Three million more Americans voted for Hillary Clinton than for Donald Trump in 2016. This has long been a sore spot for the president, who has justified the discrepancy by claiming that the election was rigged in Clinton’s favor, that foreign hackers were working to install her in the White House and that widespread voter fraud was taking place at polling stations across the United States. “In addition to winning the Electoral College in a landslide, I won the popular vote if you deduct the millions of people who voted illegally,” Trump tweeted weeks after winning the election.
There is no evidence of this, although Trump has tried his hardest to find some. Last year, the president commissioned a panel to investigate alleged voter fraud. Despite being led by voter-suppression veteran and current Kansas gubernatorial candidate Kris Kobach, the panel was disbanded in January without having produced any evidence of widespread voter fraud. Lack of data be damned, Trump believes what he believes, and he’s issued several intimidating warnings in the weeks leading up to the midterms.
All levels of government and Law Enforcement are watching carefully for VOTER FRAUD, including during EARLY VOTING. Cheat at your own peril. Violators will be subject to maximum penalties, both civil and criminal!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 21, 2018
Law Enforcement has been strongly notified to watch closely for any ILLEGAL VOTING which may take place in Tuesday’s Election (or Early Voting). Anyone caught will be subject to the Maximum Criminal Penalties allowed by law. Thank you!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 5, 2018
When pressed this week for evidence of voter fraud, Trump told reporters to just take his word for it. “Just take a look, all you’ve got to do is go around, look at what’s happened over the years and you’ll see,” the president said. “My opinion and based on proof.”
There is no proof, though. The panel Trump commissioned specifically to find proof couldn’t even dredge up anything for the administration to spin as such, and any legitimate inquiry into the issue has concluded that voter fraud is extremely rare. Loyola Law School professor and former Justice Department official Justine Levitt told NBC News he found just 45 legitimate cases of voter impersonation — out of literally over a billion votes — between 2000 and 2018. In the weeks following the 2016 election, the Washington Post was only able to uncover four cases of documented voter fraud. Two people voted twice, one woman cast a ballot for her dead husband and another woman bubbled in her choice for mayor on absentee ballots she was hired to open, leading to her arrest. That’s four out of 135 million. Yes, there may have been others, but it’s a pretty safe bet that the exact number of votes by which Trump lost to Clinton weren’t cast illegally for the president’s opponent. Unfortunately, no amount of evidence to the contrary is powerful enough to get the best of Trump’s ego.
More valuable to Republicans than the voter fraud delusion’s role in quelling Trump’s insecurities is its role in justifying any number of voter suppression measures enacted by Republican secretaries of state like Kobach, who for years has been erecting red tape between his constituents and the polls under the guise of stemming voter fraud. In 2016, he was sued over a law requiring residents to produce documents proving citizenship to register to vote that led to the suspension of tens of thousands of eligible voters’ registrations. Kobach was ultimately only able to find 43 non-citizens out of 1.8 million people who had registered to vote in the state since 1999, only 11 of which had actually cast a vote. In June, the judge ruled the law unconstitutional.
Because he is now running for governor, Kobach in August recused himself from overseeing the state’s elections. Brian Kemp, Georgia’s secretary of state who is also in a hotly contested gubernatorial race, did no such thing. Kemp’s history of voter suppression is on par with Kobach’s, and he’s hasn’t let his role as his state’s election chief go to waste now that he’s running for higher office. This election cycle, he used his controversial “exact match” law, which holds that a resident’s voter registration applications replicate the information on file with the Social Security Administration and the state’s Department of Driver Services, to put over 50,000 applications on hold. He also erroneously flagged over 3,000 eligible voters as non-citizens. Like Kobach, Kemp was sued, and as with Kobach, a federal judge was none too pleased with how Kemp wielded his influence.
“Earlier today, Judge May recognized that changing existing election procedures at the last minute is a terrible idea,” Kemp’s press secretary campaign told Rolling Stone. “There are already processes in place for individuals to rectify any issues to cast their ballot. We agree with the Judge’s decision. In a separate ruling, Judge Ross acknowledged that Georgia already has a process in place to check citizenship at the polls. She decided to also allow poll managers to participate in the verification process. It is a minor change to the current system.”
Though a federal judge forced Kemp reinstate the voting rights of the 3,000 eligible voters he had erroneously flagged, Kemp has continued to push the idea that illegal immigrants are threatening the integrity of the election. At a recent campaign event, he without evidence accused his opponent, Democrat Stacey Abrams, of encouraging illegal immigrants to vote. “She’s been asking illegals to vote for her,” Kemp said. “Undocumented and documented people being part of the ‘blue wave.’ That’s illegal and she knows it.”
The claim is an absurd, abject lie, but, if it were true, hypothetically, it would be an embarrassing turn for Kemp, who in one of his earliest campaign ads pledged to eradicate undocumented immigrants from Georgia using his F-350 pickup truck.