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Refuting the Myth of Voter Fraud Yet Again

Voter fraud is extremely rare — a fact that won’t be changed by the Trump team’s repeated attempts to subvert the election.

Published: January 6, 2021

Elec­tion offi­cials and experts have long been clear: voter fraud is exceed­ingly rare. Nonethe­less, Pres­id­ent Trump and his enablers have repeatedly made base­less claims of massive voter fraud for years, most recently as part of their fruit­less attempts to over­turn the pres­id­en­tial elec­tion. Those efforts, which frequently singled out areas with large numbers of Black or brown voters, have been rebuked by federal govern­ment agen­cies, scores of state and local Repub­lican elec­tion offi­cials, and dozens of courts (includ­ing Trump-appoin­ted judges).

None of that has stopped Trump’s brazen attempts to subvert the will of Amer­ican public. In a phone call last Saturday, he pres­sured Geor­gia Secret­ary of State Brad Raffen­sper­ger, a fellow Repub­lican, to “find 11,780 votes” in order to reverse the outcome in the state — a move that legal experts have condemned as a flag­rant abuse of power.

What can we make of Trump’s repeated claims of voter fraud?

The pres­id­ent’s claims of wide­spread voter fraud are not just unsub­stan­ti­ated — they are flat-out false, and have been repeatedly and defin­it­ively debunked by scores of the nation’s lead­ing elec­tion admin­is­trat­ors, national secur­ity lead­ers, polit­ical lead­ers, and elec­tion experts. Indeed, the top federal agen­cies in charge of elec­tion secur­ity issued a joint state­ment declar­ing that the Novem­ber 3 elec­tion was “the most secure in Amer­ican history” and that there was “no evid­ence that any voting system deleted or lost votes, changed votes, or was in any way comprom­ised.”

Since Novem­ber, Trump and his allies have had ample time to provide evid­ence of voter fraud across the coun­try but have been unable to do so. They have filed more than 60 lawsuits chal­len­ging the results of the Novem­ber elec­tion — many of them target­ing major­ity Black cities and counties — and have lost all but one. Judges have unan­im­ously rebuffed Trump’s claims of fraud as unfoun­ded and contrary to evid­ence, includ­ing judges appoin­ted by Trump and other Repub­lican pres­id­ents. Trump’s fraud claims were so outrageous that several courts went so far as to denounce the ethics of the lawyers who filed them and expressed incredu­lity at the relief they sought — namely, to disen­fran­chise hundreds or even millions of voters. Trump fared no better in the lead up to Elec­tion Day, when he filed more than a dozen lawsuits predict­ing that the elec­tion would be marred by fraud. Courts rejec­ted every one of those claims.

These latest attempts are consist­ent with more than four years of peddling lies about wide­spread voter fraud by Trump, who even chal­lenged the integ­rity of the 2016 elec­tion with false claims about mass voting by undoc­u­mented immig­rants. The commis­sion he estab­lished in 2017 to prove the exist­ence of fraud shuttered in scan­dal after find­ing no such fraud. His efforts in 2020 have failed even more spec­tac­u­larly — and have made clear that his claims were no more than a pretext to disen­fran­chise millions of voters and steal an elec­tion.

How well-run was the elec­tion in Geor­gia based on what we saw both on Elec­tion Day in Novem­ber and in the subsequent audit and recount processes?

The elec­tion was extremely well-run in Geor­gia, which is partic­u­larly remark­able given that the elec­tion was conduc­ted in the middle of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Geor­gia was able to accom­plish this, firstly, because the state inves­ted in increased pay for poll work­ers to make sure that plenty of polling sites would be avail­able and that they could keep crowding to a minimum. Local juris­dic­tions bought extra emer­gency paper ballots in case of machine glitches. Voters, too, played a part. They planned ahead and voted early when possible to reduce the burden on Elec­tion Day polling places. They reques­ted and mailed their ballots in early or used secure drop boxes to ensure their ballots would be received in time to count. Just a week after exper­i­en­cing a Covid-19 outbreak in their elec­tions ware­house, work­ers in Fulton County, as well as across the state, logged multiple nights of late hours to ensure that all ballots were scanned quickly and results released as promptly as possible.

Last but not least, for the first time in several decades, Geor­gia conduc­ted a statewide general elec­tion in which all votes were cast on paper. That’s because in 2020, Geor­gia finally replaced its anti­quated and paper­less voting systems — which secur­ity experts had long found were insec­ure — with new machines that produced a paper record of each vote.

Elec­tion Day was followed by a full canvass of these votes (which means, among other things, compar­ing the number of voters who signed in at the polls or reques­ted and returned mail ballots with the total number of votes repor­ted), and then a full recount of every one of the nearly 5 million paper ballots. Geor­gia completed that full process twice: once by hand and once by machine.

In short, there has prob­ably never been an elec­tion in Geor­gia that has involved so much work both in prepar­a­tion and to recon­firm the results. 

In a recent phone call, Trump pres­sured Geor­gia Secret­ary of State Brad Raffen­sper­ger, a fellow Repub­lican, to “find” enough votes to over­turn his defeat. Histor­ic­ally speak­ing, where does this rank as a pres­id­en­tial abuse of power?

This undoubtedly ranks as one of the most egre­gious abuses of pres­id­en­tial power in the history of the repub­lic. Never before has a sitting pres­id­ent attemp­ted to use his power to try to over­turn the result of an elec­tion he lost. Not only did Trump threaten a public offi­cial to try to get him to viol­ate the law, but he did so in an attempt to subvert the demo­cratic process — the very found­a­tion of our polit­ical system and the pres­id­ent’s author­ity. 

