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Baseless Claim Turns Fake IDs
2020-09-14 20:45:42

A viral claim currently spreading on social media is spinning a legitimate story about fake IDs into an unsubstantiated tale about a voter fraud scheme.

In July, U.S. Customs and Border Protection announced that it had seized nearly 20,000 fake IDs in a Chicago airport since the start of the year — saying that most were for college-age students in nearby states.

But a recent Facebook text post shared by more than 16,000 users tells the story like this: Feds Seize 19,888 Fake State Driver Licenses (Made in China) in Chicago O’Hare Airport – ALL Registered to Vote — ALL Demorats!”

The website for the Hal Turner Radio Show published an Aug. 8 story with a headline matching that text, asking in its story, “[H]ow is it that that ALL of these phony names are ALL registered to vote and ALL registered as Democrats?”

But the story offered no source for the claims linking the IDs to voter registrations, and the radio show didn’t respond to our inquiries asking for its evidence. The story has received about 32,000 engagements on Facebook, including nearly 10,000 shares, according to CrowdTangle analytics data.

When CBP announced the news about the seized IDs in July, the agency made no indications that they were suspected to be tied to any voter fraud scheme.

We reached out to CBP to ask about the viral claim about voter registrations, and a spokesperson said the agency could only confirm the facts it publicly reported and directed our questions to state elections officials.

In Illinois, Matt Dietrich, a spokesman for the State Board of Elections, said in an email that would-be voters need a valid driver’s license if they register online — along with other “personally identifiable information.”

“The driver’s license is necessary because the registrant’s signature is captured from the license record,” he said. The state also accepts state-issued ID cards to be used online. If registering to vote by mail, a license can be used as one of two forms of IDs used to register — though the state permits other forms of identification or proof of residency.

“[L]ocal election authorities also check Social Security numbers on applications, so a fake driver’s license number that doesn’t match up with a record at the Secretary of State’s Office would raise a red flag,” Dietrich added.

In other words, anyone attempting to use a fake license to register to vote in Illinois would run into problems. And, in this case, the suggestion that the seized fake IDs could have been used to register in Illinois doesn’t hold up, since CBP intercepted the IDs that would have been needed at the time of registration. 

Also, voters don’t register by party in Illinois. Instead, Dietrich said, a “voter’s party affiliation can be inferred based on the party ballot the voter chose at the most recent primary election.”

Beth Kaufman, a spokeswoman for the Illinois Secretary of State’s Office (which oversees Driver Services), further told us in an email: “According to our Secretary of State Police, they said their experiences with fraudulent [driver’s licenses] made in China that are intervened by Customs at O’Hare generally involve underage kids obtaining them to get into bars. They have not heard of this being tied to voter fraud.”

We looked for any evidence to back up the claim in neighboring states and also found no corroboration.

In neighboring Wisconsin, Reid Wagney, a spokesman for the Wisconsin Elections Commission, said in a phone interview that his commission had not been made aware of any purported voter fraud scheme linked to the fake IDs seized in Chicago. “First time I’ve heard of it,” he said.

As in Illinois, Wisconsin does not register people by party, Wagney pointed out. Registrations occur at the municipal level. There is a state online voter registration system that uses “real-time checks on the validity” of the driver’s licenses or state IDs used to register, he said. Those registering by mail or in person in Wisconsin don’t have to use those IDs, but they must provide proof of residence. However, voters do need to show photo IDs in Wisconsin when voting (which can be a driver’s license or a number of other types of identification).

Michigan similarly allows online registration for those who have state licenses or IDs, but other documents proving residency can be used when registering in person or by mail.

Tracy Wimmer, a spokeswoman for the Michigan Secretary of State’s Office, said in an email that since Michigan doesn’t require a driver’s license or state ID to register or vote, “it is not clear why anyone would obtain a fake ID for the purpose of registering or voting. That said, voters who do have a Michigan license or ID provide this information when registering to vote. The local clerk’s office has many avenues to validate a person, up to and including contacting the Department of State to verify a person’s photograph and ID/Driver’s License Record number.”

The state manages a voter registration database known as the Qualified Voter File — “including the name, residential address, driver license number, precinct number, digitized signature, and voting history for each voter in the state,” according to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Election Data + Science Lab.

“The data elements all need to match between the QVF and license/ID in order for a ballot to be issued plus signatures must match. If a person provides fake document information when registering to vote, the [QVF] would not accept the information and it would require additional review,” Wimmer said. She added that “[i]t is highly unlikely a fake license could pass through a bureau verification process. It would in fact have to be an exact duplicate with corresponding bar code information and signature. Reproducing a real person’s license or ID to be fraudulently used by someone else is virtually impossible.”

It’s worth noting that CBP has made many announcements about the seizure of such fake IDs, in Chicago and elsewhere.

In 2011, CBP said it seized more than 1,700 counterfeit drivers licenses in the Chicago airport, mailed from China, also destined for college-age students. The agency in November 2019 said it seized six shipments in Louisville, Kentucky, with 2,909 counterfeit driver’s licenses and thousands of blank card stocks to make counterfeit licenses. And in April, CBP reported that it had confiscated 900 fake IDs at the Dallas Fort Worth port of entry.