“Oh, what a tangled web we weave. When first we practise to deceive!”
The Republican Party has for years perpetuated the myth of rampant voter fraud for two purposes: (1) to suppress voter turnout, and (2) to delegitimize Democratic voters.
This GOP mythology has been so pernicious that Greg Sargent at the Washington Post writes today, Trump will claim the election was stolen. This new poll shows GOP voters may believe him.
There’s a simple reason Donald Trump keeps claiming that rampant voter fraud ensures a rigged election whose outcome will be illegitimate, if he loses: Republican voters, and Trump supporters, are inclined to believe him.
The Public Religion Research Institute released a remarkable new poll this morning that confirms the point. It finds that a huge majority of Republican respondents say voter fraud is a bigger problem than restricted access to voting is. And there is a striking racial divide on this question as well — more on that in a moment.
The poll finds that among Americans overall, only 43 percent have a great deal of confidence that their votes will be counted accurately. That’s unfortunate, to be sure. Meanwhile, the partisan divide is notable: 55 percent of Democrats have a great deal of confidence in the vote counting, while 44 percent of Republicans and 41 percent of Trump supporters feel the same way.
Here’s where it gets worse. Only 37 percent of Americans believe that “people casting votes who are not eligible to vote” is a bigger problem than “eligible voters being denied the right to vote,” which is seen as a bigger problem by 41 percent. But a huge majority of Republicans sees the former as the bigger problem:
Roughly two-thirds (66%) of Republicans believe voter fraud is a bigger problem than voter disenfranchisement, compared to only 19% of Democrats. More than six in ten (62%) Democrats say eligible voters being denied access is the bigger problem facing the election system.
The racial divide is also striking. According to numbers provided to me by PRRI, African Americans say that denial of access to eligible voting is the bigger problem by 66-21, while whites say that voter fraud is the bigger problem by 42-35. But as Ari Berman recently demonstrated, voter suppression is a far more extensive problem than is voter fraud, which is virtually nonexistent:
The real danger to American democracy stems from GOP efforts to make it harder to vote. New voting restrictions — like voter-ID laws, cuts to early voting and barriers to voter registration — that are in place in 14 states for the first time in 2016 will make it harder for millions of eligible voters to cast a ballot. And voters are lacking crucial protections because this is the first presidential election in 50 years without the full provisions of the Voting Rights Act…. It’s incredibly unlikely there will be widespread voter fraud on Election Day. But there will be eligible voters who show up to vote and are turned away from the polls. That’s the real threat to election integrity we should be focusing on.
Yet the public is closely divided on this question, and Republican voters overwhelmingly think voter fraud is the bigger problem.
This may be the result of the fact that the “voter fraud” canard is hardly a Trumpian innovation. Republican leaders have been hyping allegations of voter fraud for many years amid efforts to restrict voting. But now that Trump has taken that hype to truly insane lengths — by alleging a “rigged election” conspiracy against him that includes everything from election officials (in Republican states) to media companies to immigration officials allowing illegals in to vote — it has put Republicans in an awkward position. So they have responded by playing a little game in which they carefully distance themselves from the craziest aspects of Trump’s conspiracy-mongering, while simultaneously feeding other, relatively-less-crazy-sounding aspects of it.
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As Brian Beutler writes, years of over-the-top GOP rhetoric — mostly concerning efforts to hype Barack Obama’s presidency into an existential threat to everything that makes this country recognizably American — have laid the groundwork for Trump to make arguments that are even more garishly divorced from reality than the more carefully coded and modulated GOP arguments have been. Voter fraud is a good example of this. Many Republican voters will be primed to believe that voter fraud was rampant on Election Day. The question is whether that will leave them even more susceptible to Trump’s claims that the outcome itself was “rigged” to its core, and thus entirely illegitimate — and whether that threatens further damage to the country’s civic health long after the election is behind us.
The LA Times today has a report debunking the GOP myth of rampant voter fraud. No, there is no evidence that thousands of noncitizens are illegally voting and swinging elections:
As Donald Trump maintains his incendiary attacks on the legitimacy of the election, one of his favorite themes has been the claim that the results will be tainted by the votes of millions of people in the U.S. illegally.
