President-elect Donald Trump’s baseless allegations of “voter fraud” may be problematic for those who have fought for voting rights, activist groups say. Although his claims are not substantive and voter fraud has been debunked in numerous studies, his claims give leverage to political leaders who fought to keep in place strict laws such as voter ID laws that disenfranchise minority voters.
“They don’t want us to participate in this democracy,” said Cristbal J. Alex, president of the Latino Victory Project. “We are gearing up for what will be the biggest fight of our lifetime.”
Over the weekend Trump took to Twitter to say that Hillary Clinton, his Democratic opponent in the election, only won the popular vote as a result of “millions of people who voted illegally.” And, during his campaign, he insisted the election was going to be “rigged.”
The League of Women Voters (LWV), an advocacy group, posted a press release on its website last week titled, “The 2016 Presidential Election WAS Rigged.” But the LWV was actually referring to voter suppression.
“Since the Supreme Court rolled back key provisions of the Voting Rights Act in 2013, elected officials have purged existing voters from the rolls, made cuts to early voting, reduced polling places, put in place strict voter photo ID laws and levied onerous voter registration restrictions,” the release states.
The LWV cites Wisconsin, where Trump edged out Clinton by about 27,000 votes, even though about 300,000 voters did not have proper ID.
“We are not talking about vigilante voter intimidation,” said Chris Carson, president of the LWV. “We are talking about official, legal voter suppression by state legislatures and election officials.”
“It is clear that this kind of voter suppression could impact the outcome of elections,” Carson continued. “We may never know whether the efforts to block voter participation changed the outcome in any particular race but we must be on guard for the future.”
Similarly, Kristen Clarke, president of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, said her organization received many complaints about problems while voting but not the problems Trump was so concerned about.
“We did not receive any complaints of voter fraud, but we received plenty of complaints of elections officials requiring identification where there was no such requirement in place, of polling machines malfunctioning, of individuals brandishing weapons at polling sites, of students being told they were not eligible to vote,” Clarke said.
Trump’s suggestion of “rampant voter fraud” only opens the door for restrictive laws to roll back the progress voting activists have made, Clarke said, “and that is incredibly anti-democratic.”
Political leaders have also raised concerns about Trump’s voter fraud allegations.
“Given the troubling rhetoric and records of the president-elect and his nominee for attorney general, I am deeply concerned that the Trump administration will use totally unsubstantiated claims of voter fraud of this nature to make it more difficult for citizens to vote,” said Rep. John Conyers Jr. (D-Mich.)
Sen. Bernie Sanders (Vt.) also weighed in. “When you’ve got this delusional, crazy tweet from the president-elect, you are sending a signal to the entire administration that their goal is to go forward and suppress the vote,” he said.
Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions, Trump’s pick for attorney general, and Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, who is part of Trump’s transition team, have both raised concerns that they will push voter suppression efforts.
Sessions, while serving as U.S. attorney in Alabama, was involved in a voting rights case in which his office accused three Black civil rights activists of tampering with absentee ballots. However, the activists said it was done with the consent of the illiterate and elderly voters whose ballots were in question.
Over the summer, Kansas asked a U.S. appeals court to reinstate a very strict voter ID law, with Kobach alleging rampant voter fraud in the U.S. A judge overturned the strict law, restoring the right to vote for thousands of people. According to the judge, Kansas could identify only three non-citizens who voted between 2003 and the onset of the law in 2013.
The Myth of Voter Fraud
The myth of voter fraud has been debunked and is widely considered a way to suppress minority and elderly voters.
“Debunking the Voter Fraud Myth,” published in September by the Brennan Center for Justice, cites previous research that has repeatedly disproved the fears related to voter fraud, concluding that it amounts only to severely hindering minorities from voting. According to the publication, incidents of voter fraud are most often the result of “clerical errors or bad data matching practices” and in fact only occur at rates between 0.00004 and 0.00009 percent.
“As historians and election experts have catalogued, there is a long history in this country of racially suppressive voting measures including poll taxes and all-white primaries put in place under the guise of stopping voter fraud that wasn’t actually occurring in the first place,” the text states. “The surest way toward voting that is truly free, fair, and accessible is to know the facts in the face of such rhetoric.”
In August the Brennan Center published “Dangers of ‘Ballot Security’ Operations: Preventing Intimidation, Discrimination, and Disruption,” which outlines the legal issues pertaining to voter intimidation following calls for “ballot security” amid the dismantling of strict voter ID laws. The publication cites numerous laws regarding voter intimidation and discrimination, stating that the law prevents discriminating against and/or intimidating voters, using police at polling sites and “conspiring to interfere with voters’ rights.”
“Challenges and other ballot-security measures are especially ripe for abuse in a racially charged environment,” the authors, Wendy Weiser and Adam Gitlin, state. “Recent court rulings against new state laws that would have made it harder to vote make clear that intentional discrimination in the voting context is still all too common.”