Electoral fraud is the deliberate manipulation of the process of an election through direct or indirect means to influence a particular result. The commission of electoral fraud is most often illustrated through overt methods such as improper vote counting, ballot stuffing, and bribery. However, much more subtle methods of electoral fraud include gerrymandering and disenfranchisement of certain demographics. Electoral fraud is considered one of the more serious types of fraud because of its effects on the political process, and, though they vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction, penalties are typically very severe.
The prototypical example of electoral fraud is that of ballot stuffing, the inclusion of fraudulent ballots that embody a vote for the candidate for whom the fraud is meant to benefit. This is less of a problem in developed nations than undeveloped nations because simple oversight measures can be used to prevent such fraud. The same is true of improper vote counting as simply employing multiple parties to count the individual votes and register a count is usually enough to ensure an accurate result.
However, even in developed nations, more subtle means of electoral fraud may be a concern. Gerrymandering, the act of drawing voting districts to create a political advantage for a particular group, can be done by a political body who holds power in that jurisdiction. For example, a particular urban area might be populated by poorer citizens who tend to vote more liberally than those in suburban areas. If a governmental body inexplicably divides this voting district encompassing the urban area to two separate districts that are expanded to include more conservative suburban areas, that may be an instance of gerrymandering for the benefit of the local conservative party.
Though disenfranchisement — the denial of the right to vote — is less of an issue in modern times, as the right to vote is almost universally recognized as a fundamental right, it may still be used to indirectly influence the voting population. For instance, it is commonly believed that the disenfranchisement of felons in the early part of the 20th Century in the United States was motivated by a desire to undermine African-American voting rights. The alleged rationale was that since a higher proportion of African-Americans were convicted of felonies than Caucasians, the law would have a disparate effect on the African-American population’s right to vote.
The penalties for electoral fraud vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction but they tend to be more severe than other types of fraud. Depending on the method used, anyone convicted of electoral fraud is typically subject to hefty fines and prison time. Further, he or she may permanently lose the right to vote in future elections.