America’s squalling new infant-in-chief is now calling for an investigation of the voter fraud he is sure occurred in November’s election. He insists that this is for totally selfless reasons and not because his monstrous ego cannot accept the fact that he lost the popular vote by nearly 3 million. No, as President Trump told David Muir of ABC News on Wednesday night, he is very concerned about the integrity of national elections.
For once, I agree with our new president. The right to vote is one of the most basic ones in our democracy, and the integrity of our voting systems should be of paramount concern. No politician ever will lose points by standing up for everyone’s right to exercise the franchise and to have all the votes counted fairly.
So by all means, let us ignore study after study published over the years that has found the amount of voter fraud that actually occurs in American elections to be so vanishingly small that it could just as well be attributed to rounding errors in reported vote totals. Trump believes voter fraud occurred. His supporters believe voter fraud occurred. That should be good enough to justify an investigation.
Therefore, the president must appoint a blue-ribbon commission to take a sweeping, deep dive into the 2016 election. Such a commission must be nonpartisan to avoid the appearance of illegitimacy and to make clear that it is a serious effort to shore up electoral integrity nationwide. Which means investigating multiple issues from this election.
And while the commission is investigating whether voter fraud occurred in large urban areas within the big blue coastal states won by Hillary Clinton, I would like to suggest some other issues surrounding the 2016 election about which the American people need and deserve clarity:
The effect of the gutting of the Voting Rights Act on 2016. Trump may not be aware of Shelby County v. Holder, the 2013 Supreme Court decision that ruled Section 4(b) of the Voting Rights Act to be unconstitutional, thereby freeing up many states to pass a wide range of laws that likely had the effect of depressing or suppressing voter turnout, especially in African-American and Latino communities.
Challenges to these state laws have been wending their way through the courts ever since. Any fair investigation of the integrity of our election must try to quantify how many voters were denied the right to exercise the franchise because of such laws, and how that may have affected the results in states that Trump won by exceedingly narrow margins — states like Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, just off the top of my head.
Voter fraud and the integrity of the vote count in all states. White House press secretary Sean Spicer said on Wednesday that the investigation would look exclusively or primarily at large blue states won by Hillary Clinton, like New York and California, the latter of which Trump and his supporters believe he lost only because 3 million undocumented nonresidents somehow managed to vote illegally. That's not good enough.
Any fair-minded investigation must take a closer look at the states that Trump won narrowly, including Florida and North Carolina, and reconsider the recount that Trump's campaign was so eager to shut down in Michigan, where persistent rumors have suggested that election officials threw out thousands of provisional ballots and aggressively purged legitimate voters from the rolls. Such rumors are unverified — but they are a great deal more plausible than the allegations the president has already made.
Russian hacking. One poll in December showed that 52 percent of Democrats believe that Russians somehow hacked voting machines and manipulated voting totals in Trump’s favor. To be fair, there is about as much evidence that this happened as there is that 3 million votes were illegally cast in California — that is to say, there is no evidence at all. But people believe it’s possible.
If President Trump is genuinely concerned about the fairness and integrity of the electoral process, he will make sure his blue-ribbon, nonpartisan panel investigates the charge thoroughly, if only to reject the scurrilous charge that Vladimir Putin played a role in picking our president.
The reality, of course, is that Trump has no interest in the fairness or the integrity of elections, except to the extent that an investigation confirms his supposed belief that voter fraud entirely accounts for Hillary Clinton's large margin in the popular vote. He has no interest in whether voters registered in more than one state managed to also vote more than once. If he were, he could just ask his chief strategist, Steve Bannon, or his younger daughter, She Who Is Not Ivanka.
No, what Trump and his handlers are after is an excuse to crack down on heavily Democratic voting constituencies. Charges of fraudulent voting by illegal immigrants, backed up by spurious and cherry-picked non-evidence, generally precede the passing of new voter-restriction laws by Republican-controlled state legislatures, often pushed by Republican governors and secretaries of state. This is the GOP's only long-term strategy for avoiding electoral oblivion, and now the party is trying to take it national and give it the presidential imprimatur by getting Trump to order an investigation.
But any investigation will lack legitimacy if it looks only at fraud in a few states won by Trump’s opponent or if the inquiry is not handled by a completely independent commission. Anything that appears narrowly tailored to confirm the president’s delusions and serve the ends of his political party should be dismissed as out of hand.
On the other hand, if Trump wishes to appoint and empower an independent, nonpartisan commission tasked with investigating all real and potential problems with the integrity of the 2016 presidential election, that's a tremendous idea. Mr. President, the ball is in your court.