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Fact check: 20,000 fake driving licenses seized at O’Hare Airport not linked to voter fraud

Facebook posts shared thousands of times claim that 19,888 fake driver’s licenses were seized at Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport after being ordered by people “all registered to vote, all Democrats.” Suggesting that the licenses were part of a voter fraud conspiracy, this claim is partly false. While it is true that U.S. Customs and Border Protection seized 19,888 counterfeit licenses at O’Hare in late July, they had no apparent connection to Democratic Party registration or the upcoming election.

Reuters Fact Check. REUTERS

Posts making this claim can be found here , here , and here .

On July 27, 2020, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agency announced ( here ) that officers at O’Hare’s International Mail Facility (IMF) had seized 19,888 counterfeit  licenses between January and June. The press release stated that most had come from China and Hong Kong, as well as Great Britain and South Korea, and that they were largely for students.

“These fraudulent identity documents can lead to identity theft, worksite enforcement, critical infrastructure protection, fraud linked to immigration-related crimes such as human smuggling and human trafficking, and these documents can be used by those individuals associated with terrorism to minimize scrutiny from travel screening measures,” the CBP release said.

Fox 5 New York also reported on the seizure ( here ).

Though neither the CBP nor Fox 5 New York mentioned voter fraud, an opinion piece was published on Aug. 9 on  the website of conservative author and podcaster David Harris, Jr., with the headline, “Potential Voter Fraud Anyone? Shipments Of Nearly 20,000 Fake Driver’s Licenses Seized At Chicago Airport In 2020!” ( here ).

On Aug. 11, CBS affiliate WUSA9 debunked the blog post’s link between the false licenses and voter fraud ( here ). WUSA9 said that "While tens of thousands of fake IDs were seized at Chicago O’Hare International Airport since the start of the year, the only place linking them to a voter fraud operation is the article in question.”

On Sept. 6, a website called “Channel411News.com” posted an article with the headline “Feds Seize 19,888 Fake State Driver Licenses (Made in China) in Chicago O’Hare Airport – ALL Registered to Vote — ALL Democrat” ( here ). This version of the claim has since been shared widely by Facebook users, some of whom have included the link ( here ).

The notion that fraudulent licenses could be used to impersonate other voters or vote more than once at Illinois polling stations is weakened by the fact the state does not have voter identification requirements under normal circumstances ( here , here ). Matt Dietrich, a spokesman for the Illinois State Board of Elections ( www.elections.il.gov/ ), explained to Reuters via email that it is the voter’s signature, rather than photo ID, that is checked to verify identification at the polls.

Though Illinois voters do not declare a party affiliation when they register to vote, Dietrich said that a voter’s party affiliation, if they participate in primaries, “can be inferred based on the party ballot the voter chose at the most recent primary election, but there is nothing in the registration system that attaches a party affiliation to a voter’s name or voter ID.” In order to determine whether the intended recipients of the fraudulent licenses were “all Democrats,” as the posts claim, Dietrich said that “you’d have to look up every individual’s voting record and determine whether they took a Democratic or Republican ballot at the last primary they voted in.” That would also assume they all voted in primaries.

As for voter registration, fraudsters would need a valid Illinois driver’s license in order to use the state board of elections’ online voter registration portal ( ova.elections.il.gov/ ). Dietrich explained that the driver’s license is necessary because the registrant’s signature is captured from the license record. But you would also need other personally identifiable information.

For in-person registration, a valid driver’s license can be one of the two required forms of ID. An applicant would need an additional form of identification, such as a utility bill or other mail sent to the voter’s address.

“But local election authorities also check Social Security numbers on applications, so a fake driver’s license number that doesn’t match up with a record at the Secretary of State’s Office would raise a red flag,” Dietrich said.

Essentially, the holders of these fraudulent licenses would have to know the voters’ address, or valid license number on record to potentially get through. Even in this unlikely scenario, there’s no evidence, per authorities’ reports, that licenses seized at O’Hare were intended for election fraud or for “Democrats” as the posts claim.

John Mirkovic, deputy clerk for Cook County, Illinois ( here ), told Reuters via email that “the CBP has confirmed that these IDs are counterfeit, and that they have no evidence of voter fraud in relation to these shipments, and we have not received any information suggesting otherwise.”  

Explaining the signature verification system used for voter registration in Illinois, Mirkovic explained that “a false identity would not help someone falsely register, even if their actual photo were on it.”

“Fortunately for voters, our systems are more sophisticated than something that might fool a bouncer at a bar,” he said.

The Reuters Fact Check team previously reported on social media posts oversimplifying voter fraud ( here ). The unlikely scenario of voter fraud faces many obstacles, including being a criminal offense.  

VERDICT

Partly false. While it is true that U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents seized nearly 20,000 fake drivers’ licenses at Chicago O’Hare International Airport in July, there is no connection between the licenses and alleged voter fraud efforts.

This article was produced by the Reuters Fact Check team. Read more about our fact-checking work  here .

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