- - Sunday, January 29, 2017

President Trump, like many of his critics in the media, speaks fluent hyperbole. When he exaggerates or stretches figures that may not have been carefully checked out, the critics, nearly all of them guilty of telling the occasional tall tale themselves, cry “fraud” and call him a “liar.” But it’s possible to be mistaken, or even dead wrong, without telling a lie. A lie is telling something that the speaker knows is a lie.

When the president says 3 million or more fraudulent votes may have been cast in November, and that this “voter fraud” might have accounted for Hillary Clinton’s margin in the popular vote, his assertion is dismissed as a conscious lie, intended to suppress the minority vote in 2018. Rep. Elijah Cummings of Maryland, a Democrat who is no novice at stretching facts, tells MSNBC News that Mr. Trump was just looking to “deny people the vote.”

Mr. Trump no doubt exaggerated the prevalence of voter fraud in the 2016 election, but to deny that “adjusting the vote” happens, or to deny that it can make a difference, as the Democrats insist, is an exaggeration, too. Few voter fraud accusations are pursued or prosecuted, but to cite that as evidence that voter fraud never happens is absurd. Robert Popper, formerly deputy chief of the voting section of the civil rights division of the U.S. Justice Department, and who now monitors voting integrity at Judicial Watch, warns that extrapolating conclusions from criminal convictions and prosecutions is “misguided” because “convictions are a fraction of prosecutions, which are a fraction of investigations, which are a fraction of known offenses, which are a fraction of committed crimes.”

Tales of the dead voting in Chicago are legion, such as the story, perhaps not apocryphal, of the ward boss who sent campaign workers to the graveyards with pad, pencil and instructions to copy names off the tombstones carefully. “Misspelled names won’t be tolerated,” he said. “We’re going to have an honest election.” What is not a myth was the late Mayor Richard J. Daley’s assurance that no matter how close things were in the 1960 presidential election, John F. Kennedy would take Illinois with “a little help from his friends.”

A few votes can make a big difference in a close race, and close races are common at the state and local level. Any voter fraud is too much voter fraud, because every illegal vote undermines the foundation of a free republic. If the public suspects elections are stolen or the winners are “illegitimate,” the republic is gravely threatened.

Mr. Trump apparently relied on a two-year-old study, by three professors at Old Dominion University in Virginia, that calculated the prevalence of “non-citizen voting” in previous elections, which concluded that Barack Obama might have carried North Carolina in 2008 with fraudulent votes, and that Sen. Al Franken, a Democrat, almost certainly owes his election to the U.S. Senate in 2008 to votes by those who had no right to vote. The authors of the study told USA Today that the number of illegal voters in their study might have exceeded 800,000 persons. Bad stuff can indeed happen.

Probably far fewer than 3 million illegal votes were cast last November, but there were some, and probably a lot. A fair and impartial investigation of how prevalent illegal voting might be today, of how many voters emerge from graveyards on election day in Chicago and other places, of how many voters are registered and vote in more than one state, would make it easier for the public to rest easy, that the leaders they elect are legitimate, and worthy of public trust.

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