In Florida, voter fraud is rarer than shark attacks

Published March 10, 2012

Comedy Central's Stephen Colbert moved in on Florida's controversial new election law for a recurring segment, "People Who Are Destroying America." The target: a Panhandle teacher named Dawn Quarles, who turned in 76 voter registration forms from her students beyond the state's new 48-hour deadline. She could face a $1,000 fine.

One of the people Colbert interviewed for his sarcastic report, which aired March 1, is Howard Simon, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida. Florida officials claimed they needed to pass the law to prevent voter fraud, but these cases are actually pretty rare, he said.

"There are probably a larger number of shark attacks in Florida than there are cases of voter fraud," he said.

We couldn't resist diving in: Are there more shark attacks than cases of voter fraud in Florida? We found data from the Florida Department of State, which monitors elections, and the Florida Museum of Natural History in Gainesville, which has a renowned ichthyology department. (Ichthyology is the study of fish.)

The shark attack figures include documented instances of sharks attacking human victims. The voter fraud cases indicate the number of cases deemed legally sufficient for an investigation by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.

If we were considering 2011 alone, voter fraud cases exceeded shark attacks. That year, there were 11 shark attacks and 14 investigations of voter fraud.

But the three years before that showed shark attacks happened more frequently than voter fraud cases. In 2010, shark attacks outnumbered voter fraud cases by 14 to 10, including one fatal shark attack. In 2009, the numbers were 19 to 9. Even in 2008, a major election year, there were 28 shark attacks but only 16 voter fraud cases.

While the shark attack figures are cut and dry, the voter fraud numbers are not. The numbers may not represent total voter fraud cases, as those could be handled by local supervisors and state attorneys.

Also, one "case" may represent multiple counts of voter fraud, perpetrated by multiple people. On the other hand, the fraud list does not count only convictions. So some of these cases could be proven unfounded.

The ACLU's claim is true on its face, but we're knocking it down a peg with consideration of a few things.

One, the state's count doesn't represent a complete set of possible fraud being prosecuted in the state. Two, a "case" does not always include just one instance of fraud. We rate this Mostly True.

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