Oddly enough, the narrative coming from the Trump administration about voter fraud is not at all new. In late November of 2016 President Trump tweeted that he would have also won the popular vote, “if you deduct the millions of people who voted illegally.” Even though he provided no evidence for that claim then, it became a cornerstone of the rhetoric of his administration.
He even named the Kansas Secretary of State, Kris Kobach, as the co-chair of the newly created Commission on Election Integrity. According to the Kansas City Star, the selection of Kobach outraged many civil rights groups and top Democrats because he had repeatedly “made questionable claims of rampant voter fraud.” On one hand, I can understand the backlash there, certainly we would want someone to be impartial and objective when conducting a review of one of our most cherished democratic institutions: elections. This is in part simply good science, but it is also a way of being wary of the trappings of confirmation bias.
However, if Kobach did believe that “rampant voter fraud” was a problem in U.S. elections, then certainly he would be a good person to co-chair the Commission on Election Integrity. White House officials reported that the goal of the commission was to “review claims of improper registrations and voting, fraudulent registrations and voter suppression.” Even though many media outlets and Democrats pushed against the very creation of the commission, as well as the appointment of Kobach, he was quick to push against such claims. Kobach asserted that, “The commission does not begin with foregone conclusions…All members of the commission are approaching it with an open mind. … The objective is to go where the facts lead us.” Despite political rhetoric, going where the facts lead you is simply good research.
However, what ensued became a number of legal disputes over the jurisdiction and requests for specific voter information from the commission. Indeed, it seemed doomed to fail from the beginning by seeking an unprecedented amount of voter information, most of which was already gathered by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). Ultimately, the White House released a statement on January 3rd, 2018, to declare that the president had signed an executive order to dissolve the commission. Despite Kobach’s assertion that the commission was not begun with “foregone conclusions,” the statement from the White House continued to allege that there was “substantial evidence of voter fraud.”
This was far from Kris Kobach’s first look into claims of voter fraud. As far back as 2010 he claimed that dead people were voting in his state of Kansas. In June of 2015, as the Kansas Secretary of State, he gained the power to prosecute “bogus fraud cases.” However, when he examined millions of votes across almost two dozen states his findings did not support his claims of voter fraud. The Washington Post reported that, “Kansas’ secretary of state examined 84 million votes cast in 22 states to look for duplicate registrants. In the end 14 cases were referred for prosecution, representing 0.00000017 percent of the votes cast.“
It is the language that the president and his administration uses that is so frightening. In some ways, the danger is in its simplicity. The statement from the White House argued that “many states have refused to provide the Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity with basic information relevant to its inquiry.” However, if the “basic information” being sought was so benign, it would not have been so controversial. Using this sort of language creates an on-going tension between our own state and national governments. This combative type of politics by bullying, deflection, and dismissal should not be the norm. We should not play victim simply because our ideas are challenged.
Despite the dissolution of the Commission on Election Integrity, President Trump did not let up on his claims of voter fraud.
Here we see another example of his simplistic language doing a disservice to his own agenda. By calling the Commission on Election Integrity the “Commission On Voter Fraud” he is effectively erasing all of the other threats that endanger the integrity of our elections, and thus our democracy.
Dear reader, a thought experiment: What is more likely, (A) the 44 states that refused to provide certain information about voters know that the system is rigged and support mass voter fraud, or (B) one man’s ego cannot get over the fact that he won the election but lost the popular vote?
The Brennan Center for Justice, which is a nonpartisan law and policy institute, created a project to specifically research claims of rampant voter fraud in the United States.
In regards to the work they do, “As an independent, nonpartisan law and policy organization, the Brennan Center conducts rigorous research to identify problems and provide in-depth empirical findings and compelling analyses of pressing legal and policy issues. We also pioneer and champion policy solutions, such as automatic voter registration and small donor public financing.”
The report published by the center opened its overview with the following, “It is important to protect the integrity of our elections. But we must be careful not to undermine free and fair access to the ballot in the name of preventing phantom voter fraud.”
The overview then notes that, “Politicians at all levels of government have repeatedly, and falsely, claimed the 2016 and 2018 elections were marred by millions of people voting illegally. However, extensive research reveals that fraud is very rare, voter impersonation is virtually nonexistent, and many instances of alleged fraud are, in fact, mistakes by voters or administrators. The same is true for mail ballots, which are secure and essential to holding a safe election amid the coronavirus pandemic.”
This briefing memo, “Debunking the Voter Fraud Myth,” concisely summarizes the center’s findings. In short, there is overwhelming evidence that claims of rampant voter fraud are myths and do more to suppress voters than to safeguard the integrity of our elections.
Yet the president continues to make numerous claims regarding potential fraud with mail-in voting, foreign tampering with ballots, the risks that COVID-19 pose to voting (but apparently not our schoolchildren or teachers), and his fears that mail-in voting may lead to the end of the Republican Party itself.
If mail-in voting, which has extremely low rates of fraud, and by all accounts tends to increase voter turnout by making it easier to vote when the time comes, will inherently lead to the end of the Republican Party, then that is a clear admission that the Republic Party has only remained in power through efforts of coordinated voter suppression.
This conclusion fits the findings of the Brennan Center for Justice, which reported that claims of rampant voter fraud, despite no evidence for such claims, amounted to a form of voter suppression. By continuing to claim that rampant voter fraud is a problem, the president and his administration has eroded the public trust in our elections.
There has been much concern from government officials, legal and civil rights scholars, and average citizens alike regarding the real threat that president Trump and his administration poses to our elections and our democracy. Despite claiming that voter fraud is rampant, the facts stand clear, it is extremely rare to the point of being nearly non-existent.
On Twitter this morning President Trump casually floated the idea of moving the election until “people can properly, securely and safely vote???”
It is important to remember here that the Department of Justice itself deemed that President Trump’s Tweets are considered “official statements of the President of the United States.” Oddly enough, Attorney General Barr claimed to not keep up with the president’s tweets in his testimony to the House Judiciary Committee on Tuesday. I suppose ignorance really is bliss in his position.
The basis of the president’s concern here seems to be founded primarily on the potential of universal mail-in voting to lead to “inaccurate & fraudulent” results. One cannot help but think that this rhetoric is setting up a potential future scenario that gives the president a patch of shaky ground to stand on should he lose in November.
One also cannot help but think that President Trump would simply not accept the results of any election in which he lost, even if it were by quite a large margin. In fact, we’ve already seen this play out with his false assertions that he won the popular vote in 2016, when he actually lost by nearly 3 million votes. Unfortunately, so many of his supporters continue to believe the claims that he won the popular vote, despite the facts proving otherwise.
So, it should be no surprise to us when President Trump refuses to accept the results of the election, if he doesn’t try to delay it that is, which in all likelihood, is exactly what he will try to do.
Despite all of the evidence that has dismantled the myth of rampant voter fraud, the president continues to use this type of rhetoric to direct the national political narrative. Such rhetoric should be seen as intentional attempts to sow distrust in our democracy and public institutions.
The Associated Press reported that, “The date of the presidential election — the Tuesday after the first Monday in November in every fourth year — is enshrined in federal law and would require an act of Congress to change.”
However, the act of merely announcing that he is moving the election, whether or not he has the power to do so, is a move centered squarely in Trump’s logic, and is likely the next one that we will see regarding this topic. Though I will place my bets on Attorney General William Barr and the Department of Justice making the next waves regarding the potentiality of moving the election.
No matter what happens next, we must remain informed, passionate, and outspoken about these issues.