Government & Politics

Voter fraud much greater threat than election hacking, Missouri's Jay Ashcroft says

Missouri Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft
Missouri Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft

Missouri Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft on Wednesday called voter fraud “an exponentially greater threat than hacking” to the U.S. election system.

But Ashcroft also testified during a hearing on Capitol Hill that his office detects 100,000 scans per day on its computer systems — possibly from hackers trying to break in.

“We cannot say which of those are targeted to elections,” Ashcroft told the panel of senators. “We have to treat them as if they’re all targeted to elections because if they find one way in, they’ll go from there to elections. So we treat them all as attacks.”

Ashcroft was in Washington to testify about election security with other secretaries of state. Missouri Sen. Roy Blunt chairs the Senate Rules Committee, which held the hearing.

Ashcroft opened his remarks by pushing back on concerns that outside actors threatened the integrity of U.S. elections during the 2016 election cycle.

“While these are serious allegations, it is vitally important to understand that after two years of investigation there is no credible — and I can strike credible and just put evidence — there is no evidence that these incidents caused a single vote or a single voter registration to be improperly altered during the 2016 election cycle,” Ashcroft said. “It was not our votes or our election systems that were hacked — it was the people’s perception of our elections.”

This is not to say U.S. elections are perfect, that there was no fraud or that there was no unlawful corruption of votes, he said.

“The evidence indicates that voter fraud is an exponentially greater threat than hacking of our election equipment,” he said.

Ashcroft cited a 2010 Missouri House primary election that was determined by a single vote. Missouri Rep. John Joseph Rizzo’s relatives later admitted to illegally claiming a Kansas City address. Their two votes could have changed the results of the primary.

Rizzo said at the time that he wasn’t aware of the illegal votes.

Ashcroft made voter fraud, and the implementation of a photo ID requirement to vote to prevent fraud, a cornerstone of his successful 2016 campaign for secretary of state. The Rizzo race was an oft-cited example of the type of fraud he said exists in Missouri elections.

His critics are quick to note that Rizzo's relatives committed registration fraud, not voter impersonation fraud, and thus would not have been thwarted by a photo ID requirement to vote. There has never been a reported case of voter impersonation fraud in Missouri.

Ashcroft's testimony came two days after a federal judge struck down a Kansas law intended to prevent voter fraud by requiring people to provide proof of citizenship, such as a passport or birth certificate, before they could register to vote.

In a three-week trial earlier this year, the judge found, Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach failed to show convincing evidence of voter fraud. She also found that the law disproportionately affects rightful voters.

Senate Democrats at the hearing took issue with Ashcroft’s assertion that voter fraud was an “exponentially” bigger threat to election security than hacking.

Sen. Dick Durbin's state, Illinois, was one of 21 whose voter files were targeted by hackers at the behest of the Russian government in the 2016 cycle.

“They had the capacity, thank goodness they didn’t use it, to change just a digit on each of our addresses and make a chaotic situation at polling places when people turned up to vote. … They didn’t do it but the threat was there,” Durbin said.

By contrast, he said, “I can count on both hands cases of voter fraud in the state of Illinois in the past several election cycles.”

Nevada Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto also chastised Ashcroft for saying voter fraud was a bigger threat than hacking.

“I was attorney general from 2007 to 2014 and I can count on one hand the type of voter fraud that we saw, and most important, not only did we see it, we caught it and we prosecuted it,” she said. “So this idea that somehow there was widespread voter fraud occurring across this country … is false. So we need to correct the record.”

The Star's Jason Hancock contributed to this article.