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10 Voter Fraud Lies Debunked

Get the Facts: American elections are clean and trustworthy despite what President Trump and others claim.

  • Max Feldman
Published: May 27, 2020
Donald Trump
Drew Angerer/Getty

Mail voting has taken on new import­ance as a crucial strategy for protect­ing voters’ safety amid the Covid-19 pandemic. As if on cue, Pres­id­ent Trump and his surrog­ates have claimed that mail voting is rife with fraud, and that efforts to expand access to mail voting — like Michigan’s, for example — are ille­git­im­ate. That is incor­rect: as the Bren­nan Center has explained, fraud in mail voting remains extremely rare, and none of the states that hold their elec­tions primar­ily by mail have had voter fraud scan­dals since imple­ment­ing the systems.

These claims of wide­spread fraud are noth­ing more than old wine in new bottles. Pres­id­ent Trump and his allies have long claimed, without evid­ence, that differ­ent aspects of our elec­tions are infec­ted with voter fraud. Before mail voting, they pushed similar false narrat­ives about noncit­izen voting, voter imper­son­a­tion, and double voting in order to enact laws that reduce turnout and discredit adverse elec­tion results.

Here are 10 of the most egre­gious voter fraud claims of the past five years.

1. Trump Lies About Noncitizens Voting After Losing Popular Vote

Weeks after being elec­ted in 2016, the pres­id­ent tweeted: “In addi­tion to winning the elect­oral college in a land­slide, I won the popu­lar vote if you deduct the millions of people who voted illeg­ally.”

In the after­math of the 2016 elec­tion, the Bren­nan Center researched and rebut­ted claims of wide­spread noncit­izen voting. The ensu­ing report found only about 30 incid­ents of suspec­ted noncit­izen voting that were referred for further invest­ig­a­tion or prosec­u­tion out of 23.5 million votes tabu­lated in the 42 juris­dic­tions stud­ied, which were selec­ted because of their high rates of noncit­izen resid­ents. In other words, noncit­izen votes accoun­ted for no more than 0.0001 percent of the 2016 votes in these juris­dic­tions.

2. Trump Blames 2016 New Hampshire Loss on Out-of-State Voters

For years, the pres­id­ent and his allies have tried to explain his loss in the Gran­ite State by alleging that nonres­id­ent students were bused in from neigh­bor­ing states to vote illeg­ally.

The Bren­nan Center and a number of journ­al­ists have rebut­ted this claim — as did New Hamp­shire Secret­ary of State Bill Gard­ner, who was a member of Trump’s own voter fraud commis­sion. An invest­ig­a­tion by the New Hamp­shire attor­ney general found virtu­ally zero evid­ence of voter fraud in the state. Even though Trump’s claim was base­less, it has had a harm­ful effect on elec­tions. Since 2016, the state has enacted two laws to make it more diffi­cult for students to register and to vote. Further­more, Trump has revived the claim, repeat­ing it at a New Hamp­shire rally in Febru­ary 2020.

3. Activist Group Falsely Accuses Virginia Citizens of Voter Fraud

In 2016 and 2017, an activ­ist group called the Public Interest Legal Found­a­tion (PILF) published two docu­ments — Alien Inva­sion of Virginia and Alien Inva­sion II, replete with flying saucers on the cover — claim­ing that thou­sands of noncit­izens had registered and voted illeg­ally in Virginia. PILF has targeted juris­dic­tions around the coun­try, urging them to purge their voter rolls more aggress­ively.

The PILF docu­ments misid­en­ti­fied lawfully registered U.S. citizens as noncit­izens. Further­more, PILF doxed these indi­vidu­als, expos­ing their names, home addresses, and, in some cases, tele­phone numbers and email addresses. Voting rights advoc­ates brought a lawsuit in response, arguing that the docu­ments’ inac­cur­ate claims were defam­at­ory and also consti­tuted voter intim­id­a­tion, a viol­a­tion of federal law. PILF initially fought the lawsuit but ulti­mately settled after an early loss in the litig­a­tion. As part of the settle­ment, PILF took down from its websites the exhib­its that refer­enced indi­vidual voters, and PILF’s pres­id­ent issued a writ­ten apology to the plaintiffs in the lawsuit.

4. Bad Social Science Props Up Noncitizen Voter Myth

In 2017, pres­id­en­tial press secret­ary Sean Spicer used a study, authored by profess­ors at Old Domin­ion Univer­sity and George Mason Univer­sity, to justify Trump’s claims that wide­spread voter fraud marred the 2016 elec­tion. The study claimed that up to 14 percent of noncit­izens had voted in recent elec­tions, based on an analysis of the Cooper­at­ive Congres­sional Elec­tion Study (CCES), which surveys tens of thou­sands of Amer­ic­ans about their elec­tion exper­i­ence.

Accord­ing to the schol­ars who run the CCES, the authors of the Old Domin­ion study misused CCES data to reach their conclu­sions. In surveys like the CCES, some indi­vidu­als respond incor­rectly to the survey’s ques­tions. As a result, a small number of citizens were misclas­si­fied as noncit­izens. The authors of the discred­ited study failed to account for this “meas­ure­ment error,” render­ing their study “irre­spons­ible social science” that “should never have been published in the first place.” The CCES schol­ars concluded that “the likely percent of non-citizen voters in recent US elec­tions is 0.”

5. Trump Alleges Widespread Voter Impersonation After 2018 Midterms

In Novem­ber 2018, the pres­id­ent claimed: “The Repub­lic­ans don’t win and that’s because of poten­tially illegal votes. When people get in line that have abso­lutely no right to vote and they go around in circles. Some­times they go to their car, put on a differ­ent hat, put on a differ­ent shirt, come in and vote again.”

