Source: Washington Post article
Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump called supporters in Grand Junction, Colo., to watch the polls in St. Louis, Philadelphia and Chicago, as he continued to allege that voter fraud is rampant in communities across the country. (Victoria Walker/The Washington Post)
“Of course there is large scale voter fraud happening on and before election day. Why do Republican leaders deny what is going on? So naive!”
–Donald Trump, post on Twitter, Oct. 17, 2016
“Go sit there with your friends [at polling places] and make sure it’s on the up and up. Because you know what, that’s a big, big problem in this country and nobody wants to talk about it.”
–Trump, campaign rally, Sept. 30, 2016
Trump has made several claims alleging a “rigged” election system. We looked at two of the Republican presidential nominee’s claims: that there is widespread voter fraud, and that undocumented immigrants are voting and swaying elections. We’ll rate the two separately, starting with the first claim.
The Trump campaign pointed to a 2012 Pew Center on the States study of ways to make the election system more accurate, cost-effective and efficient. At an Oct. 17 rally, Trump cited the three main findings of the speech to back up his claim that voter fraud is common across the country:
- About 24 million (1 in every 8) voter registrations were significantly inaccurate or no longer valid because people moved, had died or were inactive voters.
- More than 1.8 million records for people who are deceased, but whose registrations were still on voter rolls.
- About 2.75 million people were registered to vote in more than one state. This could happen if voters move to a new state and register to vote without notifying their former state.
- Outdated technology, shrinking government budgets and paper-based registration systems contributed to inaccuracies and inefficiencies.
But the study does not say that these problems indicated signs of isolated or widespread voter fraud. Yet Trump used the 1.8 million figure to inaccurately claim at the rally: “More than 1.8 million deceased individuals right now are listed as voters. Oh, that’s wonderful. Well, if they’re going to vote for me, we’ll think about it, right? But I have a feeling they’re not going to vote for me. Of the 1.8 million, 1.8 million is voting for somebody else.”
The campaign pointed to three instances of voting irregularities — in Pennsylvania, Colorado and Virginia. But they were isolated instances that do not amount to widespread voter fraud — and do not show they are as common as he says they are.
Trump’s campaign then sent lists of nearly 300 instances of voting irregularities between 2004 and 2016. Some of the cases involved indictments and guilty pleas of actual voter fraud, where someone illegally mailed an early ballot or cast a ballot at a polling place to defraud the system.
But the lists also included unsupported allegations of fraud, investigations into potential fraud and reports of less nefarious activities, such as people voting incorrectly and voting machines malfunctioning.
Even if all 300 instances were confirmed cases of actual voter fraud, they would make up such a small portion of total ballots cast in that 12-year period that it would be preposterous to call voter fraud a widespread or a “big, big” problem.
More than 1 billion ballots were cast from 2000 through 2014. There were 31 incidents of specific, credible allegations of voter impersonation at the polls, according to research by Loyola Law School professor Justin Levitt, who has been tracking such data for years. So the problem that Trump is warning his voters to watch for at the polls — to make sure things are “on the up and up” — happens at the rate of 31 out of 1 billion ballots cast.
Out of 2,068 allegations of fraud cases in 2000 to 2012, there were guilty verdicts in 159 cases, according to an analysis by News21, a journalism project of the Carnegie-Knight Initiative on the Future of Journalism Education.
Coordinated voter fraud has happened, but on a much smaller scale. In 1994, a federal judge invalidated the results of a state Senate race. Democratic campaign workers forged absentee ballots, which ultimately tipped the election by 461 votes. Democrats on the three-member elected board of elections intentionally failed to enforce the election law, even though they were aware of the fraud.
But it would be certainly nearly impossible to do something like that to tip a presidential election, our colleague Sari Horwitz found. We’re talking about a nationwide effort of local, state and federal election officials colluding to commit a felony. Lawyers for both major parties and every poll watcher would have to be in on it.
A handful of people have tried to vote on behalf of dead people — usually their family member or spouse — but there is no evidence such voter rolls are being manipulated on a large scale. And there is no evidence of widespread voter fraud with people double voting.
The Pinocchio Test
Trump uses “voter fraud” has become a catchall phrase for all voting irregularities. Confirmed instances of actual voter fraud do exist, but Trump makes a totally unsupported extrapolation of these isolated cases to say they are indicative of a widespread fraud in the U.S. election system. We wonder whether it ever occurred to Trump that “nobody is talking about” the “big, big problem” of voter fraud because that “big, big” problem doesn’t exist. Trump earns Four Pinocchios.