Without evidence, President Trump and other Republicans are spreading claims that Democrats are engaging in fraud to “steal” Florida’s Senate and governor’s races. The claims jeopardize faith in the election process, and undermine crucial ongoing efforts to ensure that all votes are counted.
Recounts began in Florida this weekend as the outcomes remain undecided in both tightly contested races. As votes come in from Democrat-leaning Broward and Palm Beach counties, the gap in both races has narrowed. In the Senate race, Republican Rick Scott led the Democratic incumbent, Senator Bill Nelson, by about 13,000 votes, or a margin of 0.15 percent, as of Sunday. And in the governor’s race, Republican Ron DeSantis had a lead of about 30,000 votes, or 0.4 percent, over Democrat Andrew Gillum.
Florida requires a machine recount in elections when the margin of victory is less than 0.5 percentage points, and a manual recount when the margin is less than 0.25 percent.
Trump and Scott’s voter fraud claims lack evidence
Since last Tuesday’s midterm elections, President Trump has alleged rampant voter fraud in Florida’s Democratic-leaning counties, citing no evidence. On Thursday, he tweeted:
Law Enforcement is looking into another big corruption scandal having to do with Election Fraud in #Broward and Palm Beach. Florida voted for Rick Scott!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 9, 2018
In a followup tweet Saturday, Trump wrote:
Trying to STEAL two big elections in Florida! We are watching closely!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 10, 2018
Scott, who is currently Florida's governor, has echoed Trump’s claims of voter fraud. "Every Floridian should be concerned there may be rampant fraud happening in Palm Beach and Broward Counties," he said at a news conference on Thursday. In an interview with Fox News, Scott also criticized his opponent Nelson: “He is trying to commit fraud to win this election.”
Last week, Scott asked the Florida Department of Law Enforcement to investigate the elections offices in Broward and Palm Beach and counties. But the agency said on Friday that there was no active investigation, and that there were no credible allegations of fraud or criminal activity. Florida’s election division agreed, saying on Saturday that there was “no evidence of criminal activity” in Broward County.
Study after study has found that voter fraud is extremely rare
In recent years, claims of voter fraud have increasingly been used to support the use of restrictive voter ID laws and other forms of voter suppression. However, extensive research has found that in-person voter fraud is extremely rare. In 2007, the Brennan Center delivered a seminal report which found that the vast majority of voter fraud allegations turn out to be baseless. The report noted that it is statistically more likely that an American “will be struck by lightning than that he will impersonate another voter at the polls.”
Since that 2007 report, dozens of additional studies and investigations have reached the same conclusion. For example, a 2014 study by The Washington Post found only 31 credible instances of impersonation fraud out of more than 1 billion ballots that were cast from 2000 to 2014. In light of this research, there is overwhelming and bipartisan consensus between researchers, law enforcement officials, and election administrators that voter fraud is extremely rare.
Despite this body of evidence, President Trump has regularly raised the alarm for voter fraud. In the aftermath of the 2016 presidential election, Trump blamed voter fraud for causing him to lose the popular vote, claiming without evidence that millions of people had voted illegally for Hillary Clinton. The Brennan Center’s analysis of the 2016 election found Trump’s claims to be unfounded. But in 2017, he formed a controversial commission to investigate potential voting fraud. The panel, which was abruptly disbanded in January 2018, included several commissioners with long histories of voter suppression.
As the Florida recount unfolds, and in elections to come, we must continue to dispel the voter fraud myth that Trump and Scott are continuing to promote, and that works against making elections fair, safe, and accessible.
Image: Mark Wilson/Getty