In an ABC News interview that aired Jan. 25, President Donald Trump doubled down on false and misleading claims about voter fraud.
- Trump falsely claimed that a Pew Charitable Trusts report supports his claim that millions of people voted illegally. The report documented millions of instances of voter registration inaccuracies.
- Told the Pew report found no evidence of voter fraud, Trump falsely claimed the report “all of a sudden changed” and the author was now “groveling.” It did not, and he did not.
- Trump claimed that “you have people registered in two states. They’re registered in a New York and a New Jersey. They vote twice.” The 2012 Pew report found that 2.75 million people were registered in more than one state — as apparently are four members of Trump’s cabinet or staff — but there is no evidence that any of them voted twice.
- Trump claimed “I didn’t say there are millions” of fraudulent votes cast in the 2016 election. But he did — in a tweet in November, and again at a meeting with congressional leaders on Jan. 23.
- Trump claimed “if you look at it they [fraudulent voters] all voted for Hillary.” Since there are no reports of widespread fraud, we’re not sure what to “look at,” but even the author who penned a disputed report on noncitizens voting found that 80 percent — not all — backed Barack Obama in 2008.
- Trump said, “if dead people are registered to vote and voting, which they do …” But experts say this is largely urban myth and so-called cases of dead people voting are extremely rare.
As we wrote recently, Trump has continued to claim — without any evidence — that there was massive voter fraud in the 2016 presidential election. And on Jan. 25, the new president announced via Twitter that he will ask for a “major investigation into VOTER FRAUD.”
In an interview that aired on Jan. 25, ABC’s David Muir asked Trump for evidence of widespread fraud, given that “what you have presented so far has been debunked. It’s been called false.” We found several of Trump’s claims in defense of his statements to be inaccurate. (In some cases, we relied on an unedited transcript of the entire interview, posted by ABC News, which aired an edited version of the interview.)
The Pew Study
When asked for evidence of widespread voter fraud, Trump cited a 2012 study by the Pew Charitable Trusts. The report, “Inaccurate, Costly and Inefficient: Evidence That America’s Voter Registration System Needs an Upgrade,” found that “more than 1.8 million deceased individuals are listed as voters” and that “approximately 2.75 million people have registrations in more than one state.”
The report’s authors said it shows that voter rolls are “susceptible to fraud,” though they did not claim it was evidence of actual fraud. Rather, Pew said that it is evidence of the need to upgrade and update voter registration systems.
“The inability of this paper-based process to keep up with voters as they move or die can lead to problems with the rolls, including the perception that they lack integrity or could be susceptible to fraud,” the report said.
Muir said he spoke to the primary author of the Pew report the night before the interview, and David Becker told him the Pew authors found no evidence of voter fraud.
“Really?” Trump responded. “Then why did he write the report?”
When Muir repeated that the author said the Pew researchers found “no evidence of voter fraud,” Trump responded, “then he’s groveling again.”
Later, Trump told Muir, “Now, you’re telling me Pew report has all of a sudden changed.”
But the report from Pew never changed, nor has Becker changed his position.
Back in November, Becker tweeted, “We found millions of out of date registration records due to people moving or dying, but found no evidence that voter fraud resulted.”
Becker reiterated that position in a Jan. 24 interview on CNN, saying the Pew report made no real attempt to quantify voter fraud.
“We were really just trying to quantify the challenge that election officials have in keeping their election rolls, their voter lists, up-to-date in the course of an election cycle,” Becker said.
Becker added that in his experience, “voter fraud is exceedingly rare.”
The Washington Post Fact Checker noted a handful of media interviews in February 2012 in which Becker consistently related that the Pew research did not show any evidence of actual fraud.
In short, the Pew report has not “all of a sudden changed” nor has its primary author, Becker, changed his position.
Trump claimed that there is a problem with people voting “twice.”
“You have people registered in two states,” Trump said. “They’re registered in a New York and a New Jersey. They vote twice.”
There is some evidence, as Trump said, that there are many people who are registered in two different states. As we noted before, the Pew report in 2012 found that approximately 2.75 million people were registered in more than one state.
That figure may now be lower, said Becker, the primary author of the report. In the five years since the report was published, he told CNN, state and local officials “have done a much better job of using data and technology to keep their voter rolls up-to-date.”
But even if there are still millions of people registered to vote in two states, it is not evidence of them actually voting illegally in both of those states. (Indeed, the Guardian reported that senior White House adviser Stephen Bannon was registered in two states, as was Trump’s pick for Treasury secretary, Steve Mnuchin, according to CNN. And the Washington Post also found that Trump’s son-in-law and White House adviser Jared Kushner, as well as White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer, are improperly registered in two states.) Rather, it is evidence that states could do a better job of sharing information to keep track of residents who have moved.
What Trump Said
At one point in the interview, when Muir questioned Trump about his claim that there were “millions of illegal votes,” Trump responded, “I didn’t say there are millions. But I think there could very well be millions of people.”
That’s a puzzling statement from Trump, because earlier in the interview, when Muir asked Trump about reports that he told congressional leaders on Jan. 23 that he lost the popular vote because of 3 million to 5 million illegal votes, Trump at first responded that it was supposed to be a confidential meeting, but then added, “I said it. And I said it strongly because what’s going on with voter fraud is horrible.”
