This time it’s aimed at the right to vote
Before his executive order aimed at keeping US Green Card holders and refugees out of the country based on their religion, much of President Trump’s time since being sworn-in has been spent fixated on his popular vote loss to Hillary Clinton. In an early morning tweet last month, Trump called for a “major investigation” into voter fraud, claiming that “millions” of illegal votes were cast in the 2016 General Election. In an interview with FoxNews’ Bill O’Reilly later that week, he confirmed that Vice-President Pence will lead a commission to investigate Trump’s fabricated voter registration concerns. As Trump’s own attorneys have recognized — millions of illegal votes were not cast in the General Election and there is no evidence of widespread voter fraud. Trump’s concerns about voter fraud are not based on facts. Rather, they are alternative facts — aka lies — meant to confuse voters, signal Republican legislators to ramp up their efforts to enact restrictive voting laws, and provide comfort for vote suppressors.
Let’s start with the “evidence” Trump offers for his false claim: Trump told Congressional leaders that part of the basis for his voter fraud claims is the alleged voting experience of professional golfer and German citizen Bernhard Langer. According to Trump, Langer purportedly told him that he was not allowed to vote in Florida on Election Day, but he witnessed “voters who did not look as if they should be allowed to vote” — read Hispanic — being allowed to cast provisional ballots. Langer’s daughter has since confirmed that Langer is not an American citizen but, rather, a German citizen with permanent residence status in the U.S. As a German citizen, Langer cannot legally vote in the United States and, if the story is true (which Langer denies), was properly turned away. Thus, Trump’s professed impetus for launching a sweeping investigation into voter fraud proves the exact opposite of his voter fraud claims. Our system is working noncitizen votes are not being cast.
In an effort to bail his boss out, Sean Spicer has pointed to a study conducted by the Pew Center on the States in 2012 to support Trump’s claim that people are registered in multiple states and that dead people are on the rolls (neither of which is a crime, by the way). Registration in more than one state is almost always the result of someone having moved — few people think to cancel their voter registration when they change residences and few jurisdictions have well known or easy means of doing so. As for dead voters remaining on the rolls, while many jurisdictions regularly conduct list maintenance for this purpose, cross checking against obituaries and death certificates, it is a process that takes some time; very few if any grieving survivors think to cancel their loved one’s voter registration upon their death. The study Spicer cited showed nothing more than the unsurprising fact that approximately 1.8 million deceased individuals remained listed on the voter rolls and approximately 2.75 million people had registrations in more than one state, it did not find that either was the cause of or in any way connected to voter fraud. (For context, in October 2016, 200 million Americans were registered to vote). Indeed, last November in response to Trump’s statements about voter fraud, the primary author of the study publicly stated that the study “found no evidence that voter fraud resulted” from people being registered in two states or people remaining on the voter rolls after their deaths. The author reiterated this again this week, tweeting that “voting integrity better in this election than ever before. Zero evidence of fraud.”
Moreover, Trump knows firsthand that dual registrations have no connection to voter fraud. Trump’s chief strategist, Steve Bannon; Treasury cabinet nominee, Steven Mnuchin; and daughter, Tiffany, are all registered to vote in multiple states. Bannon was registered in New York and Florida at the time of the 2016 General Election. Mnuchin is registered in New York and California. And Tiffany is registered in New York and Pennsylvania. Double registrations do not equal double voting and the President well knows they do not reflect fraud in the system (and should be ashamed of himself for insinuating otherwise, particularly when his top advisors are “guilty” of the same conduct he berates).
Republican state officials, Donald Trump’s own lawyers, and even House Speaker Paul Ryan have all admitted that widespread voter fraud did not occur in 2016. As recently as December 2016, when opposing Jill Stein’s request for a recount in Michigan, Trump’s lawyers stated on his behalf that “[a]ll available evidence suggests that the 2016 general election was not tainted by fraud or mistake.” When questioned about voter fraud, Speaker Ryan told reporters that he had “seen no evidence to that effect,” and election official after election official — including in states like Arizona where the Secretary of State has championed repressive voting bills on the basis of preventing fraud — have stated that no widespread voter fraud has been reported. Moreover, these reports of a lack of fraud are not new. Even before the 2016 General Election, Ohio’s Secretary of State John Husted, who has been no friend to voting rights, stated that “voter fraud is rare.”
If Trump’s claims of voter fraud are so easily debunked, why can’t Trump stop tweeting about it and why will it return as the next big lie from the White House? Three reasons:
· First, because his fragile ego cannot stand that Hillary Clinton won the popular vote by more than 3,000,000 votes.
· Second, it serves as fodder for conservative state legislatures to continue their practice of passing suppressive voting legislation that makes it harder for all citizens but, particularly, citizens of color and young citizens, to vote. Since the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2013 Shelby County v. Holder decision, courts have found that states such as North Carolina, Texas, and Wisconsin have all passed laws making it harder for people of color to vote under the guise of preventing voter fraud. Indeed, the Fourth Circuit found that a sweeping voting law enacted in North Carolina immediately after Shelby County and justified, in part, by preventing voter fraud targeted African-Americans with “surgical precision.” The President’s voter fraud tweets are meant — and will almost certainly be used — to bolster this pretextual justification. And they signal to states that are looking to enact restrictive voting laws that now is the time to ramp up their efforts to make it harder for people “who d[o] not look as if they should be allowed to vote” to vote.
· Third, because as he did with his immigration order, it permits Trump to create an “other” — lurking just out of sight — who is threatening America. It is intended to give legitimacy to the illegitimate efforts by some to suppress the vote. And it is intended to strike fear in voters — voters Trump has bragged he is happy did not vote and will not vote.
As I explained in an interview with CNN, we must all reject these efforts to suppress the vote and fight back. We must fight suppression and knock down barriers to voting. Sometimes that will mean education and persuasion. Other times it will require litigation. What we saw this weekend at our nation’s airports will serve as a model to fight back against this next lie. People of all backgrounds and experiences turned out to protest and shine a light on the lie. Lawyers stepped up to defend the most vulnerable. And good people everywhere contacted their elected representatives and told their neighbors that what Trump was doing was wrong. That will be and must be our reaction when he next turns back to voting rights and his next big lie.