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No evidence fake IDs seized at Chicago airport were ‘all registered to vote’

September 9, 2020 GMT

CLAIM: A total of 19,888 fake driver’s licenses that were made in China and seized at the O’Hare International Airport were all registered to vote as Democrats.

AP’S ASSESSMENT: Partly false. It’s true that U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers at Chicago’s busiest airport seized 19,888 fraudulent driver’s licenses, mostly from Hong Kong and China, between January and June 2020. However, there is no evidence to suggest they were linked to voter fraud. 

THE FACTS: Social media users are misrepresenting a real report about fake IDs as an example of illegal voter registration, despite a lack of evidence to support that conclusion.

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“Feds Seize 19,888 Fake State Driver Licenses (Made in China) in Chicago O’Hare Airport - ALL Registered to Vote -- ALL Democrat!” read several Facebook posts circulating this week, collectively amassing more than 3 million views.

The first part of that claim is true. In late July, U.S. Customs and Border Protection officials announced in a press release they had seized 19,888 fraudulent driver’s licenses at the O’Hare International Airport from the start of the year to June 30.

“The driver’s licenses were for various people in different states with a vast majority destined for neighboring states,” and most were for college-age individuals, the press release said. The cards came in 1,513 shipments, largely from China and Hong Kong, but also from Great Britain and South Korea. 

However, the claim that the seized licenses were “all registered to vote” is unsubstantiated and extremely unlikely, according to election security experts.

In every state except North Dakota, which requires voters to show an ID at the polls, citizens must register before they can vote. Depending on the state, this can be done online or in person at a motor-vehicle agency office or an election office. But no matter how it’s done, it generally requires both proof of identity and proof of residence, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

U.S. law requires anyone registering to vote for the first time to provide their state-issued driver’s license number. If they don’t have a license or other state-issued ID, they must provide the last four digits of their Social Security number. Election officials compare those numbers to state motor vehicle agency records or Social Security Administration records to ensure eligibility.

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“When the information does not match, the application is sent to officials for further review or action,” NCSL’s website says.

Because of that system, it would be “very hard” to create a voter registration with fake IDs like the ones seized at Chicago’s airport, according to David Becker, executive director of the Center for Election Innovation and Research.

“These are pieces of plastic,” Becker said. “That’s all they are. They do not have matching records in any official database. It’s unfathomable to me that this would even be considered remotely plausible.”

On top of that, voter registration fraud is extremely rare, according to John Lindback, a national elections expert with the Center for Secure and Modern Elections.

“When it has come up it’s usually very small in number and isolated,” he said. 

Lindback added, “in order to register that number of people on a fraudulent basis, you’d have to come up with 19,000 verifiable social security numbers and driver’s license numbers” — which he explained would be a near-impossible feat. 

In its release, CBP did not include anything to suggest the seized driver’s licenses had any connections to voter fraud. The agency did not respond to a request for further comment on Wednesday.

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This is part of The Associated Press’ ongoing effort to fact-check misinformation that is shared widely online, including work with Facebook to identify and reduce the circulation of false stories on the platform.

Here’s more information on Facebook’s fact-checking program: https://www.facebook.com/help/1952307158131536