White House

Trump wants look at already-investigated voter fraud claims

President Donald Trump talks with reporters in the Oval Office of the White House, Tuesday, Jan. 24, 2017, before signing an executive order on the Dakota Access pipeline.
President Donald Trump talks with reporters in the Oval Office of the White House, Tuesday, Jan. 24, 2017, before signing an executive order on the Dakota Access pipeline. AP

WASHINGTON President Donald Trump wants to potentially spend tens of millions of taxpayer dollars to examine a problem that’s been proven over and over not to exist: systemic voter fraud.

Trump, in tweets Wednesday, announced that he’ll seek a “major investigation” into voter fraud, echoing his unsubstantiated claim that some 3 million to 5 million people voted illegally in November’s election, helping to propel Democrat Hillary Clinton to a big popular-vote advantage.

The president’s fraud claim is emphatically rebuffed by the nation’s secretaries of states, who monitor elections, as well as reams of government and academic studies that say that occurrences of voter fraud are infinitesimal.

“We are not aware of any evidence that supports the voter fraud claims made by President Trump,” the National Association of Secretaries of State said in a statement Tuesday. “In the lead-up to the November 2016 election, secretaries of state expressed their confidence in the systemic integrity of our election process as a bipartisan group, and they stand behind that statement today.”

Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted, a Republican, felt compelled to do a tweet of his own challenging Trump’s assertion.

“We conducted a review 4 years ago in Ohio & already have a statewide review of 2016 election underway. Easy to vote, hard to cheat,” he tweeted.

Apparently, even Trump’s lawyers don’t believe voter fraud was a problem in the 2016 election. His lawyers objected in a court filing to Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein’s Michigan recount petition last year, Business Insider reported Wednesday.

“On what basis does Stein seek to disenfranchise Michigan citizens?” the filing said. “None really, save for speculation. All available evidence suggests that the 2016 general election was not tainted by fraud or mistake.”

Richard Hasen, a University of California Irvine law professor who’s the author of “The Voting Wars,” said Trump’s election-fraud tweets were “par for the course” for the new president.

“The facts don’t really matter. Once the president gets an idea in his head, he’ll run with it,” Hasen said. “There hasn’t been any credible evidence of millions or thousands or hundreds of people voting illegally, and people have been looking for it.”

There have been scores of voter fraud reports. For example, President George W. Bush’s administration had a five-year probe that turned up no evidence of widespread organized voter fraud.

A 2007 report by New York University’s Brennan Center for Justice placed the rate of proven voter fraud between 0.00004 percent and 0.0009 percent.

A 2012 probe by students at Arizona State University’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication that analyzed 2,068 election fraud claims since 2000 found that “while fraud has occurred, the rate in infinitesimal, and in-person voter impersonation on Election Day, which prompted 37 state legislatures to enact or consider tough voter ID laws, is virtually nonexistent.”

A 2014 report by the nonpartisan U.S. Government Accountability Office “identified few instances of in-person voter fraud.”

“You’ll find that the rate of identified voter fraud is at the rate of the number of Americans being struck by lightning or see a UFO – negligible and insignificant by any measure,” said Wendy Weiser, director of the democracy program at the Brennan Center for Justice.

Judith Browne Dianis, executive director of the Advancement Project, a national civil rights organization. called Trump’s tweets the latest from the White House world of “alternative facts.”

“The evidence is clear; the recent statements about voter fraud have no basis in fact, but instead are touted to cast a narrative to further restrict voting rights,” Dianis said in a statement “We can only expect that legislatures will take cues from Trump and use this as their excuse to limit access to the ballot for some Americans.”

Several states have used suspicions of voter fraud to justify implementing stringent voter-identification laws. Some 34 states have laws on the books requiring or requesting that voters show some form of identification at the polls, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Voting rights advocates argue that the laws in some states were created to suppress the votes of minorities, the elderly and college-age students, blocs that tend to vote heavily for Democratic candidates. In some cases, federal courts agreed with them.

Last year, federal judges struck down voting laws in North Carolina, Wisconsin and Texas. In its ruling in July, the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said North Carolina’s Republican-controlled Legislature had targeted “African-Americans with almost surgical precision” in crafting the new laws.

In striking down Wisconsin’s voter ID law in July, U.S. District Judge James Peterson wrote that the state’s “experience demonstrates that a preoccupation with mostly phantom election fraud leads to incidents of disenfranchisement.”

Trump’s claim of voter fraud isn’t new. He complained vigorously during the campaign that the election system is rigged and warned of voter fraud in cities like Philadelphia and Chicago, which have large African-American populations. He called on his supporters to serve as poll watchers.

Hasen worries that it’s one thing for a candidate to complain about the election system and a dangerously different thing for a sitting president – who won the election – to rail against it.

“It undermines people’s faith in our democracy,” he said. “It can cause people who support Trump to believe that whenever the other side – Democrats – win it’s because of voter fraud. The more people believe this, the greater the damage to our democracy.”

Rep. Jim Clyburn of South Carolina agreed. The assistant House of Representatives Democratic leader, the highest-ranking African-American in Congress, said, “Trump’s bizarre obsession with disputing his massive popular-vote loss only further undermines American democracy.”

“To suggest and to undermine the integrity of our voter system is really strange,” added House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif. “On top of it, he wants to investigate something that can clearly be proven to be false, but he resists investigations of a Russian” involvement in the U.S. presidential election.

William Douglas: 202-383-6026, @williamgdouglas