PD Editorial: Look, but don’t expect to find voter fraud

As the campaign wound down, President Donald Trump insisted the election was “rigged” against him. Now he wants a “major investigation” of voter fraud.

Let’s be clear: there is no credible evidence of voter fraud in 2016, but Trump is only the latest in a long line of Republicans who claim that large numbers of ineligible voters are casting ballots and potentially changing the outcome of U.S. elections.

OK, let’s have an investigation. But it needs to be a real investigation - a thorough and independent review by people with expertise and experience running actual elections and oversight by a bipartisan panel of state election officials and attorneys general. Here’s what it shouldn’t be: political cover for erecting barriers or passing voter-suppression laws.

We’re confident that an honest inquiry would reach the same conclusion as Trump’s own attorneys: “All available evidence suggests that the 2016 general election was not tainted by fraud or mistake.” That statement comes straight out legal papers filed by Trump’s campaign in a successful bid to halt a recount in Michigan.

Trump’s attorneys aren’t alone in their assessment. The nation’s election officers, most of whom are Republicans, concur. “We are not aware of any evidence that supports the voter fraud claims made by President Trump,” the National Association of Secretaries of State said in a statement issued this week in response to Trump’s latest assertion that as many as 4 million illegal immigrants cast ballots in the 2016 election.

As evidence, White House spokesman Sean Spicer cited a 2012 report from Pew. The trouble is, that report didn’t reach the conclusions that Spicer says it did. Trump told congressional leaders that professional golfer Bernhard Langer wasn’t allowed to vote in Florida while others were allowed to cast provisional ballots. There’s a problem with that story, too. Langer, a German citizen who isn’t eligible to vote in U.S. elections, said he didn’t experience any such thing.

Let’s get beyond statements and anecdotes.

During the George W. Bush administration, the Justice Department spent three years investigating allegations of voter fraud and produced 14 convictions for non-citizens voting in U.S. elections. A two-year investigation by Iowa’s secretary of state yielded 27 criminal charges, most of them involving misunderstanding of eligibility rules rather than out-and-out fraud.

In 2012, Florida Gov. Rick Scott claimed to have found evidence of as many as 182,500 noncitizens on the state’s voting rolls. Further investigation resulted in the removal of 85 names.

Kansas’ secretary of state, a Republican, examined 84 million votes cast in 22 states to look for cases of duplicate registration. The project yielded 14 prosecutions.

Trump’s daughter Tiffany is presently registered to vote in two states. So are Spicer, presidential son-in-law Jared Kushner, White House strategist Steve Bannon and Steve Mnuchin, the treasury secretary-designate. There isn’t any indication that any of them voted illegally.

Universities also have conducted extensive research without turning up evidence of widespread voter fraud. An Arizona State University study concluded that voter fraud as “infinitesimal.” A Loyola of Los Angeles Law School project turned up 31 credible instances of voter impersonation out of more than 1 billion votes cast between 2000 and 2014, and Dartmouth researchers found no evidence of noncitizen voting, dead people voting or tampering by election officials in a statistical analysis of the 2016 results.

Trump seems to be bedeviled by the fact that he lost the popular vote to Hillary Clinton. No investigation will change that. But a legitimate inquiry would add to an impressive factual record showing that voter fraud is rare in U.S. elections. Then, perhaps, increasing participation will get the attention it deserves.

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