The Bren­nan Center, along­side academ­ics and journ­al­ists, have invest­ig­ated claims of voterimper­son­a­tion fraud (which happens when an ineligible voter pretends to be an eligible voter at the polls) and found that it almost never happens. A Bren­nan Center report determ­ined that Amer­ic­ans are more likely to be struck by light­ning than to commit voter-imper­son­a­tion fraud. Follow-up work by Loyola Law School’s Justin Levitt found just 31 cred­ible instances of imper­son­a­tion fraud from 2000 to 2014 out of more than 1 billion ballots cast.

6. Conservative Organization Compiles Misleading Database

In 2017, members of Pres­id­ent Trump’s doomed voter fraud commis­sion relied on a Herit­age Found­a­tion data­base that claimed to contain evid­ence of approx­im­ately 1,100 instances of voter fraud.

The Bren­nan Center analyzed this data­base and found that the claims were “grossly exag­ger­ated” and “devoid of context.” There were only 10 cases involving in-person voter-imper­son­a­tion fraud and only 41 involving noncit­izen voting. Put in context, the think tank inad­vert­ently under­mined claims of wide­spread voter fraud. In the period covered by the data­base, which stretched back to the Truman era, more than 3 billion votes were cast in federal elec­tions alone, along with many more in state and local elec­tions. Thus, the cases iden­ti­fied in the data­base made up an infin­ites­im­ally small portion of the over­all number of votes cast. Less than seven months after its incep­tion, Trump’s voter fraud commis­sion was disban­ded.

7. Florida Senator Cries Fraud to Undermine Vote-Counting Process

In 2018, Rick Scott — at the time the governor of Flor­ida — claimed without evid­ence that there was “rampant fraud” in the U.S. Senate elec­tion he ended up winning. This was a stark example of candid­ates in close races making wild fraud alleg­a­tions to discredit the vote-count­ing process.

Scot­t’s claims of fraud were quickly and widely rejec­ted, includ­ing by members of his own admin­is­tra­tion. For example, elec­tion monit­ors from Scot­t’s admin­is­tra­tion repor­ted that they saw no evid­ence of fraud in Broward County, a focal point of Scot­t’s accus­a­tions. A state judge, in an emer­gency lawsuit brought by the Scott campaign, also said that he had seen no evid­ence of fraud. Ulti­mately, in April 2020, the Flor­ida Depart­ment of Law Enforce­ment closed lengthy invest­ig­a­tions into these issues, find­ing no evid­ence to support Scot­t’s alleg­a­tions of wide­spread fraud.

8. Kobach Pushes Myth of Noncitizen Voter Registration in Kansas

During a 2018 federal court trial, then–Sec­ret­ary of State Kris Kobach claimed there were approx­im­ately 18,000 noncit­izens on the Kansas voter rolls in order to justify his state’s docu­ment­ary proof of citizen­ship (DPOC) law.

A federal district court rejec­ted Kobach’s claim that the “best estim­ate” avail­able was that 18,000 noncit­izens were on Kansas voter rolls. The former secret­ary of state’s claim drew from the analysis of an expert witness he had hired to support his case, but the court found that the analysis “suffer[ed] from flaws that give it little probat­ive value.” After trial, the court found that only 39 noncit­izens had success­fully registered to vote between 1999 and 2013 (before the DPOC law was put in place) — just 0.002 percent of all registered voters. The law blocked more than 31,000 Kansans from regis­ter­ing to vote between 2013 and 2016. The court struck it down, hold­ing that it viol­ated federal law, and the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed this decision in April 2020. The court also ordered Kobach to attend legal train­ing classes, in response to his repeated viol­a­tion of court rules.

9. Texas Secretary of State Uses Flawed Lists to Justify Voter Purges

In 2019, then–Sec­ret­ary of State David Whit­ley declared that 95,000 noncit­izens were on Texas’s voter rolls and accused 58,000 of them of cast­ing a ballot. State offi­cials and the pres­id­ent seized on these stat­ist­ics to suggest that new voting laws, includ­ing voter ID laws, were needed. In addi­tion, Whit­ley star­ted forward­ing lists of names to county elec­tion offi­cials so that they could be purged from the rolls.

Almost imme­di­ately, county offi­cials complained that the lists were inac­cur­ate. A federal court quickly inter­vened to halt any purges that were based on the lists. Whit­ley had developed his lists by compar­ing driver’s license records with the state’s voter rolls. But noncit­izens can first obtain driver’s licenses and later natur­al­ize, making them eligible to register to vote. This happens frequently, espe­cially in Texas, where 55,000 people become citizens each year. Whit­ley even­tu­ally apolo­gized for the lists and resigned. Even though Trump ampli­fied the claims when they were first aired, he never issued a correc­tion when they were proven inac­cur­ate.

10. Kentucky Governor Alleges Fraud to Challenge Reelection Outcome

In 2019, Gov. Matt Bevin lost his reelec­tion campaign. He imme­di­ately sought a recan­vass of the votes, claim­ing without evid­ence that there were “signi­fic­ant irreg­u­lar­it­ies” in the elec­tion process. These claims appear to have been part of an effort to build momentum to chal­lenge the elec­tion outcome before the state legis­lature.

The governor and his support­ers alleged that the elec­tion results were contam­in­ated by voter fraud and improper admin­is­tra­tion (such as absentee ballots being “illeg­ally coun­ted”). Online trolls and Twit­ter bots shared the unfoun­ded narrat­ive. None of Bevin’s vague and varied claims were substan­ti­ated, and GOP lead­er­ship quickly called on Bevin to concede.