“They are letting people pour into the country so they can go ahead and vote,” he said this month, in a meeting with the head of the union representing border patrol agents.
“And believe me, there’s a lot going on,” Trump said at a rally. “People that have died 10 years ago are still voting. Illegal immigrants are voting.”
Part of the Republican-led crackdown on supposed voter fraud, battles over measures to guard against noncitizen voters have percolated for years in election offices, state legislatures and federal courtrooms.
Records in these fights show that small numbers of noncitizens do end up registered, and a few have cast votes. However, no one has uncovered evidence of thousands of noncitizen voters — and no evidence has emerged to support Trump’s theory of a coordinated effort to throw an election by stuffing the voting rolls with ineligible immigrants.
“What we have seen are errors,” said Dale Ho, director of the voting rights project of the American Civil Liberties Union. “There’s not a horde of people trying to break into this country so they can vote.”
The rule on voting eligibility is simple: Except for a handful of cities that permit noncitizens to vote in local elections, everyone who casts a vote in America is supposed to be a citizen, either by birth or by naturalization. And although the distinction is sometimes lost in the loud debates over undocumented immigration, even green-card holders, who are legal permanent residents, also are ineligible to vote until they become citizens.
In most places in the U.S., the question is handled solely on the honor system. When people register to vote, they check a box attesting that they are U.S. citizens. Election administrators verify identity by looking at driver’s license or Social Security numbers, for example, but under federal guidelines, they may not ask for proof of citizenship, such as a birth certificate or passport.
Four states — Arizona, Kansas, Georgia and Alabama — have passed their own citizenship verification rules, but those requirements have been tangled up for years in lawsuits by progressive and voting rights groups, who argue that they present an unfair burden on minority voters. Thus far, they have prevailed, although the battles continue.
Georgia and Alabama haven’t been enforcing their requirements, but in the other two states, the fights over proving citizenship have led to unusual results. Arizona now recognizes a second class of voters — 6,328 for this election — who can vote for federal offices, like president, but not for the governor or other state offices, because they haven’t provided proof of citizenship.
This month, a federal appeals court forced Kansas to accept the registrations of people who had signed up to vote at motor vehicle offices, without providing proof of citizenship. Emergency notices were mailed to these voters, telling them in all capitals to “PLEASE DISREGARD” prior warnings that they weren’t eligible to vote.
But nearly 9,000 others, because they signed up using Kansas’ own form, still are considered ineligible to vote in this election by state officials unless they come up with citizenship proof by election day, Nov. 8. County election officials have scrambled to keep up.
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Past claims that large numbers of ineligible noncitizens are lurking on the voting rolls have fizzled. In 2012, Florida’s Republican governor, Rick Scott, pushed for a purge of noncitizen voters. An initial list of 180,000 names was whittled to 2,600, then sent to county election supervisors to check. But the smaller list also turned out to be filled with errors, and in the end, only 85 people were removed from the rolls.
Trump has cited one study by three Virginia academics that estimated that more than 6% of noncitizens illegally voted in 2008 — enough to sway a close election, like the Senate race in Minnesota that year in which Al Franken was elected by a 312-vote margin.
The study arrived at the result by considering responses from a survey of voters, some of whom said they were not citizens. But the findings have been attacked by other researchers, who say they found evidence that many people gave wrong answers to the citizenship question — and that therefore the correct number of noncitizens who voted was probably zero.
In any case, experts say, it’s unlikely that anyone could find enough noncitizens on the voter rolls to challenge the results in a typical presidential election. In 2012, President Obama won Pennsylvania by 310,000 votes and Virginia by 149,000. The closest margin was in Florida, where Obama won by 74,000 votes.
Illegal voting is rarely prosecuted, but it can have severe consequences. Someone in the country illegally who is caught voting would be declared ineligible to become a citizen and could even be deported.
Lori Edwards, elections supervisor in Polk County, Fla., said she rarely encountered such cases in the 16 years she’s held the job.
“If you were here as an undocumented person, or even someone who has a green card,” she asked, “why would you risk that status for what would be a minimal benefit?”