Illegal Voting Claims by Trump Misconstrue the Real Need for Election Integrity

Posted by Maya Efrati on December 01, 2016

The recent Presidential election has ignited an enormous amount of discussion regarding both the way that votes for the presidential election are cast, as well as the possibility of fraud in that election system. This issue was even further spotlighted by a recent Tweet from the winner of that election, President-Elect Donald J. Trump. He wrote that he “won the popular vote if you deduct the millions of people who voted illegally”, after saying that voter fraud is a significant risk in this election many times.

Currently, Sec. Hillary Clinton holds a significant lead in the national popular vote count, with more than 2.5 million more votes cast for her than President-Elect Trump. However, as a result of the structure of the Electoral College, Mr. Trump will be the 45th President of the United States. Mr. Trump’s reactions demonstrate that winning the Presidency under the current rules without also earning the majority of the popular vote undermines the perceived legitimacy of the winner. This current system both damages the mandate given to the President-Elect to create significant policy changes and weakens the view of many Americans on the legitimacy of our electoral institutions.

All of the evidence shows that Donald Trump is wrong when he claims that illegal voting is so pervasive that it has altered the winner of the popular vote. No proof has ever been found to support such a claim.

This is not to say that there is never any illegal voting. When an individual is sent a ballot by mail, that ballot may be stolen and then fraudulently submitted by the thief, the ballot can be filled out by an individual who has access to the ballot while it’s in the voter’s possession, a ballot can be sent to the old address of a voter who has moved and already re-registered in their new location, more than one ballot can be sent out, or the voter themselves can be coerced or otherwise pushed into voting in a way contrary to their wishes. However, there is no evidence to suggest that such votes would overwhelmingly have been cast for Clinton instead of Trump. To swing any state, voter fraud would need to be systematic and coordinated, and there is no evidence that such a thing could plausibly be accomplished, let alone that it actually occurred.

It is also not the case that non-citizen illegal voting could overcome the deficit. Political scientist Jesse Richman has studied non-citizen voting, and his work is oftencited by those claiming illegal immigrant voting fraud as it uses a much higher estimate than most other experts. Almost certainly too high, as his report has been heavily criticized. Yet even on the basis of this study, the data does not support Trump’s claims; it’s very high estimate would have the number of non-citizens voting at about 800,000, well below Clinton’s lead. In short, Trump’s claims are false.

However, insecurity about voting rules is not wholly irrational. State voter registration databases, which are separate in each state and territory, are riddled with errors and out of date information, and voting rules are decided in an extremely decentralized way. FairVote is a strong advocate for reforms that could help resolve this, like universal and automatic voter registration, risk-limiting post-election audits, and a Constitutional right to vote. That way, every eligible person (and no ineligible person) would be able to vote; the vote could be verified with a high degree of confidence; and states could not pass rules that suppress or prevent voting.

Both major party candidates, as well as all the other Presidential candidates, campaigned under the rules as they were. No one expected the popular vote to legally decide the winner of the election. This controversy arises because those rules are patently unfair. Presidential candidates should campaign in every state; they should treat every vote equally; and the candidate with the most votes in all 50 states and DC should win the election.

Interested in reading more? Head over to FairVote.org, and check out our Democracy Innovations and our Policy Guides.

 

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