October 29, 2018

Elections in America: Concerns Over Security, Divisions Over Expanding Access to Voting

7. Concerns about eligible voters being prevented from voting and ineligible voters voting

Americans are generally concerned over the potential for eligible voters being denied the opportunity to vote and those ineligible to vote being able to cast ballots.

But more say they would consider a situation of eligible voters not being allowed to vote a major problem than say that about a situation in which ineligible voters cast ballots.

58% say even one eligible voter being prevented from voting would be a ‘major problem’Nearly six-in-ten Americans (58%) say that they would consider it to be a major problem with the election if even one eligible voter was prevented from casting a ballot in an election with one million voters. About a quarter (26%) would consider this a minor problem, while just 15% say that this would not be much of a problem with the election.

Among those presented a different scenario in which one ineligible voter voted in an election with one million voters, 41% say they view this as a major problem, while another 30% say it would be a minor problem. Nearly three-in-ten (28%) say this would not be much of problem, nearly double the share saying this about an eligible voter being denied the opportunity to vote.

When asked about cases in which the number of eligible people prevented from voting is higher, larger shares say this would be a major problem with the election. Similarly, as the share of ineligible voters casting ballots in the scenario increases, Americans are more likely to view this as a major problem. The survey asked these questions in a variety of different ways, with each respondent receiving one version of the question (see sidebar for details of this survey experiment).

For example, while 58% say it would be a major problem if one voter in a million was prevented from voting, 66% of Americans would see it as a major problem when asked about 100 people out of a million, and more than eight-in-ten say it would be major problem if 1,000 people (83%) or 10,000 people (86%) were prevented from voting in a place with one million voters.

Similarly, while 41% say it would be a major problem if one ineligible person in a place with one million voters cast a ballot, that rises to 52% when asked about 100 ineligible voters, 62% when asked about 1,000 and 69% would see a major problem with the election if 10,000 ineligible voters cast ballots (1% of the total one million voters).
Concern about eligible voters being prevented from voting and ineligible voters casting ballots rises as the numbers affected increase

Wide partisan divide in concerns over voting by ineligible voters

Democrats and Republicans respond very differently to scenarios involving ineligible voters casting ballots and eligible voters being prevented from casting ballots.

Overall, Democrats and Democratic leaners are more likely than Republicans and Republican leaners to say it would be a major problem if an eligible voter was prevented from voting even if they tried to vote and met eligibility requirements. In the case of a single voter of one million being prevented from casting a ballot, 63% of Democrats and 52% of Republicans say they would consider this to be a major problem.

As the number of people affected in the scenario rises, the shares viewing this as a major problem rise in both parties. But the partisan gap remains about 10 percentage points: For example, while 81% of Republicans say it would be a major problem if 10,000 eligible voters out of a million were prevented from casting a ballot, an even higher share of Democrats (91%) say this.

Republicans more likely than Democrats to view voting by those ineligible as a ‘major problem’; smaller gap in views of eligible voters being prevented from voting

The partisan gap is considerably wider in views about whether ineligible voters casting ballots would be a major problem. In this case, Republicans are far more likely than Democrats to say it would be: 57% of Republicans say they would consider it to be a major problem with an election if one ineligible voter cast a ballot in a place with one million voters, only about half as many Democrats (29%) say this would be a major problem.

And while the share considering this to be a major problem rises as the number of individuals in the scenario rises in both parties, the partisan gap also remains. While 59% of Democrats say it would be a major problem if 10,000 ineligible voters cast ballots in a place with one million voters, 82% of Republicans say this.

In a study earlier this year, there also were partisan differences in perceptions of whether ineligible voters are being permitted to vote and whether eligible voters are being prevent from voting (see “The Public, the Political System and American Democracy”). Democrats were far more likely than Republicans to say “no ineligible voters are permitted to vote” described U.S. elections very or somewhat well; Democrats were less likely than Republicans to say “no eligible voters are prevented from voting” described elections in this country very or somewhat well.

In views about ineligible voters casting ballots, the total number appears to matter more than the proportion of the electorate

Similar shares express concern about an ineligible voter voting, whether the base is 1 million or 100,000A random subset of survey respondents was asked about an election in a place with 100,000 voters rather than one million.

The share saying it would be a major problem if someone voted in an election even though they were not eligible to do so is more consistent across conditions with the same number of ineligible voters than across conditions with the same proportion of ineligible votes cast.

For example, 44% say it would be a major problem if there were 10 ineligible votes cast in an election of one million voters – equivalent to 0.001% of votes cast. The same number of ineligible votes in an election of 100,000 voters would represent a larger proportion of votes cast (0.01%), but the share saying this would be a major problem is roughly the same (42%).

One hundred ineligible voters out of one million votes would also be equal to 0.01% of all votes cast in an election, but respondents are 10 percentage points more likely to say 100 ineligible votes cast of 1 million votes is a major problem than they are to say 10 of 100,000 is a major problem (52% vs. 42%).

The effect of varying the size of the electorate is not clear for the question asked about eligible voters prevented from voting.