By Doug Porter
There is no greater threat to democracy in the United States than voter fraud. I am not, however, referring to the ballot box stuffing variety envisioned by the purveyors of online paranoia.
It’s the logic behind the claims on this subject being made by the President and his minions that counts. They all lead to the same conclusion: some people’s votes are more valuable than others.
Donald Trump admitted as much during an astonishing interview with ABC News by asserting that none of the claimed fraudulent voters cast ballots on his behalf. Nevermind that arrests in the 2016 elections involving actual presidential ballots involved people trying to cast votes for the GOP candidate.
Right-wing groups alleging voter fraud typically conflate irregularities in voter registration or voter lists with actual voting, and that switcheroo is what Trump wants the American people to do. We’re not supposed to notice the difference.
The Illusion of Voter Fraud
For Donald Trump, talking about voter fraud is simply a way of salving his hurt ego.
Politifact’s investigations into claims of voter fraud have “debunked Trump’s claims of massive voter fraud again and again and again(and again and again and again and again) over the past year. Trump has not yet produced any evidence that supports these claims — because none exists.”
As Emma Green points out in The Atlantic:
While it may be Trump’s belief that voter fraud is a significant problem, there is no evidence to support that claim. Spicer is right that this isn’t a new issue for Trump—the Republican championed the topic on the campaign trail, right up until Election Day.
After he won, though, and Democrats attempted to challenge his victory in the key states of Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, and Michigan, Trump reversed his position. In a filing in the Michigan case, his campaign argued that “all available evidence suggests that the 2016 general election was not tainted by fraud or mistake.” Even after winning the election, getting inaugurated president, and arguing in court that voter fraud didn’t affect the outcome of the 2016 election, Trump still can’t let this issue go, suggesting that he’s still bothered by his incomplete victory.
Voter fraud is a ghost-like issue, cyclically raised by politicians to cast doubt on the legitimacy of electoral outcomes. But concerns about voter fraud are not founded in credible evidence. “By any measure, voter fraud is extraordinarily rare,” wrote Justin Levitt in a 2007 Brennan Center report on the issue. Most cases of purported voter fraud actually involve typographical errors or other technical mistakes made by citizens who are eligible to vote, he reported. And the kind of fraud Trump has alleged—that millions of non-citizens voted in 2016—is practically non-existent.
Nonetheless, the President of the United States is taking those unproven claims, blending them with an already disproven bit of anecdotal evidence involving professional golfer Bernhard Langer, and calling for a major investigation.
A Good German Walks into a Voting Booth…
At a Congressional meeting earlier in the week, Democrats in the room challenged Trump’s claim that he secretly came in first in general election popular balloting after accounting for votes from undocumented immigrants.
From the New York Times:
The witnesses described the story this way: Mr. Langer, a 59-year-old native of Bavaria, Germany – a winner of the Masters twice and of more than 100 events on major professional golf tours around the world – was standing in line at a polling place near his home in Florida on Election Day, the president explained, when an official informed Mr. Langer he would not be able to vote.
Ahead of and behind Mr. Langer were voters who did not look as if they should be allowed to vote, Mr. Trump said, according to the staff members – but they were nonetheless permitted to cast provisional ballots. The president threw out the names of Latin American countries that the voters might have come from.
Confronted with this story, and the fact Langer is a German citizen, the White House told the Times Langer wasn’t the voter in question, but rather, he shared an anecdote with Trump about someone he knows.
As Steven Benen at MSNBC put it:
In other words, the president believes undocumented immigrants cast in upwards of 5 million votes last year in part because of a story he heard second-hand from a German golfer about people “who did not look as if they should be allowed to vote” because of their skin color.
Trump not only accepted all of this at face value, he’s also prepared to use the machinery of the federal government to pursue imaginary fraud because of the anecdote.
California, Here They Come
On Wednesday, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer made it clear that Trump will target states that voted Democratic for his investigation of fraud.
During Wednesday’s White House briefing, Press Secretary Sean Spicer was asked about Trump’s false claim that millions of fraudulent votes cost him a victory in the popular vote. After that lie was ridiculed Tuesday, Trump tweeted early Wednesday morning that he would order a “major investigation” into voter fraud. But the claim is not just unsupported by any evidence—it was contradicted by his own campaign lawyers, who argued there was no evidence of fraud when Green Party nominee Jill Stein sued for a recount in some states. Why should anyone believe him now?
Spicer’s answer was stunning.
“There’s a lot of states that we didn’t compete in where that’s not necessarily the case,” he said. You look at California and New York, I’m not sure that those statements were—we didn’t look at those two states in particular … I think when you look at where a lot of places where a lot of these issues could have occurred in bigger states, that’s where I think we’re going to look.”
Implications for 2018 and 2020
The fact is the stories about voter fraud are, in my opinion, having a cumulative effect, eroding confidence in the most basic act of democracy.
I have no doubt that the widespread adoption of laws aimed at suppressing the vote, along with these claims of election day malfeasance, could be (and are being) used to manipulate the desired outcome of elections.
Two distinct reactionary trends, namely the fear of a minority-majority population and the deification of the marketplace are at the core of these efforts. And they give Vice President Pence, along with his cronies, an out should there be an electoral backlash in upcoming elections.
Amherst law professor Lawrence Douglas points out in a Guardian op-ed the importance of understanding the political implications of Trump’s claims:
First, they work to undergird Trump’s anti-immigrant narrative. Sweeping together undocumented immigrants with unregistered voters, the myth paints them as a double threat – infecting the fabric of society with drugs and crime while also corrupting the very processes of American democracy. As a threat to both our society and our democracy, these “illegals” need to be removed.
Secondly, the myth of the stolen popular vote delivers a powerful argument for an ever more aggressive policing of the polls. In the name of cracking down on voter “fraud”, Trump may work to erect barriers to discourage or effectively bar millions of Americans from exercising their franchise rights.
Finally, and most ominously, Trump has already drafted a script that could be used in two years’ time to impeach the midterm elections should they result in Republican reversals. That same script could be called upon four years from now should Trump lose a re-election bid. Whatever damage candidate Trump could have done to American democracy had he lost in November would pale in comparison to the damage wrought by a sitting president rejecting his defeat.
Best Wishes for a Motivated Base
A large (and, frankly, embarrassing) surge in traffic over the past 72 hours on a San Diego Free Press story–making the rounds on Facebook–about voting procedures in California suggests the President’s based is (again) energized on this issue.
As SDFP editor Anna Daniels noted in an addendum to the article, following an earlier surge triggered by Trump’s late November tantrum over popular vote totals:
The thousands of hits we have received on this article since the election make it clear that the intent is to use the information the way a drunk uses a lamp post—for support rather than illumination.
We doubt that we can convince you that voter suppression is a far more dangerous threat to our democracy than voter fraud. We remain optimistic, however, that ignorance is a curable disease. Best wishes for a speedy recovery.
Activism du Jour – 314 Action- Get Scientists to Run for Office
If you are involved in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering & Mathematics) please consider joining 314 Action.
Here’s a snip of their mission statement:
314 Action is a nonprofit that was founded by members of the STEM community, grassroots supporters and political activists. Why 314 Action? Pi is everywhere. It’s the most widely known mathematical ratio both inside and out of the scientific community. It is used in virtually everything we encounter in our daily lives.
314 Action is concerned that STEM education in the United States is falling further and further behind the rest of the world, that our political leaders continue to deny scientific facts and that Congress fails to fully fund scientific research so we can solve pressing environmental issues like climate change and social problems like gun violence.
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