Donald Trump has been in office for just over a week and already there has been controversy over relatively meaningless statistics. We have seen new White House press secretary Sean Spicer tell easily disprovable lies about things like crowd sizes at Trump’s inauguration and Kellyanne Conway defend those falsehoods by labeling them as “alternative facts.” It hasn’t exactly been the best way for the White House press office to gain any integrity points with the American public. I still can’t put my finger on it as to why the Trump administration cares so much about crowd sizes anyway because it was a respectable crowd, just not a record shattering crowd.
Regardless, perhaps the most dubious claim Trump has made so far in his fresh term is that there were 3-5 million people who voted illegally in the 2016 election. Trump won the presidency with 306 electoral votes this past November, beating out rival Hillary Clinton who finished with 232 electoral votes. Despite winning the electoral vote, Trump has claimed there was widespread voter fraud during the election after Clinton won the popular vote by almost 3 million.
Voter fraud is a serious accusation, and after Trump repeatedly claimed that the polls may be rigged while on the campaign trail, it may be worth looking into. After all, Trump said earlier this week that he would launch an investigation into the 3-5 million undocumented people that supposedly voted illegally last November. In a tweet just this past week, he cited people who were registered to vote in more than one state, those who are dead, and illegal immigrants as people who likely voted in the past election cycle.
It is worth pointing out though that Trump has put forth zero credible evidence for these claims. In fact, Trump’s claim has been disproven by election officials from both sides, republican members of Congress, and even his own lawyers. Still, he has been fixated on this claim. What may be even more wild, is that when Trump gave his first exclusive interview with ABC News last night, he had the audacity to say that of those 3-5 million illegal votes, none of them voted for him.
“I will say this, of those votes cast, none of them come to me. None of them come to me. They would all be for the other side.” -Donald Trump (1/26/17)
Look, it’s incredibly difficult to believe that if there was as much fraud at the polls as Trump claims there was, that he went 0-5,000,000. But fair enough, let’s not assume anything. Let’s wait for Trump’s investigation to be completed. In the meantime though, let’s take a closer look at what exactly voter fraud is and how prevalent it actually is in the United States.
Voter ID Laws
Depending on where you live, your state may have an implemented voter identification law. Many of the lawmakers who supported these bills insist that they are common sense measures to maintain the integrity of the polls. When you first hear that, it may make a lot of sense to you. The problem with these voter ID laws though, is that not everyone has ID. In Texas alone, there are over 500,000 registered voters don’t have the type of identification necessary to cast a ballot. Other states like North Carolina and Wisconsin each have over 300,000 registered voters without a driver’s license or a state-issued ID.
While this may not impact the majority of Americans who do own some form of ID, for people like 72-year-old Doris Clark, it can be a huge problem just to obtain an ID in order to vote. CBS did a story on Clark after she was turned down three separate times when trying to apply for her Pennsylvania voter ID card. Every time she applied, the state wanted another form of documentation. The state demanded her original birth certificate, original social security card, and even her husband’s death certificate after a clerk demanded proof of her married name.
Applying for a voter ID card can also be increasingly difficult because the offices that issue them are almost never open. A 2012 study found that in Wisconsin, Alabama, and Mississippi, fewer than half of those ID-issuing offices were open less than 5 days per week. In other districts, it may be even worse. In Sauk City, Wisconsin, for example, their offices are only open on the 5th Wednesday of every month. This is troubling due to the fact that only 4 months in 2016 had five Wednesdays and only three of those were before election day.
It’s also worth mentioning that these laws seem to disproportionately impact minorities. One study found that in Texas, the state with the most restrictive voter ID laws in the country, African Americans were nearly twice as likely to lack the form of identification necessary to vote and Latinos were nearly three times as likely than whites to not have accepted ID.
What Is Voter Fraud?
In early American history, there have been examples of vote-buying and tampering with ballot boxes. Voter ID laws though, don’t prevent those crimes. They prevent against voter impersonation, a separate crime that carries a five-year prison sentence and a $10,000 fine. Given that the one extra vote is likely non-consequential, it’s a pretty pointless crime. Still though, people like Trump and many others, insist that this is common on election day.
One of the demographics Trump said would be part of his investigation was his claim that dead people had voted for Hillary Clinton last November. What he means by that is that people have registered their name under someone who was deceased in order to vote twice. One precedent for this was in South Carolina, where in January of 2013, the DMV reported that it found 953 cases where ballots were cast by voters who were deceased. The study caused such a rift that one lawmaker famously said, “we must have certainty in South Carolina, that zombies aren’t voting.”
But when the State Law Enforcement Division (SLED) investigated that report, it found a shocking amount of error. Because of those 953 cases that the DMV studied, they were not over one election period, but rather 74 different elections over a 7 year period. With that being the case, SLED filed a 476 page report centered on 207 votes allegedly made by dead people in a November 2010 election. As it turns out, 92 votes were made by someone with the same name as a deceased person (usually a father and son), 56 votes were cases where the social security number was mistakenly matched with a deceased person, 32 were the result of too-sensitive scanner errors, one person completed an absentee ballot and then died while it was still in the mail, and several others were the result of an array of clerical errors. Altogether, of the 209 suspicious ballots that SLED investigated, only 5 could not be accounted for. This was in an election where over 1.3 million votes were cast.
Just How Rare Is Voter Fraud?
It’s actually remarkably rare. One comprehensive study found that there were only 31 cases of voter fraud from 2000-2014 where over a billion votes were cast in the entire country. This makes Trump’s claim of 3-5 million cases of fraudulent votes just this last year even more far-fetched. Voter fraud occurs at a rate that is essentially close to zero percent. Voting in the United States is a right and stripping that right away from someone because they lack proper ID is statistically unnecessary and it taints democracy. Whatever the result is of Trump’s seemingly silly investigation into this conspiracy he has on widespread voter fraud, it’s likely not going to change anything.