud (CGS § 9-7b(a)(7)). The commission can also ask the attorney general for injunctive or any other appropriate equitable relief based on evidence it finds (CGS § 9-7b(a)(8)).
Penalties for Voter Fraud
The criminal penalty for fraudulently voting when not legally qualified or for voting more than once when qualified is a fine of $300 to $500, one to two years in prison, and disenfranchisement. Anyone who votes or attempts to vote by assuming the name of another is subject to a fine of $500, one year in prison, and disenfranchisement (CGS § 9-360).
Other types of fraudulent voting violations carry stiffer penalties. Voting in violation of absentee ballot laws is punishable by a fine of up to $5,000, up to five years in prison, or both (CGS §9-359). The same penalty applies to anyone who votes or refuses to vote in consideration of anything of value (CGS §§ 9-333x and 9-333y)). With respect to the latter offense, the commission can also (1) impose a civil penalty of $2,000 per offense or twice the amount of any improper payment or contribution, whichever is greater; (2) issue an order for the recipient to return the item of value; (3) issue an order revoking the intentional violators’ eligibility to be appointed or serve as an election, primary, or referendum official or unofficial checker or in any capacity at the polls (CGS § 9-7b(2) and (3)).
STATEWIDE VOTER REGISTRY SYSTEM AND FRAUD DETECTION
The state’s centralized voter registration system does not automatically detect voter fraud. Registrars of voters use the system to store the names, addresses, and birth dates of registered voters in each town. The system aids registrars in their detection of voter fraud. At least twice a year (typically in January and June) the system’s vendor runs a program to check for duplicate registrations (i.e., identifies voters with the same name, birth date, and city of residence), according to Ted Bromley, election’s staff attorney at the Office of the Secretary of the State. Once this duplication run is completed and a list of duplicates is compiled, the Secretary of the State’s Office sends the list to the registrars in the towns where the problems allegedly exist. The registrars are required by law to contact the voters in question to determine if there is an actual duplication. If there is, the registrar in the town where the voter no longer resides removes that name from the registry.
With respect to disenfranchised voters, registrars use the system to remove the names of people who, because they were convicted of a crime punishable by disenfranchisement, are prohibited by law from voting. By law, the Department of Correction or Judicial Department must send the Secretary of the State a list every month of the people whose names should be removed for this reason. The secretary sends this list to the registrars, who remove the voters’ names.