Missouri’s top election official told senators on Wednesday that voter fraud was a much bigger threat to elections than hacking.
The hearing before the Senate Committee on Rules and Administration focused on what local election officials were doing to enhance election security. But after one of the panelists, Missouri Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft (R), said voter fraud was a bigger problem than election security, Democrats pushed back.
“It was not our votes or our election systems that were hacked. It was the people’s perceptions of our elections,” Ashcroft said in his opening remarks. “The evidence indicates that voter fraud is an exponentially greater threat than hacking of our election equipment.”
Several studies and investigations have shown that voter fraud does occur, but it is not a widespread problem. The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has acknowledged that Russian hackers scanned systems in 21 states during the 2016 election and the country’s top intelligence officials have warned that Russia is already meddling in this year’s midterm elections.
To back up his claim, Ashcroft pointed to a 2010 election for a Missouri state house seat that was decided by one vote. Two people ― relatives of the candidate who won ― admitted to voting illegally by claiming a false address.
Ashcroft’s comments prompted a quick rebuke from Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), who noted hackers had actually gotten into Illinois’ database of voters, though there’s no evidence any votes or voter information was altered or changed. The senator said Ashcroft’s comments had “to be addressed for the record.”
“I can count on both hands the cases of voter fraud in the state of Illinois in the last several election cycles, and the convictions even fewer,” Durbin said. “When it comes to this hacking, it is exponentially greater threat to our voting system than voter fraud. Exponentially, I’m willing to say that.”
Sen. Tom Udall (D-N.M.) also pressed Ashcroft on what indepent studies and evidence he was using to make his claim about the threat of voter fraud. Ashcroft didn’t point to one, but instead came back to the single election in his state.
“I will say it as simply as possible. Your colleague admitted that no votes were changed, no voter registrations were changed, by the alleged hacking. I gave you a concrete example that was proven in a court of law as individuals pled guilty of changing an election,” Ashcroft said. “No instances of votes being changed, an instance of an entire election being changed. That’s exactly what I’m speaking to. I don’t know how I can make it more clearer, sir.”
Ashcroft added that officials needed to make sure “no votes are changed by fraud, malfeasance, criminal actions or ineptitude.”
Durbin asked Ashcroft, as well as the secretaries of state of Vermont and Minnesota who appeared on the panel, to produce a report outlining how many votes had been cast in their states and how many people had been convicted of voter fraud in their states over the last 10 years.
In 2016, Missouri voters approved a voter ID measure. It’s now being challenged by a Democratic group. Jason Kander, a Democrat who served as secretary of state before Ashcroft, used his farewell speech in 2017 to criticize the measure.
A May HuffPost/YouGov poll found that 28 percent of Americans, but 48 percent of Republicans, believe 3 to 5 million people voted illegally in the 2016 election. President Donald Trump has repeatedly claimed that’s true, but has offered no evidence to support his claim.