Pressed to provide evidence for his repeated claim that 3 to 5 million people voted illegally in the 2016 presidential election (which he won), President Trump announced on 25 January 2017 that he is asking for a “major investigation” into voter fraud:
I will be asking for a major investigation into VOTER FRAUD, including those registered to vote in two states, those who are illegal and….
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 25, 2017
even, those registered to vote who are dead (and many for a long time). Depending on results, we will strengthen up voting procedures! — Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 25, 2017
The President provided no details as to who will conduct the probe, or when. Trump first made the claim that there was massive voter fraud in late November, when the popular vote count showed Hillary Clinton besting him by almost 3 million, even though the electoral college had delivered him the presidency:
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
He repeated the claim during his first week in office, telling Congressional leaders in a 23 January meeting that “millions of unauthorized immigrants had robbed him of a popular vote majority,” the New York Times reported. When asked what evidence the president could put forward to support that allegation, White House press secretary Sean Spicer simply reaffirmed that Trump had said it, “based on the studies that he’s seen.”
In point of fact, reputable studies have shown that voter fraud is extremely rare in U.S. elections. “The verdict is in from every corner that voter fraud is sufficiently rare that it simply could not and does not happen at the rate even approaching that which would be required to ‘rig’ an election,” says a fact sheet prepared by the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University Law School.
Two studies cited by the Trump camp in November 2016 as evidence that illegal voting is widespread have been repeatedly debunked, and in any case wouldn’t suffice to prove that 3 to 5 million illegal votes were cast in the 2016 presidential election.
The first time the “more than 3 million illegal voters” figure was cited anywhere was in a mid-November string of tweets by “voter integrity activist” Gregg Phillips, who actually claimed to have “verified” that number:
Completed analysis of database of 180 million voter registrations.
Number of non-citizen votes exceeds 3 million.
Consulting legal team.
— Gregg Phillips (@JumpVote) November 11, 2016
We have verified more than three million votes cast by non-citizens.
— Gregg Phillips (@JumpVote) November 13, 2016
However, despite being quoted to that effect on pro-Trump web sites such as 100PercentFedUp and InfoWars, Phillips provided no evidence. As of this writing, neither Phillips nor those publications has proved their case, much less explained how they could “verify” in excess of 3 million illegal votes within days of a national election.
The National Association of Secretaries of State (NASS), which represents 40 of the nation’s top state election officials, said in a 24 January 2017 statement that they are unaware of any evidence to support Trump’s claims:
We are not aware of any evidence that supports the voter fraud claims made by President Trump, but we are open to learning more about the Administration’s concerns. In the lead up to the November 2016 election, secretaries of state expressed their confidence in the systemic integrity of our election process as a bipartisan group, and they stand behind that statement today.
Blake, Aaron. “Trump Calls for ‘Major Investigation’ into Voter Fraud — After Sean Spicer Was Grilled on Why He Hadn’t.”
The Washington Post. 25 January 2017.
Haberman, Maggie, et al. “Press Secretary Affirms That Trump Believes Lie of Millions of Illegal Voters.”
The New York Times. 24 January 2017.
Shear, Michael D. and Emmarie Huetteman. “Trump Repeats Lie About Popular Vote in Meeting with Lawmakers.”
The New York Times. 23 January 2017.
Brennan Center for Justice. “Debunking the Voter Fraud Myth.”
1 September 2016.