Donald Trump may be out of step with the Republican Party’s traditional stance on some issues, like support for international trade, but he’s right in line with Republican hysteria over voter fraud. Indeed, the threat of voter intimidation and violence that Trump is raising by his irresponsible talk of vote rigging and encouragement of his supporters to go to other polling places is only possible because of years of earlier irresponsible talk.
Let’s start with what Trump has said and why it is so irresponsible. As I’ve written, one of the things we take for granted is that, even in tumultuous times when elections are hard-fought, the losers concede the election and embrace the process, even if things did not go well. That’s what Al Gore did after the Supreme Court decided Bush v. Gore. He did not call for demonstrations in the streets, which could have been destabilizing. In 2008, after great controversy over the Bush years, Obama v. McCain was very hard-fought, but we were able to come together again as a country.
Donald Trump threatens this peace by raising the prospect not only of sending his supporters, unsupervised, into polling places (likely in minority neighborhoods). This can lead to voter intimidation on election day. He has also backed off his earlier, somewhat ambiguous statement that he would support Hillary Clinton if she won. Now, speaking to the New York Times, he backed off even his qualified pledge to support Clinton if he loses, saying: “We’re going to have to see. We’re going to see what happens. We’re going to have to see.”
The message has resonated with his supporters. According to an AP-NORC poll: “Only about one-third of Republicans say they have a great deal or quite a bit of confidence that votes on Election Day will be counted fairly… Half the people who have a favorable opinion of the Republican nominee say they have little to no confidence in the integrity of the vote count.”
But this should be no surprise, because members of the fraudulent fraud squad have pushed this message for years, claiming that voter fraud is rampant, and that it inevitably helps Democrats. As I pointed out in my 2012 book, The Voting Wars, conservative flame thrower Michelle Malkin warned just before the 2010 election that voter fraud was rampant. But when Democrats faced a “thumping” at the polls, Malkin had nothing to say about fraud. And now she’s at it again, claiming non-citizens will steal the election in Colorado and elsewhere.
There’s a whole industry of fraudsters, such as Hans von Spakovsky and Kansas Secretary of State Kobach who whip up voter fraud frenzies to degitimize Democrats, rile up the Republican base, and fundraise. That’s why the Wake County, NC GOP just sent out a letter saying that Democrats will “stop at nothing and registering dead people or falsifying voter information is simply a ‘means to an end’ for them.”
Here’s what we know about voter fraud. One should never say voter fraud is non-existent. In fact, it happens occasionally with absentee ballots and I’ve long said we need more action to stop it. I’ve also said we need to clean up voter registration rolls to stop registration fraud. What is extremely rare and has not affected any election we know of since the 1980s is impersonation fraud, the kind of fraud state voter ID laws are meant to stop. Yet Republican laws that make it harder to register and vote generally don’t go after absentee ballot fraud but are instead targeted almost exclusively to measures making it harder for those likely to vote Democratic to register and vote.
Claims of voter fraud are often exaggerated by orders of magnitude. Consider the claims about non-citizen voting. Matt Drudge recently had a headline stating: “Report: 1,000+ Illegal Voters in Virginia.” And Dan Scavino, Jr. tweeted: “Terrible. We know who the 1,000+ illegal aliens ARE NOT VOTING FOR! A fixed presidential election in the making….will we ever know!?!?” But if you look at the underlying report, they have identified only 31 actual non-citizen voters in Virginia over the last 10 years. No doubt there are some more, as not all the counties have responded yet. But it is not 1,000 plus non-citizens voting in Va. (“In the 8 jurisdictions that provided us with lists of aliens recently removed from their voter rolls, we discovered that 31 non-citizens had cast a total of 186 votes between 2005 and 2015. The most alien votes were cast in 2012 followed by 2008, the year President Obama was elected to his first term.” (emphasis omitted)). Don’t believe all the hype. Non-citizen voting is a real, but pretty small, problem (because the penalties are high and the payoff low).
And there’s no doubt a racial element to all of this. When Trump talks of voter fraud in “certain areas” (code word for voting by minorities, with the fix put in by local labor unions), he’s talking about impersonation fraud. He says he’s worried about people voting 10 or 15 times. But as I wrote in a recent LA Times oped:
Trump contends that without strict voter identification laws, people can vote five, 10 or 15 times. He’s offered no evidence to back up this assertion, and for good reason. Even in states with modest means of identifying voters, such as comparing voters’ signatures in the poll ledger and on registration forms, there are safeguards to ensure against multiple voting.
In recent memory, the only publicized case involving someone voting in high multiples was a supporter of Wisconsin Republican Gov. Scott Walker when Walker was up for a recall. The voter tried to vote five times in the recall and seven more times in four other elections. He was easily caught, well before Wisconsin passed its strict voter ID law. The voter claimed amnesia; his lawyer argued he suffered from mental illness. The case shows this isn’t a problem that’s going to happen on a grand scale….
So yes, Trump’s rhetoric is not only condemnable; it is also dangerous. But let’s not forget where it came from, or expect that the pernicious voter fraud myth will disappear after Trump fades from the political scene.