Catholic University Law Review


Atiba R. Ellis


The meme of voter fraud is the idea that unworthy voters are attacking the electoral system by voting fraudulently through impersonation or other bad acts. Although scholars of election law aptly demonstrate that the meme is a myth, the meme nonetheless endures as a rationale for the continued passage of heightened voter regulations like voter identification laws. Scholarship critiquing the voter fraud meme relies on partisanship as the prime explanation for voter fraud arguments. This explanation is incomplete in light of the fact that proponents of the myth continue to believe it on an ideological level even when the lack of evidence for voter fraud is demonstrated conclusively. This suggests that the partisanship explanation fails to adequately account for why the voter fraud idea continues to replicate. This Article offers a more complete account of this phenomenon by deploying meme theory to analyze the origins, evolution, and persistence of voter fraud rhetoric. By a “meme,” this Article means an idea that spreads from person to person within a culture and replicates along with other ideas to form an ideology or worldview. This meme-based account will demonstrate that the idea of voter fraud is the latest evolutionary product of the ideology of sanctioned exclusion from the franchise. The end objective of this ideology is to exclude from the democracy citizens deemed “unworthy” of the vote by dominant society. This ideology persists throughout the history of the United States and endures separate and apart from partisan motivations. Based on this account, this Article recommends that courts adopt this memetic approach as a heuristic tool to identify and dismiss inchoate claims of election peril and to insist that concerns for the integrity of the electoral system be based on evidence.