Donald Trump continues to believe that millions of illegal immigrants voted for Hillary Clinton. Trump also made this claim right after the election:
State officials found no evidence of widespread voter fraud. The Washington Post found only four instances of in-person voter fraud in 2016. Justin Levitt, a professor at Loyola Law School, said there are 31 credible incidents of voter impersonation out of one billion ballots cast in 2000-2014.
Trump’s claim of voter fraud is curious because most elections were run by Republicans. What would motivate Republicans to skew the popular vote results in favor of Clinton?
Possible sources of Trump’s claim
Brian Schaffner is a academic at the University of Massachusetts. Schaffner designed a study that may be the source of Trump’s allegation of voter fraud. In fact, Sean Spicer, the White House press secretary, pointed to this study as evidence for Trump’s claim.
The study was published in 2014 and it found “more than 14% of non-citizens in 2008 and 2010 “indicated that they were registered to vote.””
This would be a troubling find if true. The reality is the study was plagued by a measurement error. The participates who self-identified as “non-citizens” mistakenly clicked the “non-citizen” button during the survey. They were actually citizens.
Jesse Richman is one of the authors of the study and he offers a more chastened conclusion of his study:
We found low but non-zero levels of non-citizen participation in elections. These levels are sufficient to change the outcomes in extremely close elections, as we illustrated in the paper. But one should keep in mind that such elections can be swayed by any number of factors that arguably bias election results toward, or against, particular parties and candidates. Put another way, our results suggest that almost all elections in the US are not determined by non-citizen participation, with occasional and very rare potential exceptions.
On this vein, we would also like to remind readers that we were merely raising the MN Senate race and the NC electoral college outcome as examples of the types of races that could be swayed by non-citizen participation. The survey data we used provides no way at all to determine whether in fact the outcomes of these races were or were not in fact swayed by non-citizen participation. We used terms like plausible rather than anything more definitive.
To be clear, there is evidence of non-citizen voting. The study does not provide evidence of widespread voter fraud. This means that concerns about non-citizen voter fraud are not completely unfounded. There is a margin of error here. There is not enough evidence to undermine our confidence in election results.
Perhaps Spicer was thinking about the Pew Charitable Trusts study released in 2012. The study did find widespread irregularities in voter registration. In fact, the study found 24 million registrations that were invalid or significantly in error.
The problem for Spicer is this study focused on voter registrations, not voting per se. Even more telling, the study’s author, David Becker, said there is no evidence of voter fraud.
How did we get here?
Here is how the BBC summarizes the origin of the fraud controversy:
- Unsubstantiated claim was started without evidence by self-styled conservative voter fraud specialist Greg Phillips, who tweeted “Number of non-citizen votes exceeds 3 million”
- His tweets were picked up by right-wing websites like Infowars.com, which has made false claims in the past
- Fact-checking website Snopes.com says there is “zero evidence” that “illegal aliens” voted in election
- ‘Don’t buy it’, says Politifact, which points to research suggesting there have been 56 cases of non-citizens voting numbers between 2000-2011
- A Pew study in 2012 found millions of invalid voter registrations because people moved or died, but “zero evidence” of fraud