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How Trump’s Voter Fraud Investigation Will Just Lead to Voter Suppression

... Because this was already going on before Trump.


During the presidential campaign, Donald Trump made a habit of saying the election would be “rigged” and that he wouldn’t say ahead of time whether he could have any faith in the results. After he won, he seemed pretty sure our voting system was sound, but the jeers that he lost the popular vote seem to have gotten under his skin, and he’s back to claiming that millions of votes were illegally cast—a claim that could be used to rig future elections.

First, and most importantly: Fraudulent voting just isn’t a problem. That’s not to say it doesn’t happen at all, but it doesn’t happen on a large enough scale to affect anything. Really. Even if it did, due to the Electoral College—no matter how you feel about it right now—it would have to be a widespread conspiracy, because running up votes in just a few places wouldn’t cut it to win the Electoral College vote.

So what is Trump talking about? There is a nugget of truth in his claims that he seems to have latched onto as proof of fraud: there are many voters who are registered in more than one state, or who remain registered after they die. That’s what the Pew Research report that Trump likes to reference—as he did in this tense interview last night—is based on, but the report does not say that those outdated registrations are actually used for falsified votes. Its author has made that quite clear. Meanwhile, Jesse Richman, the man behind the data that suggests non-citizens may actually vote, says that, even if his research is correct (which it probably isn’t based on the sample size and survey format), less than one million non-citizens would’ve voted for Clinton—the “3-5 million” claim from Trump still being overblown, and he still would’ve lost the popular vote. Meanwhile, undocumented immigrants also pay taxes, which I don’t hear anyone complaining about.

After the media’s prodding of Press Secretary Sean Spicer at a press briefing—telling him that if Trump really believes this voter fraud happened, he should want to investigate—Trump has decided he’s going to launch an investigation, reaching beyond just the 2016 election. He even gave a particularly combative interview about it, again bringing up the Pew Report. However, Trump’s own team and family make the report’s own point: Several of them are registered to vote in multiple states, so what is he getting at here? While it may be satisfying to pick on them for this, their response will likely be that they’re not saying people who are registered to vote multiple times are criminals, but that they simply want to tighten up the system to get rid of these duplicate registrations and add stricter requirements on registering to vote and “Voter ID” laws so that the actual fraudsters can’t perpetrate their crimes.

That’s where the problem comes in. These outdated registrations, while kind of a sloppy system, have never caused a meaningful problem, but they can and will be used as a prop to support measures that actively target certain groups of voters. These Voter ID laws have been struck down multiple times—with Texas’ particularly strict one just recently refused a chance for appeal in the Supreme Court—with the justification that many voters don’t have the kind of ID required (as many as 600,000 in Texas, for example), and placing that burden on them is a violation of the Voting Rights Act. Many people can’t imagine not having such an ID, but that doesn’t mean people without one should have to go out of their way to secure their existing voting rights in order to solve an imaginary problem.

Then, there’s the “Crosscheck” system, which has been used to purge potentially erroneous voter registrations from the rolls. However, it’s unknown how effective or reliable that system is, and the potential to purge legitimate voters without their knowledge is hard to ignore. It also seems that statistical analysis of Crosscheck data indicates that it may disproportionately affect voters of color.

Not only that, but in North Carolina, it was ruled that a Voter ID law’s provisions “target African Americans with almost surgical precision” when it was struck down. Make no mistake: These laws are no different than the ones you (hopefully) learned about in history class that were aimed at limiting voting along racial and financial lines. Those laws didn’t just stop in the 1960s with the passage of the Voting Rights Act. (Trump’s own Attorney General pick even has a troubling history with it, though his confirmation has been delayed.) They just changed tactics, and they’re gaining support among people who are stirred to fear by claims of fraud that don’t amount to a real problem.

I may sound like a broken record, but that’s the heart of the problem: Enacting laws that make voting more difficult for some voters while solving no tangible problem—even if the proponents don’t personally think the burden is too great based on their own life circumstances—is voter suppression, plain and simple, and that’s what these claims of fraudulent votes will be used for. Fully 16% of states have a “strict photo ID” requirement, and that will only grow if these attacks on voting rights are allowed to continue. Spicer himself telegraphed during the press briefing that the investigation would likely focus on liberal, Democrat-leaning areas without directly saying so. While it might be satisfying to throw in the Trump team’s face, don’t get bogged down trying to prove that Trump’s own associates have questionable voting registration—they already know that, and it’s just more ammunition for an oppressive cause.

(image via Shutterstock)

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Dan Van Winkle (he) is an editor and manager who has been working in digital media since 2013, first at now-defunct Geekosystem (RIP), and then at The Mary Sue starting in 2014, specializing in gaming, science, and technology. Outside of his professional experience, he has been active in video game modding and development as a hobby for many years. He lives in North Carolina with Lisa Brown (his wife) and Liz Lemon (their dog), both of whom are the best, and you will regret challenging him at Smash Bros.