This week, Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump spread falsehoods commonly used by conservatives suggesting the outcome of the presidential election might be affected by widespread fraud.
Speaking with the Washington Post’s Philip Rucker on Tuesday at the Trump National Golf Club, Trump tried to explain his repeated suggestion that the upcoming election has been “rigged” against him.
“I don’t like what’s going on with voter ID,” Trump said to Rucker, presumably referring to a string of recent court rulings in states across the country ruling against discriminatory voter identification laws. “I mean the voter ID situation has turned out to be a very unfair development. We may have people vote ten times. It’s inconceivable that you don’t have to show identification in order to vote or that that the identification doesn’t have to be somewhat foolproof.”
When Rucker tried to steer the conversation to discuss how the Republican nominee would handle a potential win by Hillary Clinton, Trump pivoted to again push that “there’s a lot of dirty pool played at the election, meaning the election is rigged.”
“I would not be surprised. The voter ID, they’re fighting as hard as you can fight so that that they don’t have to show voter ID,” said Trump. “So, what’s the purpose of that? How many times is a person going to vote during the day?”
Trump is hardly the first Republican to make the argument. The 2016 GOP platform similarly claims that “voting procedures may be open to abuse. For this reason, we support legislation to require proof of citizenship when registering to vote and secure photo ID when voting.”
But wealthy white Republicans like Trump are not the people who have to worry about elections being stacked against them.
Trump made his comments the same week as the anniversary of the signing by President Lyndon B. Johnson of the Voting Rights Act (VRA) of 1965,
a law designed to ensure that states did not pass laws specifically to prevent Black voters from accessing the ballot box. In Shelby County v. Holder, however, the U.S. Supreme Court in 2013 gutted key sections of the act, eliminating the requirement that the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) “pre-clear” laws passed by states with a history of voter discrimination and leading to the passage of voting restrictions throughout the country.
The protections offered by the VRA “used to require jurisdictions with the most troubling histories of discrimination to run new voting rules by the Justice Department or a federal court before those rules could be implemented,” explained Vanita Gupta, the head of the Civil Rights Division at the DOJ, in an op-ed for the Washington Post on Monday. In those protections’ absence, states were able to push through measures that disproportionately disenfranchised communities of color, those with low incomes, and the elderly.
Though the laws can be challenged—and many have been, such as those recently overturned by courts in North Carolina and Texas—the cases ”can take years to litigate” and “elections don’t stop in the meantime,” wrote Gupta.
As they have begun overturning these restrictions, some courts, such as the Fourth Circuit concerning North Carolina’s law, have noted the discriminatory nature of the laws that are made to “impose cures for problems that did not exist,” such as voter fraud.
Similarly, in Wisconsin, U.S. District Judge James Peterson wrote in his decision striking down a stringent voter ID law, “The Wisconsin experience demonstrates that a preoccupation with mostly phantom election fraud leads to real incidents of disenfranchisement, which undermine rather than enhance confidence in elections, particularly in minority communities.”
“To put it bluntly, Wisconsin’s strict version of voter ID law is a cure worse than the disease,” Peterson continued.
That’s because, as the Nation’s Ari Berman, who covers voting rights, pointed out during a recent appearance on Democracy Now!, “You’re more likely to be struck by lightning than you are to impersonate another voter.”
“Trump’s remark [about people voting ten times] is both irresponsible and completely off-mark,” Allegra Chapman, director of voting and elections at Common Cause—a nonpartisan organization “dedicated to upholding the core values of American democracy”—told Rewire via email Wednesday. “Several studies have been conducted across the country showing that in-person voting fraud is exceedingly rare. It just doesn’t happen on a basis that’s any way significant. Photo ID laws are a cure to a problem that doesn’t exist; we heard the courts say that in both” Wisconsin and Texas cases.
“Trump’s remarks bear zero resemblance to facts on the ground. It’s political bloviating,” added Chapman.
Brennan Center for Justice President Michael Waldman similarly dismissed Trump’s suggestion in a statement posted to the organization’s website. “When courts across the country step up to protect voting rights, that hardly amounts to ‘rigging’ an election,” said Waldman. “The notion of massive fraud is a pernicious myth. It’s irresponsible to peddle it if the goal is to pre-undermine an election outcome.”
And as Rewire has previously reported, “study after study has found little to no evidence” of the existence of voter fraud. When Justin Levitt, a professor at the Loyola Law School, analyzed instances of voter fraud in 2014 for the Washington Post, he uncovered just 31 instances of it in the more than one billion ballots cast between the years 2000 and 2014.
Another layer of nonsense is added to both Trump’s statement and the party platform, given that many Republicans have been nothing but transparent about what their push for voter ID laws has really been about: suppressing the votes of those less likely to vote for their party. Take, for example, Rep. Glenn Grothman’s (R-WI) April admission that the state’s voter ID law could make “a difference” in electing members of his party.
As the Associated Press reported, the Republican nominee’s claims that the election could be “rigged” for his loss, “could be an effort by Trump to lay the groundwork of an excuse if he goes on to lose the general election.”
Roger Stone, a noted conspiracy theorist and Trump ally, also sounded the alarm that voter fraud could be at play in November and recommended that the Republican nominee start telling media outlets about it. “I think we have widespread voter fraud, but the first thing that Trump needs to do is begin talking about it constantly,” said Stone in an interview for conservative news outlet Breitbart. “He needs to say for example, today would be a perfect example: ‘I am leading in Florida. The polls all show it. If I lose Florida, we will know that there’s voter fraud. If there’s voter fraud, this election will be illegitimate, the election of the winner will be illegitimate, we will have a constitutional crisis, widespread civil disobedience, and the government will no longer be the government.’”
Stone went on to warn of impending chaos should Trump lose: “I think he’s gotta put them on notice that their inauguration will be a rhetorical, and when I mean civil disobedience, not violence, but it will be a bloodbath,” said Stone. “The government will be shut down if they attempt to steal this and swear Hillary in. No, we will not stand for it. We will not stand for it.”
But the real danger here may be in the threat to democracy presented by the claims of Trump and Stone. “If Trump protested the results of the election in this way after losing in November, he could exploit a potentially destructive strain in the electorate that would undermine public confidence in elections,” explained the New York Times’ Brendan Nyhan in a Friday article on the long-lasting dangers of Trump’s claim. “Even if he contests a loss, Mr. Trump will not undermine American democracy by himself. The institutions and norms of the system are strong enough to withstand such a challenge. But questioning the integrity of the electoral system could encourage other losing candidates to challenge their own defeats, creating the risk of a more serious crisis of legitimacy in the future.”