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It’s Time to Investigate ‘Voter Fraud’

Let’s finally put to rest the myth that as many as five million people voted illegally. Convene an independent commission to end this nonsense once and for all.

January 24, 2017

The scary part of the still-devel­op­ing “voter fraud” story isn’t that Pres­id­ent Donald Trump evid­ently buys into a conspir­acy theory that supports both his world­view and his ego. The scary part is that a major­ity of his fellow Repub­lic­ans, and a signi­fic­ant number of Demo­crats, also evid­ently buy into the myth. Those peddling the fiction that 3–5 million people illeg­ally voted in the 2016 elec­tion will use the charge to justify addi­tional voter restric­tion efforts across the coun­try in the coming years. And those who don’t buy into the myth will be faced with the prac­tical dilemma of prov­ing a negat­ive without the sort of sweep­ing national invest­ig­a­tion that would put the alleg­a­tion to rest at last.

So long as the White House is peddling this nonsense, and so long as it can be used for partisan purposes, the story is here to stay, further pois­on­ing what already is a poisoned polit­ical atmo­sphere. We need to know, before the next federal elec­tion in Novem­ber 2018, whether and to what extent voter fraud occurred last Novem­ber. We need to know, also, what effect voter suppres­sion efforts had on turnout. We need, in other words, to have a common set of veri­fi­able facts we can really on to anim­ate the polit­ical debate about voting rights going forward to 2020. 

To that end, if he’s really seri­ous about learn­ing more about the massive fraud he says occurred, Pres­id­ent Trump should create a blue-ribbon pres­id­en­tial commis­sion to study voting rights, voter suppres­sion, and alleg­a­tions of voter fraud in the 2016 elec­tion. The panel should be led by former Supreme Court justices Sandra Day O’Con­nor, David Souter, and John Paul Stevens—all Repub­lican appointees. The lead invest­ig­ator of the Commis­sion should be former U.S. Attor­ney Patrick Fitzger­ald—another Repub­lican appointee. Congress should endorse the endeavor.

Fitzger­ald, who earned a repu­ta­tion as a dogged, inde­pend­ent prosec­utor, should be given subpoena power. His invest­ig­at­ors should talk on the record to purvey­ors of the voter fraud myth to identify and expose their theor­ies. Local elec­tion offi­cials also should be ques­tioned about what they saw and didn’t see. There are law profess­ors and other schol­ars (includ­ing those at the Bren­nan Center) who have devoted years of their lives research­ing the ques­tion of voter fraud and voter suppres­sion. Their views, too, should be included in a final report that would be completed no later than May 1, 2018, six months before the mid-term elec­tion.

It’s a put-up or shut-up moment for the Trump admin­is­tra­tion and Congress. Either the pres­id­ent and federal lawmakers are seri­ous about under­stand­ing what just happened in Novem­ber or they are not. If they are this commis­sion is a reas­on­able path forward. If they are not they should stop foment­ing false narrat­ives that further under­mine the confid­ence we are supposed to have in our elec­tions. On voting rights, of all our rights, we cannot continue to have facts, and “altern­at­ive facts,” and no agree­ment on which are which.

The views expressed are the author’s own and not neces­sar­ily those of the Bren­nan Center for Justice.

(Photo: Think­Stock)