Like he has done on many other issues, Donald Trump is fumbling and overplaying the typical GOP talking points on the supposed threat of voter fraud. But that hasn’t stopped the voting rights community from worrying that he might be further fueling the arguments used to justify voting restrictions pushed by Republican lawmakers across the country, even if Trump is speaking with only himself in mind.
“The whole aura of illegitimacy he is casting on the election in general … he is feeding an already very hungry beast here with these kinds of accusations,” Nathaniel Persily, a Stanford Law professor who served on the Presidential Commission on Election Administration in 2012, told TPM.
As the latest polls show Hillary Clinton’s lead over Trump widening, the GOP nominee has complained that if he loses come November it will be because the election was “rigged.” It’s a claim he made in television interviews, on Twitter and from the campaign stump this week.
“I’m telling you, November 8th, we’d better be careful, because that election is going to be rigged,” Trump said on Fox News this week. “And I hope the Republicans are watching closely or it’s going to be taken away from us.
But it was only in an interview with the Washington Post that Trump glommed on to an actual policy debate to further prove his point.
“I’m just saying that I wouldn’t be surprised if the election . . . there’s a lot of dirty pool played at the election, meaning the election is rigged. I would not be surprised,” Trump said. “The voter ID, they’re fighting as hard as you can fight so that that they don’t have to show voter ID. So, what’s the purpose of that? How many times is a person going to vote during the day? If you don’t have voter ID.”
The Post followed up, asking Trump if he believed people could vote multiple times.
“Multiple times. How about like 10 times. Why not? If you don’t have voter ID, you can just keep voting and voting and voting,” Trump said.
His description of how fraud could occur drew mockery from top election law experts.
“That sounds like someone who has never been to a polling place, because you just can’t go in and ask for a ballot, and they will just trust you,” Rick Hasen — professor at UC-Irvine School of Law who also runs the Election Law Blog. — told PBS Newshour Wednesday. “There is a voter roll. There is a list. Every state identifies you somehow. It might be that you give your signature. And if it’s that, then your signature is on the line. You’re already voted. You can’t vote 10 times.”
Persily said that the type of voter impersonation Trump described would be “an extremely inefficient way to throw an election.”
“The fact that there might not be any rational connection between Trump’s perception of election fraud and the remedy that he is proposing here shouldn’t be terribly surprising,” Persily told TPM. “He’s talking about a rigged system, that goes well beyond voters pretending to vote in the name of another person.”
Still, the undermining of Americans’ confidence in elections has a connection to the current legal battle over voter ID laws and other GOP-driven legal restrictions on voting rights.
A common defense of voter ID laws is that even if cases of voter fraud are exceedingly rare, voter ID laws are necessary to maintain public trust that voter fraud is being prevented. This is one of the arguments the Supreme Court invoked in its 2008 decision upholding Indiana’s voter ID law, Crawford vs. Marion County, and it has come up in courtrooms defending the requirement since.
Yet, a study published in June by Persily — along with Charles Stewart III and Stephen Ansolabehere — undercut that justification. They found no evidence that voters in states with strict voter ID laws had greater levels of confidence in elections than those in states without them. But Persily worries even if voter ID laws aren’t increasing confidence elections, Trump’s comments are making Americans less trusting of democratic institutions.
“Part of the point here, and this is why the new Donald Trump allegations are critical, is that people lose faith in the democracy when they are on the losing end. So they are more likely to think that their vote was not counted, or there has been voter fraud if their candidate loses,” Persily said. The irony is that voter ID — which Trump uses to exacerbate his supporters’ fears — erects burdens that make it harder for Americans, particularly minorities and lower-income people, to vote.
“You have this perverse cycle here, you are … casting [the electoral system] in a bad light of disrepute, and in the process, by creating these anti-system views, you are now justifying more restrictive measures that might keep people from voting,” Persily said. “And let’s not be a coy about, what does it mean for the people who are unable to vote because of these laws? How do they feel about democracy?”