There’s a theory under which some people operate which holds that presidential advisers appear in the news media to provide insight into what the president is doing for the American people. Governance broadly, and the White House specifically, can be inscrutable to outsiders, but since our democracy depends on an informed populace, it has historically been important to shed as much light as possible on what’s happening. Politicians and their allies don’t always like to shed that light, but they’ve generally acquiesced to participating in the effort.
On ABC’s “This Week” on Sunday, President Trump’s adviser Stephen Miller wasn’t interested in shedding light on reality. If anything, he was running around turning lights off. Inadvertently, though, he did offer one bit of insight into what’s happening at the White House.
Miller was asked by host George Stephanopoulos about a comment Trump made in a meeting with senators last week, where Trump claimed that he had narrowly lost the presidential contest in New Hampshire because of voter fraud. Before we get into the exchange, though, let’s evaluate Trump’s claim.
Trump lost the state by 2,700 votes — a narrow margin but in a small state. It came down to about 0.4 percent of votes cast. Trump reportedly claimed that the difference was because of people being bused in from Massachusetts. He also claimed that former senator Kelly Ayotte (R) lost her race for the same reason.
That’s weird, though, because Ayotte lost only by 1,000 votes. What’s more, Hillary Clinton earned about 6,000 fewer votes in the state than did the Democratic Senate candidate, Maggie Hassan. Trump got about 7,800 fewer votes than Ayotte. So how does that work? People came in to vote just for Hassan but not Clinton? Did some illegal voters come in to vote for Ayotte but not Trump? In the same election, New Hampshirites elected Chris Sununu as governor. He’s a Republican. Were the illegal voters told to cast votes only for Senate and the presidency? This is a complicated operation, to be sure.
Fergus Cullen, who ran the state Republican Party in 2007 and 2008, expressed skepticism about the bused-in-voters claim on Twitter. “I will pay $1000 to 1st person proving even 1 out-of-state person took bus from MA 2 any NH polling place last Election Day,” he wrote. It’s a safe bet; a review of a decade of news reports on Nexis about voter fraud arrests in the state turned up the following:
- A man from Manchester, N.H., who said he lived in Salem, N.H., to vote there.
- A state representative who tried to cover up the fact that he’d moved out of his district.
With that background, here is Miller’s defense of Trump’s claim to Stephanopoulos.
White House senior advisor doubles down on unsubstantiated NH voter fraud claims: “Voter fraud is a serious problem in this country” pic.twitter.com/xVDqHMAgYV
— This Week (@ThisWeekABC) February 12, 2017
STEPHANOPOULOS: Let me move on, though, to the question of voter fraud, as well. President Trump again this week suggested in a meeting with senators that thousands of illegal voters were bused from Massachusetts to New Hampshire and that’s what caused his defeat in the state of New Hampshire, also the defeat of Senator Kelly Ayotte.
That has provoked a response from a member of the Federal Election Commission, Ellen Weintraub, who says, “I call upon the president to immediately share New Hampshire voter fraud evidence so that his allegations may be investigated promptly.”
Here’s Weintraub’s tweet.
— Ellen L Weintraub (@EllenLWeintraub) February 10, 2017
STEPHANOPOULOS: Do have that evidence?
MILLER: I’ve actually, having worked before on a campaign in New Hampshire, I can tell you that this issue of busing voters into New Hampshire is widely known by anyone who’s worked in New Hampshire politics. It’s very real. It’s very serious. This morning, on this show, is not the venue for me to lay out all the evidence.
A nationally televised program seems like a very good place to offer evidence to back up a contentious claim made by a president. It seems, in fact, like this is the reason that Miller is offered the chance to speak at all.
MILLER: But I can tell you this, voter fraud is a serious problem in this country. You have millions of people who are registered in two states or who are dead who are registered to vote. And you have 14 percent of noncitizens, according to academic research, at a minimum, are registered to vote, which is an astonishing statistic.
