President Trump’s vow to investigate illegal voting in America has placed the spotlight on a handful of conservative groups that have fought voter fraud in the shadows of more prominent issues such as Obamacare and terrorism.
The groups — including True the Vote and Judicial Watch — have pressed states for years to clean up what they see as antiquated and corrupted voter lists and crack down on fraudulent registration.
As America is divided politically, so is the debate over voter fraud: The left says it’s nonexistent; the right says it’s widespread enough to shift close elections to Democrats.
“Our litigation and expert investigations show the voting rolls are a mess,” said Tom Fitton, director of the government watchdog Judicial Watch. “Many states have no basic checks, such as voter ID, in place to stop fraud. If a government doesn’t know who is voting and has voting rolls rife with dead people and aliens, you can presume fraud.”
Mr. Trump has estimated fraud at 3 million to 5 million illegal votes, without giving proof, and wants some type of inquiry.
Conservatives say there is evidence that large numbers of noncitizens break the law by voting and that most vote for Democrats.
“A comprehensive voter fraud investigation would be the most significant civil rights investigation in a generation,” Mr. Fitton said. “We have an obligation to finally protect the civil rights of untold numbers of Americans who are having their lawful votes stolen by illegal votes.”
Democrats say charges of voter fraud amount to “voter suppression.”
After Mr. Trump’s allegation, three senior House Democrats — Reps. Elijah E. Cummings of Maryland, ranking member of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee; Robert A. Brady of Pennsylvania, ranking member of the House Administration Committee; and James E. Clyburn of South Carolina, the assistant Democratic leader — said they are sending letters to all state attorneys general asking for all instances of voter fraud.
They blasted Mr. Trump in a press release: “He continues to be obsessed with false numbers and statistics, but these are not ‘alternative facts,’ and there is no evidence to support these claims. What is a fact is that Republicans in statehouses across America have passed restrictive laws that impair the ability of legitimate voters to participate, and they use the myth of voter fraud to justify their abuses. We should be expanding the ability of legitimate voters to exercise their rights — not degrading them.
“President Trump’s outrageous claim that millions of people have voted illegally is unconscionably dangerous to the future of our democracy. He has no proof for his assertions but eligible voters all across the country will suffer as a result,” the lawmakers said.
These Democrats argue that the George W. Bush administration launched an inquiry into national vote fraud that found some individual cases but nothing widespread.
Election fraud became part of a Bush scandal when Attorney General Alberto Gonzales improperly fired seven U.S. attorneys. Part of the reason for the firings was that the U.S. attorneys did not prosecute suspected vote fraud cases.
Conservatives contend that the most far-reaching type of fraud is giving ballots to noncitizens. They say that, as the noncitizen population has grown, there has never been a comprehensive national investigation, state by state, into how many noncitizens register to vote. It would involve comparing rosters in all 50 states with other government data.
One reason there are few investigations may be that suspected voter fraud happens in heavily Democratic districts, where it would take a Democratic prosecutor to investigate the people who vote for the party.
“Certainly, politically treacherous waters,” Mr. Fitton said. “And with no voter ID, same-day registration and up till now, no help from the feds, a difficult issue to investigate, let alone prosecute.”
Election Integrity Project
The Public Interest Legal Foundation says 141 jurisdictions have more listed voters than their entire adult populations.
Another nonprofit, the conservative True the Vote in Houston, is pushing for voter photo ID in all 50 states and trains members on how to monitor elections. It has launched its own investigation into voter fraud.
“It is for this reason that True the Vote, supported by a select group of technologists, statisticians, researchers, auditors, scholars, futurists, election law experts and process specialists, is leading a forensic audit with targeted investigations to expose election fraud and offer solutions,” said founder Catherine Engelbrecht.
She pledged to help any inquiry begun by the president.
Mr. Fitton is out with the paperback version of his 2016 book “Clean House: Exposing Our Government’s Secrets and Lies.”
His Judicial Watch has played a big role in forcing the State Department to turn over former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s emails stored on an unauthorized private server.
His nonprofit operates the Election Integrity Project, which dug up some of the information in a book chapter titled “Voter Fraud.” Much of the chapter focuses on the resistance of states to update voter lists, some of which have not been cleansed of dead people or nonparticipants for years.
The Pew Research Center reported these findings: 2.75 million people have active voting registration in more than one state, 20 million active registrations are no longer valid or are inaccurate, and more than 1.8 million deceased people are listed as active voters.
The author recounts how President Obama’s Justice Department stepped in and filed suit to stop voter list updates on the grounds that it amounted to voter suppression. Mr. Fitton said the 20-year-old federal Motor Voter law requires states to overhaul rosters.
Florida, for example, was in the process of a statewide cleaning when Justice filed suit and a judge ruled that the lists could not be updated 60 days before an election. There was no appeal.
‘Hard to spot and hard to prove’
Anti-fraud forces says these old lists are pathways to illegal voting.
Said Legal Foundation’s J. Christian Adams: “The Obama administration had the tools to fight voter fraud but let them gather dust. Because of that neglect of their duties, aliens got on the rolls, people voted multiple times and lawlessness took hold of our elections.”
Voter fraud, said Mr. Fitton, is simply not a law enforcement priority.
“To begin with, vote fraud is both hard to spot and hard to prove,” he said. “Particularly where it is successful, vote fraud may never be detected. For example, without an ID requirement, the authorities are unlikely to discover that someone has voted on the still-valid registration of his friend who has moved out of state.”
There was at least one major vote scandal where prosecutors did step in: Probes found that at least 18 workers for the now-defunct ACORN community activist group committed voter registration fraud in 12 states. A House committee found that of 1.3 million registrations submitted by ACORN in the 2008 election cycle, more than one-third were invalid.
Mr. Fitton’s Judicial Watch acquired internal records that showed the Obama Justice Department was consulting with an ACORN-connected group to advise it on voter rights.
“Justice Department’s voting rights enforcement was like having the Mafia work with the FBI,” Mr. Fitton wrote.
Thirty-one states require voter identification, but only 16 require a photo ID, according to Ballotpedia. It says 13 states and the District of Columbia allow same-day or Election Day registration.
The Census Bureau reports that about 20 million adult noncitizens live in the U.S. Surveys show that a number of them vote illegally. To conservatives, this is evidence of large-scale fraud.
Three professors at Old Dominion University have released several analyses showing that voter fraud likely occurs more often and in greater numbers than liberal mainstream media report.
Relying on the biennial Cooperative Congressional Election Study, which is a massive survey of Americans by You.Gov, the team concluded that 6.4 percent, or 1.2 million, of nearly 20 million adult noncitizens could have voted in the 2008 presidential election. Most likely voted for Democrats. The ODU study had a range of 38,000 to 2.8 million noncitizen votes.
Mr. Trump contends that 3 million to 5 million voted illegally on Nov. 8.
Jesse Richman, one of the project’s three ODU professors, used his 2008 data to extrapolate that Hillary Clinton would have garnered more than 800,000 noncitizen votes, way short of Mr. Trump’s allegation.
The liberal press routinely refers to the ODU vote analysis as “debunked,” but Mr. Richman stands by his team’s work.
Retired U.S. immigration agent in charge Claude Arnold told Fox News’ Bill O’Reilly last month that he routinely found voter registration cards on the illegal immigrants he arrested.
“I’ve worked in six locations across the United States,” he said. “I’ve probably arrested more than 1,000 illegal aliens in my career, and I routinely encounter people in possession of voter registration cards.”
He said he asked them if they voted, and their answer: “Yes.”
• Rowan Scarborough can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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