President-elect Donald Trump baselessly claimed that he “won the popular vote if you deduct the millions of people who voted illegally.” Even the author of the study upon which the claim is based doesn’t buy that.
Trump also claimed there was “[s]erious voter fraud in Virginia, New Hampshire and California,” three states he lost. Here again, there is no evidence to support his claim.
Trump won the election with a convincing victory in the Electoral College, even as CNN vote tallies so far have Hillary Clinton leading the popular vote by more than 2 million votes.
In a tweet sent on Nov. 27, Trump claimed he actually won the popular vote, too, “if you deduct the millions of people who voted illegally.”
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
We reached out to the Trump transition team for backup, and a spokesman pointed us toward two sources that Trump has cited in the past (back when he made bogus statements about voter fraud before the election).
The first is a 2014 Washington Post article titled “Could non-citizens decide the November election?” It was a piece penned by Old Dominion University professors Jesse Richman and David Earnest about research the two later published in the journal Electoral Studies.
The study draws upon a national election survey in which some people self-identified as noncitizens, but indicated that they voted.
“Our best guess, based upon extrapolations from the portion of the sample with a verified vote, is that 6.4 percent of non-citizens voted in 2008 and 2.2 percent of non-citizens voted in 2010,” Richman and Earnest wrote in the Post.
Steven Cheung, a spokesman for the Trump transition team told us, “The Richman study applied an extremely high burden of proof and is thus extremely conservative — if you apply more reasonable assumptions, plus growth in the non-citizen population under Obama, and a lax enforcement atmosphere, the only question is just how many millions of illegal votes were cast.”
Trump cited this study in October when he warned of a “rigged” election. But, as we wrote at the time, Richman and Earnest relied on data from the Cooperative Congressional Election Study, and the managers of that database published a paper that disputed the finding in the Old Dominion study.
“Their finding is entirely due to measurement error,” one of the authors, Stephen Ansolabehere of Harvard and the principal investigator of the Cooperative Congressional Election Study, told us. “Measurement errors happen. People accidentally check the wrong box in surveys. The rate of such errors in the CCES is very small, but such errors do happen. And when they do happen on a question such as citizenship, researchers can easily draw the wrong inference about voting behaviors. Richman and Earnest extrapolate from a handful of wrongfully classified cases (of non-citizens).”
Even if we assume the Richman and Earnest study is correct, Richman told us that it does not back Trump’s claim that noncitizen voting swung the popular vote in favor of Clinton.
Richman told us via email that he ran some extrapolations from his paper to determine the number of noncitizen voters for Clinton and Trump. He assumed that 6.5 percent of noncitizens voted and 80 percent of them voted for Clinton and 20 percent for Trump.
“If the assumptions stated above concerning non-citizen turnout are correct, could non-citizen turnout account for Clinton’s popular vote margin? There is no way it could have,” Richman said, adding that “6.5 percent turnout among the roughly 20.3 million non-citizen adults in the U.S. would add only 790,688.5 votes to Clinton’s popular vote margin. This is little more than a third of the total margin.
“Is it plausible that non-citizen votes added to Clinton’s margin. Yes,” Richman said. “Is it plausible that non-citizen votes account for the entire nation-wide popular vote margin held by Clinton? Not at all.”
It isn’t even possible if you assume more than 80 percent of the noncitizen vote went for Clinton, he said.
“If the percentage of non-citizens voting for Clinton is held constant, roughly 18.5 percent of non-citizens would have had to vote for their votes to have made up the entire Clinton popular vote margin. I don’t think that this rate is at all plausible,” Richman told us. “Even if we assume that 90 percent voted for Clinton and only 10 percent for Trump, a more than fourteen percent turnout would be necessary to account for Clinton’s popular vote margin. This is much higher than the estimates we offered. Again, it seems too high to be plausible.”
So again, Trump’s claim is based on a disputed survey. But even if one accepts the results, the author says it is implausible to conclude based on their research that illegal noncitizen voting could have turned the popular vote in Clinton’s favor.
The transition team also points to a Pew Charitable Trust report, “Inaccurate, Costly and Inefficient: Evidence That America’s Voter Registration System Needs and Upgrade.” The report found that “[a]pproximately 24 million — one of every eight — voter registrations in the United States are no longer valid or are significantly inaccurate.” It also 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 say that it was evidence of actual fraud. Rather, they said that it is evidence of the need to upgrade voter registration systems.
Voting experts told us cases of “dead people” voting, or people voting in multiple states is rare. In cases where states have compared their voter lists to the Social Security Death Index and found hundreds or even thousands of apparent instances of “dead people” voting, almost all of them 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 then died before Election Day.
Voter Fraud in Virginia, New Hampshire and California?
Hours after making his claim about illegal voters swinging the popular vote, Trump also tweeted a warning about “serious voter fraud in Virginia, New Hampshire and California” and chastised the media for ignoring it.
Serious voter fraud in Virginia, New Hampshire and California – so why isn't the media reporting on this? Serious bias – big problem!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 28, 2016
According to unofficial tallies compiled by Real Clear Politics, Trump lost California to Clinton by a wide margin, about 61.6 percent to 32.8 percent. He lost Virginia by a narrower, but still convincing margin, 49.8 to 45.0. Clinton won New Hampshire by just a few thousand votes, with a margin of 47.6 to 47.2.
Trump did not provide any specifics to back up his claim about voter fraud in those states, nor did his press office — other than to refer to the studies cited above.
We couldn’t find any evidence of widespread voter fraud in any of those states, and officials in all three states contradicted Trump’s claim.
The Virginia Department of Elections provided us with a statement from Commissioner of Elections Edgardo Cortés, a Democrat: “The claims of voter fraud in Virginia during the November 8 election are unfounded. Virginia’s election was well administered by our 133 professional local registrars, with help from hundreds of election officials and volunteers who worked to guarantee a good experience for eligible Virginia voters. The election was fair and all votes cast by eligible voters were accurately counted.”
California Secretary of State Alex Padilla, a Democrat, similarly dismissed Trump’s claim with a tweet that stated, “It appears that Mr. Trump is troubled by the fact that a growing majority of Americans did not vote for him. His unsubstantiated claims of voter fraud in California and elsewhere are absurd. His reckless tweets are inappropriate and unbecoming of a President-elect.”
A spokesman for outgoing New Hampshire Gov. Maggie Hassan, a Democrat who narrowly won a race to unseat Republican Sen. Kelly Ayotte, called Trump’s claims of voter fraud in New Hampshire “completely unsubstantiated.”
The Boston Globe also noted that Republican Thomas D. Rath, the former New Hampshire attorney general who did not support Trump in the primary, tweeted, “This will probably cost me my spot in the Cabinet but there was no fraud, serious or other, in this election in NH. There just wasn’t.”
We’ll update this post if new information comes to light, or if Trump provides further backup.