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Election Crimes

Election Crimes and the FBI

Federal Election Crimes

In democratic societies like the United States, the voting process is a means by which citizens hold their government accountable, conflicts are channeled into resolutions, and power transfers peacefully. Our system of representative government works only when honest ballots are not diluted by fraudulent ballots. When elections become corrupted, democracy becomes threatened.

The FBI has a limited role in ensuring fair and free elections in the United States. Election crimes become federal cases when:

  • The ballot includes one or more federal candidates;
  • The crime involves an election official abusing his duties;
  • The crime pertains to fraudulent voter registration;
  • Voters are not U.S. citizens.

Federal election crimes fall into three broad categories:

  1. Campaign finance crimes
  2. Voter/ballot fraud
  3. Civil rights violations


Potential Federal Offenses

1. Campaign finance

  • A person gives more than $4,600 to a federal candidate (various limits apply for donations to and from committees and groups);
  • A donor asks a friend to give money to a federal candidate, promising to reimburse the friend; the friend makes the donation and the real donor reimburses him;
  • A corporation gives corporate money to a federal candidate;
  • A person who is neither a citizen nor a green card holder gives money to a federal, state, or local candidate.

2. Voter/ballot fraud

  • A voter intentionally gives false information when registering to vote;
  • A voter receives money or something of value in exchange for voting in a federal election or registering to vote;
  • Someone votes more than once in a federal election (e.g., someone mails in absentee ballots in the names of dead people);
  • An election official corrupts his or her office to benefit a candidate or party (e.g., lets unqualified voters cast ballots).

3. Civil rights violations

  • Someone threatens a voter with physical or economic harm unless the voter casts his ballot in a particular way;
  • Someone tries to prevent qualified voters from getting to the polls in a federal election;
  • A scheme exists to prevent minorities from voting.

What is NOT a federal election crime:

  • Giving voters a ride to the polls;
  • Offering voters a stamp to mail an absentee ballot;
  • Giving voters time off to vote;
  • Violating state campaign finance laws;
  • Distributing inaccurate campaign literature;
  • Campaigning too close to the polls;
  • Trying to convince an opponent to withdraw from a race.

If you think an election crime is occurring, call the election crimes coordinator at your local FBI office.

For more information on the FBI’s efforts to protect voting rights, see the Department of Justice Fact Sheet of October 31, 2008.