Politics & Policy

Trump’s Voter-Fraud Claims Don’t Hold Up

(Reuters photo: Bryan Woolston)
There is no evidence of fraud on a large enough scale to swing the presidential election.

Donald Trump tweeted a startling accusation yesterday: “Of course there is large scale voter fraud happening on and before election day. Why do Republican leaders deny what is going on? So naive!”

It is a curious question. Why would Trump-supporting Republican governors such as Rick Scott in Florida, Pat McCrory in North Carolina, and Terry Branstad in Iowa allow large-scale voter fraud to occur in their states? John Kasich undoubtedly has his disagreements with Trump, but would he really ignore an effort to fraudulently swing Ohio to Hillary?

Why does Trump have so little faith in his allies’ ability to oversee a legitimate election in their states?

If you’re going to level such a giant accusation — that a criminal conspiracy is underway to cast fraudulent votes on a scale large enough to steal the election — you had better bring evidence. But Trump has kept to his habit of speaking in rambling half-sentences, full of hyperbolic adjectives and unfinished thoughts. “There’s a lot of stuff going on,” he said in an interview with ABC News. When pressed for specifics, he eventually allowed that he was talking about “the kind of voter fraud [involving] people who have been dead for ten years.”

Do investigative reporters sometimes find dead voters casting ballots? Yes. The CBS Denver affiliate found, in two separate reports, four voters recorded as casting ballots after they died, and “dozens” of individuals still listed on the voter rolls after they died. No doubt, every one of those cases is a concern and deserves investigation. Anyone who votes twice — for themselves and on behalf of a dead person — devalues the one vote that the rest of us get. But keep in mind, Obama won Colorado by 137,858 votes in 2012. Cory Gardner’s margin of victory in the state’s 2014 Senate race was 39,688 votes. No one has found tens of thousands of dead voters casting ballots.

The CBS affiliate in Los Angeles found 265 registered voters whose identifications matched those of death records from the Social Security Administration. They found 32 dead voters who cast ballots in eight elections each. Could that swing a close local election? Perhaps. But not California’s presidential and Senate elections in 2012 — where each won by more than 2 million votes.

If he has actual evidence of large-scale voter fraud, he should produce it. If he doesn’t, he should stop offering pre-emptive explanations for his defeat.

Later in the same interview, Trump mentioned, “People voting five times, or ten times, like we have in many communities.” There are cases where people have registered and voted in two different jurisdictions. Back in 2004, the New York Daily News found 46,000 New Yorkers were registered to vote in New York and Florida, and 400–1,000 registered voters voted twice in at least one election. Slate gathered other investigations back in 2004 as well: “The Orlando Sentinel found that 68,000 Florida voters are also registered in Georgia or North Carolina (the only two states it checked), 1,650 of whom voted twice in 2000 or 2002. The Kansas City Star discovered 300 “potential” cases of individual voter fraud, including Kansans voting in Missouri and St. Louisans voting in both the city and the surrounding suburbs.”

There are enough illegal votes there to swing an election as close as Florida’s and New Mexico’s in 2000. But because 99.9 percent of elections are nowhere near that close, voter fraud on such a small scale is exceedingly unlikely to swing a statewide result. It is easier to imagine a scenario where illegally cast votes alter the outcome of a U.S. House race or state legislative race, because those elections necessarily involve many fewer votes cast, but even then the likelihood is slim.

Well, what about illegal immigrants casting ballots? A study released in October 2014 offered the shocking assertion that roughly 700,000 illegal immigrants voted in the 2008 election, and probably provided Barack Obama his narrow margin of victory in North Carolina. But the researchers didn’t draw that conclusion by looking at ballots or voting records. They used a 50,000+ person national survey administered by YouGov/Polimetrix. In that survey, 339 people from the 2008 sample and 489 from the 2010 sample said they were not U.S. citizens. Of those individuals, 21 said they had voted in 2008 and eight said they had voted in 2010. The researchers then took that voting rate and applied it to the entire U.S. non-citizen population.

But even if you accept the accuracy of such extrapolation, all of the data on which it was based was self-reported, and some of it was contradictory: Some respondents reported being non-citizens in 2012 and citizens in 2010. Most of the illegal immigrants told interviewers they already had photo identification that permitted them to vote. So the only thing we can say for certain that there are a number of self-identified non-citizens who are willing to tell a survey collector that they voted in a U.S. election.

#related#Will fraudulent votes be cast in the 2016 election? Almost certainly, and every case should be investigated and prosecuted. Will those fraudulent votes occur in large enough numbers to swing a state? Almost certainly not.

But that won’t stop Trump from claiming otherwise in the vaguest, most unverifiable terms. If he has actual evidence of large-scale voter fraud, he should produce it. If he doesn’t, he should stop offering pre-emptive explanations for his defeat in November. Otherwise, he will only add to the perception voter fraud is a lame excuse offered by candidates who can’t face their own failures — a perception that fuels the public’s tolerance of the limited amount of voter fraud that is real.

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