This incid­ent is part of a broader pattern of conduct by Trump that includes his notori­ous 2017 conver­sa­tion with the pres­id­ent of Ukraine, an incid­ent that led to Trump’s impeach­ment. Then, too, he threatened to use the powers of the pres­id­ency (to with­hold U.S. aid gran­ted by Congress) unless Ukraine helped him polit­ic­ally (by support­ing his efforts to under­mine the invest­ig­a­tion into Russi­a’s inter­fer­ence in the 2016 elec­tion and launch­ing a crim­inal invest­ig­a­tion of Hunter Biden). Trump has also repeatedly tried to shut down the Russia probe and to pres­sure the Depart­ment of Justice to take myriad actions to bene­fit his allies and punish his polit­ical adversar­ies. 

Did voting machine compan­ies foun­ded by Hugo Chávez play a decis­ive role in the 2020 elec­tion?

Trump’s allies have attemp­ted to link Domin­ion Voting Systems, a company that makes voting machines used in several Geor­gia counties and in juris­dic­tions across the United States, with the late Venezuelan pres­id­ent Hugo Chávez. They have claimed that Domin­ion used soft­ware from another voting machine company, Smart­matic, and that the latter company was foun­ded by Chávez to fix elec­tions. These claims are unfoun­ded and categor­ic­ally false. These compan­ies are not connec­ted to the Venezuelan govern­ment, nor did they or any voting machine company inter­fere in the 2020 general elec­tion.

First, while the founders of Smart­matic are Venezuelan, the company was foun­ded in Flor­ida, incor­por­ated in the United States, and is now headquartered in London, and there is no evid­ence that the company has any rela­tion­ship with govern­ments or polit­ical parties in Venezuela or else­where. The famil­ies of Anto­nio Mugica and Roger Piñate, Smart­mat­ic’s founders, hold the major­ity of the company’s shares. Further­more, Smart­mat­ic’s involve­ment in the 2020 U.S. general elec­tion was limited. As the New York Times reports, aside from a contract with Los Angeles County, the company was not involved in the 2020 general elec­tion. Smart­matic has stated that none of the systems it provided coun­ted, tabu­lated, or stored votes.

Simil­arly, there is no evid­ence that Domin­ion has any corpor­ate ties with Venezuela. In response to a request by the House Commit­tee on Admin­is­tra­tion, Domin­ion CEO John Poulos stated in an April 2020 letter that approx­im­ately 75 percent of the company was owned by Staple Street Capital, a New York City-based private equity firm; that Poulos himself, a Cana­dian citizen, held a 12 percent stake; and that no other investor held more than a 5 percent stake. It should be noted that these numbers are repor­ted by a privately owned company and as a result are not inde­pend­ently veri­fi­able. The Bren­nan Center has called for greater trans­par­ency when it comes to the owner­ship or control of elec­tion system vendors.  Nonethe­less, any claims of ties between Domin­ion and the Venezuelan govern­ment remain unsub­stan­ti­ated.

Import­antly, there is also no evid­ence that Domin­ion voting machines used Smart­matic soft­ware during the Novem­ber elec­tion, and both compan­ies have stated that they have no busi­ness rela­tion­ship. 

Trump has cited, among other things, a report that claims it uncovered signi­fic­ant tabu­la­tion errors in Antrim County, Michigan. Did glitchy voting machines throw off the vote counts in battle­ground states? 

As with any tech­no­logy, it is import­ant to double (and triple) check results repor­ted by voting systems, which are prone to occa­sional human and tech­nical errors and malfunc­tions. That’s why it’s so import­ant to have paper ballots, a postelec­tion canvass, and post-elec­tion audits that allow elec­tion offi­cials to check, verify, and if neces­sary, correct initial unof­fi­cial elec­tion results. 

In Antrim County, human error led to mistakes in enter­ing initial vote tallies. The county clerk caught the error and fixed it the next morn­ing, before initial results were final­ized. These results were later confirmed in a postelec­tion audit, which included a hand recount of every single vote for pres­id­ent.

More gener­ally, it’s worth noting that in the three states where Trump support­ers plan to contest elec­tion results in Congress — Arizona, Geor­gia, and Pennsylvania — there were paper ballots for every single vote. All of these states have conduc­ted postelec­tion audits compar­ing paper ballots with the machine totals.

What kind of effects do repeated voter fraud claims have on Amer­ican demo­cracy? What can or should be done to set the record straight?

After Janu­ary 20, the United States will have to grapple with whether and how to best ensure Trump is held account­able for his persist­ent abuses of pres­id­en­tial power. But it is not enough to look back­wards: the coun­try also needs to shore up the guard­rails against pres­id­en­tial over­reach in order to prevent similar abuses in future admin­is­tra­tions. Congress can start by passing the Protect Our Demo­cracy Act and adopt­ing the other recom­mend­a­tions made by the bipar­tisan National Task Force on Rule of Law and Demo­cracy. For its part, the incom­ing admin­is­tra­tion can adopt constraints to ensure the rule of law and ethical governance. 

Congress can also act to strengthen voting rights and the elect­oral count­ing system to ensure that there are no more loop­holes that unscru­pu­lous candid­ates can exploit to disen­fran­chise eligible voters, espe­cially people of color. The best ways for Congress to start are by passing the For the People Act (H.R. 1), which would guar­an­tee every Amer­ican fair voting access; by passing the John Lewis Voting Rights Advance­ment Act, which would shore up protec­tions against discrim­in­a­tion in the voting process; and by upgrad­ing the byzantine Elect­oral Count Act, which governs how elect­oral votes are cast and coun­ted.