Three claims here. First, that there are millions of people who are registered in multiple states. Second, that dead people are still registered. Both of those things are true. (Among those registered to vote in two places, by the way, are Trump’s son-in-law, treasury nominee, daughter and press secretary.) But that’s not voter fraud. It’s a sloppy registration system — and indifference from people whose first instincts when relatives die is not to ensure that the registrar of voters is informed.
The third claim is that 14 percent of noncitizens are registered to vote, which is based on an academic analysis released several years ago. It has been subsequently shown to be problematic. As anyone paying attention to the issue should know.
STEPHANOPOULOS: You can’t make a — hold on a second. You just claimed again that there was illegal voting in New Hampshire, people bused in from the state of Massachusetts.
Do you have any evidence to back that up?
MILLER: I’m saying anybody — George, go to New Hampshire. Talk to anybody who has worked in politics there for a long time. Everybody is aware of the problem in New Hampshire with respect to —
If this is a rampant problem that has riddled New Hampshire politics, why has no losing candidate ever sought to overturn the results of an election by citing this horrible problem? If I spent a year running for office and then lost because of widespread illegal activity, my response would probably not be to shrug and say c’est la vie.
STEPHANOPOULOS: I’m asking you as the White House senior — hold on a second. I’m asking you as the White House senior policy adviser. The president made a statement, saying he was the victim of voter fraud, people are being bused from —
MILLER: And the president — the president — the president was.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Do you have any evidence?
MILLER: — issue — if this is an issue that interests you, then we can talk about it more in the future. And we now have — our governance is beginning to get stood up. But we have a Department of Justice and we have more officials.
An issue of voter fraud is something we’re going to be looking at very seriously and very hard.
That’s the light that flicked on.
Trump threatened earlier this year to investigate the problem of voter fraud nationally. There is no rampant voter fraud problem, mind you; there were a handful of demonstrated fraud cases in 2016, far from the millions that Trump claims cost him the popular vote.
The reason voter fraud has become an issue in American politics is because there have been a slew of bills introduced (and often passed) at the state level alleging voter fraud that needed to be curtailed. That legislation generally makes it harder to vote, with the effects of that increased difficulty felt more among populations that tend to vote more heavily Democratic. (In 2012, a Pennsylvania state representative declared that new voter ID laws were “gonna allow Governor Romney to win the state of Pennsylvania.” They didn’t.)
Trump’s fraud investigation will be led by Vice President Pence, who was governor of Indiana last year when state police raided a left-leaning voter registration group in the state. Miller notes that the full weight of the Justice Department will aid the effort, a department now led by Jeff Sessions, who prosecuted voter fraud as state attorney general and who has expressed mixed views on the Voting Rights Act, the Civil-Rights-era legislation aimed at preventing voter suppression in the South.
Miller’s point? New policies to combat the insignificant threat of voter fraud will probably move to the national level.
He then cites an interesting authority that makes a different point than the one he intended.
MILLER: But the reality is, is that we know for a fact, you have massive numbers of noncitizens registered to vote in this country. Nobody disputes that. And many, many highly qualified people, like Kris Kobach, the Kansas secretary of state, have looked deeply into this issue and have confirmed it to be true and have put together evidence.
And I suggest you invite Kris Kobach onto your show and he can walk you through some of the evidence of voter fraud —
STEPHANOPOULOS: You have — you have —
MILLER: — in greater detail.
STEPHANOPOULOS: — just for the record, you have provided absolutely no evidence.
Kobach is the secretary of state in Kansas, in charge of the state’s electoral process. He has held that position since 2011, the year the state passed new restrictions on voting in the name of preventing fraud.
The net effect? A report from the Government Accountability Office determined that turnout fell by several percentage points in the 2012 election relative to comparable states. And the populations that saw the biggest drops in turnout?
Young people, newly registered voters and black people. Populations that tend to vote more heavily Democratic.
That’s almost certainly the point. Miller was trying to mislead people with his false arguments about voter fraud. But he ended up offering some insight after all.