It began in November. Despite having won the election, then-President-elect Donald Trump tweeted that he would have won the popular vote had it not been for “millions of illegal votes.”
It was an odd statement coming from a candidate who had just won the election. The response was swift. His allegations were quickly refuted by researchers, media, members of his own party and America’s elections officials.
The nagging question was: Why? Some suggest his insecurity in losing the popular vote. Maybe. Or is he laying the groundwork for an effort to undermine our voting rights? Many in the elections and voting rights community, already weary about his agenda, found his remarks disturbing. As California’s chief elections officer, I was one of them.
It happened again. This time it was President Trump restating his voter fraud allegations and doubling down on claims that have been consistently debunked. As a nation, we deserve better from our commander in chief than endless tweets that undermine our most fundamental institutions.
As Americans, we take seriously the sanctity of our elections. Millions of Americans have served our nation, and many have paid the ultimate price defending our democracy. Free and fair elections are the very foundation of our democracy.
With his repeated and unsubstantiated allegations of voter fraud, Trump is deliberately taking a jackhammer to that foundation. I’m further concerned as to his motives. I worry that his outbursts are precursors to a broader campaign to suppress voting rights and to erode hard-won protections.
Our president, our Congress and our nation must focus on the real threat to our elections, Russian President Vladimir Putin. Our intelligence community has been crystal clear. They unanimously concluded that Russia worked to influence the outcome of the presidential election.
At a time when our new president should be focused on this documented threat to our nation’s security, he has chosen to remain silent. Trump has refused to support the bipartisan call for an investigation into Russian interference.
The fact is there is no evidence of widespread voter fraud in California. Voter fraud of any kind is exceedingly rare. A report by LMU Loyola Law School found just 31 credible cases of voter impersonation fraud out of more than 1 billion ballots cast across the nation between 2000 and 2014.
While elections are not always perfect, allegations of voter fraud after an election are rare. Investigations often conclude that voter fraud allegations are the result of innocent mistakes, such as a son or daughter signing the vote roster on the line meant for a parent with the same name at the same address, or a family member mistakenly signing the wrong absentee ballot envelope, or a voter casting a provisional ballot, unsure if their absentee ballot would arrive on time. This is not fraud by any measure, legal or otherwise.
Protecting against voter fraud isn’t a new concept. While we strive to improve how we run our elections, we must also make sure that voting is convenient and accessible for every eligible American.
We must stand firm in defense of our democracy, in our faith in free and fair elections, and in the tens of thousands of good and honest Americans who volunteer every election to make sure that we each have an opportunity to vote. We should have confidence that our elections are being conducted by good and honest Americans, because they are.
In our democracy, no one should sow unfounded doubt in our elections – no one – not Putin, and certainly not the president of the United States.
Alex Padilla is California’s California Secretary of State. He can be contacted at Secretary.Padilla@sos.ca.gov.