In today’s surreal political landscape, the president claims that 3-5 million people voted illegally in November and has called for an investigation, but offers no credible evidence for his claims.
Just last month, President Donald Trump asserted that thousands of people were bused into New Hampshire from liberal-leaning Massachusetts to vote illegally on Election Day – again with no proof.
Many Americans buy the president’s phony storyline. A recent Politico/Morning Consult poll showed 43 percent of registered voters believe voter fraud is somewhat common or very common in a typical presidential election.
Voter fraud – voting by the deceased, voting by noncitizens, and voting more than once –is a serious offense. But election officials and leading voting experts find no evidence of significant voter fraud in U.S. elections, including in 2016.
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In a comprehensive study by Justin Levitt of Loyola Law School, only 31 instances of voter fraud were found in more than 1 billion votes cast in U.S. elections between 2000 and 2014. Secretary of State Alex Padilla’s office is examining only 423 of the 23 million total votes cast in California’s 2016 primary and general elections, the nonpartisan journalism nonprofit CALmatters reported. And not one of these cases involves allegations of voting by an undocumented immigrant.
Our electoral system has checks, counterchecks and paper trails to prevent voter impersonation and voting more than one time in an election. As for voting by non-citizens, there is little evidence for it, in part because there is no real incentive for it.
Non-citizens who vote in a U.S. election would face a felony, derailing of their efforts to become citizens, and deportation. Most undocumented individuals are unlikely to try to vote, since voting invites contact with government officials. The payoff just isn’t there.
And yet Trump’s conspiracy theories are shaping public opinion, generating worries about the integrity of our political process. This climate of doubt is providing legislators in some states with a pretext to introduce more restrictive voting practices.
Citing voter fraud as a justification, lawmakers in North Dakota, Arkansas and Georgia are pursuing new restrictive voting legislation. At least 23 more states are considering similar bills, according to the Brennan Center for Justice.
For a sense of the anxiety the public feels, take a look at social media threads or reader comments posted at the ends of news articles debunking voter fraud claims. You’ll find concerned and sometimes angry people – including many Californians – who fear their state and country are being taken away from them by “illegal” immigrants voting fraudulently.
Others in the country may not be ready to buy the whole conspiracy story. But they think that requirements such as voter IDs seem like commonsense ways to protect the integrity of the franchise. Such measures can erode the very concept of voters’ rights, suppressing minority and low-income voters, who are less likely to carry IDs according to research, and creating unfair advantages for some groups
Indeed, some of these voting limitations already have been exposed as an assault on the democratic process. In July, a federal court in North Carolina ruled voting restrictions “target African Americans with almost surgical precision.”
Trump’s rhetoric is helping to set the stage for troubling changes at the federal level. U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions reversed the Justice Department’s long-standing position in a Texas case that state lawmakers intended to discriminate when they passed a strict voter-ID law.
False and inflammatory claims hurt the foundation of our republic. By targeting some voters, they target us all. Concerned Americans must join in refuting Trump’s claims, and safeguarding our electoral process
Mindy Romero is director of the California Civic Engagement Project at the UC Davis Center for Regional Change. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.