In his first meeting with congressional leaders on Monday night, President Donald Trump once again insisted on the widely debunked claim that he would have won the popular vote had it not been for 3 million to 5 million “illegals” who voted in the 2016 election.
Despite numerous studies and investigations dispelling any notion of widespread voter fraud; a statement Tuesday from the National Association of Secretaries of State, which represents the nation’s chief state election officials, saying it is “not aware of any evidence that supports the voter fraud claims made by President Trump”; and the mathematical improbability of such a fraud taking place, the White House is backing Trump’s claims without providing verifiable facts.
The president “believes what he believes,” said White House press secretary Sean Spicer on Tuesday. “He has stated that before. I think he’s stated his concerns of voter fraud and people voting illegally during the campaign and continues to maintain that belief based on studies and evidence that people have presented to him.”
One of those studies is reportedly a 2012 Pew report on voter fraud, whose author David Becker on Tuesday tweeted that his research did not reach that conclusion. “As I’ve noted before, voting integrity better in this election than ever before. Zero evidence of fraud.”
Trump won the Electoral College 304-227 but lost the popular vote by more than 2.8 million. More than 137 million total votes were counted.
Even House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), who attended the meeting with Trump, on Tuesday said he had “seen no evidence” of widespread voter fraud.
Election experts say massive election fraud to the degree Trump describes would require a vast conspiracy involving both Democrat and Republican officials at the federal, state and local levels, down to individual poll workers.
Former Missouri Secretary of State Jason Kander, who supervised elections in that state, said on CNN Tuesday, “It would be easier to fake a Mars landing than to do that.”
Additionally, Trump critics note, if Democrats had the ability to devise such a conspiracy, these “illegal” voters would have been placed in battleground states where Trump won by fewer than 80,000 votes, rather than commit the fraud in states like California, which Trump has suggested, where Hillary Clinton was assured a win.
“There is no evidence of massive voter fraud — none. The notion that millions of people voted illegally two months ago, and nobody noticed, is preposterous on its face. Election officials, leaders of the president’s own party, and every academic and journalistic investigation confirms this,” said Michael Waldman, president the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law, in a statement Tuesday. A study by the Brennan Center found the rate of voter fraud to be less than 0.001 percent.
“An expensive investigation of imaginary voter fraud is not needed. It could easily devolve into a witch hunt,” Waldman added. “Worse, it could be used to justify sweeping voting restrictions. There is no need for another investigation that is not independent, rigorous, and fact based.”
Waldman’s reference to a witch hunt was echoed by many who see Trump’s claims as nothing more than laying the groundwork for increased voter suppression.
“What I fear about that statement … is that when Trump talks about 3 to 5 million people voting illegally, he is sending a message to every Republican governor in this country to go forward with voter suppression,” said Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders on Tuesday, calling Trump’s claim “nonsensical,” “delusional” and “totally insane.”
In an interview with The New York Times last month, Thomas E. Mann, a resident scholar at the Institute of Governmental Studies at the University of California, Berkeley, said, “The old notion that somehow there are all these impostors out there, people not eligible to vote that are voting — it’s a lie. But it’s what’s being used in the states now to impose increased qualifications and restrictions on voting.”
“It’s actually not a new lie,” said Missouri’s Kander. “It’s just the biggest version of an old lie that, honestly, the Republican Party has been telling for a while.”
It has been widely reported that multiple sources who attended Monday’s meeting with Trump confirmed the president used the word “illegals” in reference to the perpetrators of this fraud. Trump typically uses the pejorative term referring to undocumented immigrants and for the most part associates “illegals” with Mexicans — a group he has maligned since the first day he announced his candidacy.
Trump’s claim that much of the voter fraud occurred in California, which has one of the largest populations of Mexican immigrants, feeds his narrative.
However, the number of Mexican immigrants has been declining — down almost 10 percent between 2009 and 2014 — with immigrants from Asia and sub-Saharan Africa on the rise, according to the Pew Research Center’s most recent estimates. In November, Pew estimated there were 11.1 million unauthorized immigrants in the United States in 2014, accounting for 3.5 percent of the population, down from 12.2 million in 2007. According to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, 1.3 million are from Asia.
Based on those numbers, the 3 million to 5 million votes by “illegals” would represent 27 percent to 45 percent of the entire undocumented immigrant population — a massive conspiracy to accomplish.
“There would need to be a massive national conspiracy and coordination effort to do this, and illegal aliens would need to be on the voter rolls in states across the country months earlier to be eligible to vote,” said Costas Panagopoulos, a Fordham University political scientist, in Politifact. “It is also very convenient the estimated fraudulent vote is just enough to give Trump the popular vote. Not likely a coincidence.”
CNN anchor Jake Tapper on Tuesday issued one of the strongest condemnations surrounding the “stunning allegation for which the White House is providing no evidence.”
“If there were even a fraction of the voter fraud that President Trump is alleging, he would be derelict not to order a major investigation,” he said. “It would likely require a vast conspiracy involving public officials all over the country, and would likely have had far-reaching impact in other contests, tainting races down the ballot, not just the presidential race.
“If President Trump’s beliefs are true, Republican leaders in Congress should be holding hearings and trumpeting this injustice every single day. His Justice Department, his Department of Homeland Security — all of them would need to crack down immediately. Unless, of course, it’s not even remotely true, which is, of course, the case.”
In back-to-back tweets Wednesday morning, Trump said he “will be asking for a major investigation into VOTER FRAUD, including those registered to vote in two states, those who are illegal and even, those registered to vote who are dead (and many for a long time). Depending on results, we will strengthen up voting procedures!”
Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina told NBC News on Tuesday Trump’s claims affect his “ability to govern.”
“To continue to suggest that the 2016 election was conducted in a fashion that millions of people voted illegally undermines faith in our democracy,” Graham said. “It’s not coming from a candidate for the office, it’s coming from the man who holds the office. So I am begging the president, share with us the information you have about this or please stop saying it.”
Ironically, when Green Party candidate Jill Stein sought a recount following the election, Trump’s lawyers filed arguments saying there was no evidence of voter fraud: “All available evidence suggests that the 2016 general election was not tainted by fraud or mistake,” according to a CNN report.
“By repeating false and unsubstantiated voter fraud allegations as the cause for losing the popular vote, President Trump is dangerously attacking the legitimacy of free and fair elections and the foundation of our democracy,” California Secretary of State Alex Padilla told NBC News. These are not “alternative facts,” he added, “They are corrosive lies without any evidence. Even leaders in the President’s own party agree there is no evidence to support his claims since they were irresponsibly made back in November.”
Brennan Center for Justice’s Waldman said, “It is unprecedented in the country’s history for the president and the White House spokesman to push a lie of this magnitude about voting.”