High-ranking Republicans are challenging GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump’s claims that the general election is “rigged” against him. These actions, however, belie the fact that many of these same individuals have for years pushed restrictions based on the myth of voter fraud.
Trump, who has spent much of the last few months hedging his bets by claiming that if he loses the presidential election, it will be due to voter fraud and rigging, continued to push this baseless argument over the last few days.
“Of course there is large scale voter fraud happening on and before election day,” tweeted Trump on Monday morning. “Why do Republican leaders deny what is going on? So naive!”
Despite years of supporting voter restrictions, many members of the GOP are suddenly reluctant to get behind their nominee’s claim.
Ohio’s Republican Secretary of State, Jon Husted, said in an interview Sunday that it was “wrong and engaging in irresponsible rhetoric” to question election results without evidence. He added that in Ohio, “We have made it easy to vote and hard to cheat,” and that the state would “run a good, clean election … like we always do.”
But Husted has spent years aggressively pushing efforts to restrict the vote in Ohio based on the myth of voter fraud, even after his own office’s investigations turned up no evidence that it is a problem.
A 2012 investigation into voter fraud in Ohio led by Husted found just 135 possible cases of fraud in the 5.6 million votes cast there during that year’s presidential election. As ABC News reported, “That’s 0.002397 percent” of ballots cast. Husted admitted at the time that voter fraud “is not an epidemic.” Other later investigations from his office have turned up a similarly low incidence of fraud.
Nevertheless, the Ohio secretary of state still raised the specter of voter fraud as recently as April to defend purging voters in Ohio when a lawsuit challenged the state’s process of removing registered voters from the state’s rolls. That process was ruled unconstitutional by a federal judge in September.
Arizona Sen. Jeff Flake (R), meanwhile, tweeted on Sunday in response to Trump’s claims: “States, backed by tens of thousands of GOP and DEM volunteers, ensure integrity of electoral process. Elections are not rigged.”
But he seemingly didn’t feel the same way about the electoral process in 2006 when he voted in favor of the Federal Election Integrity Act, which would have required every registered voter to have an up-to-date government-issued photo ID in order to cast a federal election ballot. Voting rights advocates said at the time that “would encourage racial and ethnic discrimination at polling places and prevent many eligible voters across the country from participating in our democracy, while doing nothing to combat genuine instances of voter fraud.”
House Speaker Paul Ryan’s (R-WI) office released a statement saying that “our democracy relies on confidence in election results” and that he was confident in the states’ election results.
Ryan, like Flake, also voted in favor of the House’s Federal Election Integrity Act when it came up for a vote in 2006.
Even Trump’s running mate, Indiana Gov. Mike Pence (R), backed away from Trump’s comments during his Sunday appearance on NBC’s Meet the Press. Though he still maintained that the election could be “rigged,” he promised he would “absolutely accept the result of the election” no matter which way it went.
However, Pence’s administration was accused just this last week of attempting to suppress votes in Indiana by raiding a voter registration program. Indiana state police raided the offices of the Indiana Voters Project just a week shy of the state’s voter registration deadline after an investigation based on an August tip about voter fraud from elections officials in Hendricks County.
The police say “at least 10” registration forms were found to be fraudulent. But 45,000 voters, the majority of whom are Black, have their registration status hanging in the balance if investigators decide to put a hold on the forms collected by the Indiana Voters Project, according to the Washington Post.
Pence’s home state already has a voter ID law of its own. And by Monday, Pence had already fallen in line with his ticket and told attendees of an Ohio rally that voter fraud “cannot be tolerated by anyone in this nation,” Politico reported.
On its face, it may seem like Republicans are finally coming around to what numerous studies, judges, and voting rights advocates have said all along: Widespread voter fraud is nothing more than a myth. But it is still important to remember that this same group has long supported voter restrictions based on evidence-free claims of voter fraud, building the platform from which Trump has been able to make his claims about vote “rigging.”
After all, even the 2016 Republican platform says 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.”