So that’s one instance. And as Muir pointed out in the interview, Trump also tweeted this, on Nov. 27:
In addition to winning the Electoral College in a landslide, I won the popular vote if you deduct the millions of people who voted illegally
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 27, 2016
Illegal Votes Went for Clinton?
Trump also claimed several times that in addition to there being widespread voter fraud — from noncitizens, those voting twice and those voting on behalf of dead people — it all broke Hillary Clinton’s way.
“I will say this, of those votes cast, none of them come to me,” Trump said. “None of them come to me. They would all be for the other side. None of them come to me.”
Later in the interview, he reiterated the point, saying, “Believe me. Those were Hillary votes. And if you look at it they all voted for Hillary. They all voted for Hillary. They didn’t vote for me. I don’t believe I got one. Okay, these are people that voted for Hillary Clinton. And if they didn’t vote, it would’ve been different in the popular.”
We’re not sure what to “look at” when it comes to millions of fraudulent votes, because as we have said, there have been only a few reports of people voting twice or on behalf of a dead person. As for noncitizens voting, Trump has in the past referred to a controversial and disputed study penned by two Old Dominion University professors and published in the journal Electoral Studies, which analyzed a national election survey in which some people self-identified as noncitizens, but indicated that they voted. The two professors estimated, based on extrapolating figures from the survey to a national audience, that 6.4 percent of noncitizens voted in 2008 and 2.2 percent of noncitizens voted in 2010.
But in that study the authors found that Obama won more than 80 percent of the votes of noncitizens in the 2008 sample. That’s an overwhelming majority, but it does not support Trump’s speculation that all of the alleged noncitizen votes would have gone for Clinton. And as we said, the study itself is disputed by a number of academics. (See here, here and here.)
Dead People Voting
And finally, on the topic of “dead people …voting,” Trump added “which they do.” But voting experts told us that fraudulent ballots cast in the name of dead registered voters is largely an urban myth, and that such voting is extremely rare.
Trump, Jan. 25: If people are registered wrongly, if illegals are registered to vote, which they are, if dead people are registered to vote and voting, which they do. There are some. I don’t know how many.
As we explained earlier, the Pew report found that nationwide “more than 1.8 million deceased individuals are listed as voters.” But again, that doesn’t mean that people tried to fraudulently vote on their behalf.
When we visited the topic back in October, numerous voting experts told us it is quite rare.
From time to time, she said, states have compared their voting records against the Social Security Death Index, and in some cases they turned up hundreds or even thousands of apparent instances of “dead people” voting.
But with a bit of digging, almost all of those turned out to be due to clerical errors or as a result of people who legally voted via absentee ballots or the early voting process but later died before Election Day, Minnite said.
For example, in 2012 South Carolina’s attorney general notified the U.S. Department of Justice of potential voter fraud after finding 953 ballots cast in elections going back to 2005 by voters listed as deceased, in some cases as long as six years. But a subsequent review by the State Election Commission found no evidence of fraud and that mostly the cases were clerical errors.
In a letter to the attorney general, the executive director of the State Election Commission wrote that it only had the resources to investigate 207 cases from the most recent 2010 election. Of those cases, it found 106 cases were the result of clerical errors by poll managers; 56 cases were the result of bad data matching, meaning that the person in question was not actually dead; 32 cases were “voter participation errors,” including stray marks on lists erroneously indicting they had voted; three cases were absentee ballots issued to registered voters who cast ballots and later died before Election Day; and 10 cases contained “insufficient information in the record to make a determination.”
“There are a handful of known cases in which documentation shows that votes have been cast in the names of voters who have died before the vote was submitted,” wrote Justin Levitt in a 2007 report, “The Truth About Voter Fraud,” for the Brennan Center for Justice. “It is far more common, however, to see unfounded allegations of epidemic voting from beyond the grave.”
Much of the misinformation about “dead people voting” is due to “flawed matches of lists from one place (death records) to another (voter rolls),” Levitt found. Levitt explored five reports of widespread fraud regarding “dead voters” and found all of them were unfounded or greatly exaggerated.
None of this is to say that voter fraud doesn’t ever occur. A 2015 report from the conservative Heritage Foundation documented hundreds of cases of voter fraud over the last decade. The Washington Post scoured news reports and turned up a handful of incidents of voter fraud in the 2016 election — including two instances of people voting twice and one in which a woman cast a ballot on behalf of her dead husband (all three of whom purported to be voting Republican).
But voting experts we talked to pointed to numerous studies that have found in-person voter fraud — the type of fraud Trump is alleging — is virtually nonexistent. A Government Accountability Office report released in October 2014 and reissued in February 2015 said that “no apparent cases of in-person voter impersonation [were] charged by DOJ’s Criminal Division or by U.S. Attorney’s offices anywhere in the United States from 2004 through July 3, 2014.”
The bipartisan National Association of Secretaries of State released a statement on Jan. 24 stating that its members are “not aware of any evidence that supports the voter fraud claims made by President Trump.”
The burden of proof lies with the person making the claim. And Trump still has offered no evidence to support his contention that “millions” voted illegally.