‘Voter fraud’ bogeyman raises its head again at US midterms

Trump repeats 2016 claims of mass voter fraud, but they’re not borne out by research

Early voting at a  polling station at West Los Angeles College in Culver City, California on Sunday. Photograph: Mike Nelson/EPA

Early voting at a polling station at West Los Angeles College in Culver City, California on Sunday. Photograph: Mike Nelson/EPA

 

As the midterm election campaign finally comes to a close on Tuesday, the issue of voter fraud and the integrity of the election process has again raised its head.

On Sunday, Georgia’s secretary of state Brian Kemp announced that his office was investigating Democrats for allegedly trying to hack the state’s voter registration files. Kemp is locked in a tight gubernatorial race with Stacey Abrams, the 44-year-old former state house minority leader who hopes to become the first African-American governor in history.

Kemp had already been criticised for perceived conflict of interest – as secretary of state he is responsible for overseeing the electoral process. Georgia has been locked in a dispute over voter suppression – a particularly sensitive issue given the state’s history of denying the franchise to people of colour.

It emerged last month that Kemp has put 50,000 voter registrations on hold – most of them African-American – because their names did not precisely match those on other government databases. Abrams has accused him of voter suppression; Kemp argues he is merely following the rules and guarding against voter fraud.

Residential addresses

Controversy over voter registration has also surfaced elsewhere. In North Dakota, some Native Americans have effectively been prohibited from voting because they do not have traditional residential addresses that are required to vote under state law.

Once again, US president Donald Trump has inflamed the issue, repeating the claims he made during the 2016 election campaign that widespread voter fraud was taking place.

On Monday he tweeted: “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!”

In particular, the president has singled out California, claiming that “millions and millions of people” vote illegally in the state. His claims are not borne out by research.

Evidence suggests that voter fraud is in fact very rare. A study by Loyola Law School professor Justin Levitt found that, between 2000 and 2014, there were only 31 instances of voter fraud out of a total of one billion votes. A report by the justice department under then president George W Bush found similar results.

Popular vote

Trump famously blamed illegal voting for his loss of the popular vote in 2016. In late November 2016 he tweeted: “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.”

It is quite possible that the president may return to this argument if Republicans underperform in Tuesday’s elections. Whether he will try to take action against the alleged practice is another matter.

Shortly after Trump took office he set up a commission of investigation to examine instances of voter fraud, but the project was disbanded in less than a year. Trump blamed states for failing to hand over voter data, but critics claimed that states simply had found no evidence to bolster the president’s claim.

Although Trump pledged that the department of homeland security would look into the matter, there has been little sign of progress. Perhaps Tuesday’s election results may help to revive the dormant project and refocus the president on the issue ahead of the 2020 presidential election.

The Irish Times Logo
Commenting on The Irish Times has changed. To comment you must now be an Irish Times subscriber.
SUBSCRIBE
GO BACK
Error Image
The account details entered are not currently associated with an Irish Times subscription. Please subscribe to sign in to comment.
Comment Sign In

Forgot password?
The Irish Times Logo
Thank you
You should receive instructions for resetting your password. When you have reset your password, you can Sign In.
The Irish Times Logo
Please choose a screen name. This name will appear beside any comments you post. Your screen name should follow the standards set out in our community standards.
Screen Name Selection

Hello

Please choose a screen name. This name will appear beside any comments you post. Your screen name should follow the standards set out in our community standards.

The Irish Times Logo
Commenting on The Irish Times has changed. To comment you must now be an Irish Times subscriber.
SUBSCRIBE
Forgot Password
Please enter your email address so we can send you a link to reset your password.

Sign In

Your Comments
We reserve the right to remove any content at any time from this Community, including without limitation if it violates the Community Standards. We ask that you report content that you in good faith believe violates the above rules by clicking the Flag link next to the offending comment or by filling out this form. New comments are only accepted for 3 days from the date of publication.