The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

No, 1.8 million dead people aren’t going to vote in November

Donald Trump is on a new kick, suggesting that the establishment's efforts to see him defeated in November (not inaccurate) extend to controlling a national vote-rigging infrastructure that will ensure a Hillary Clinton victory (inaccurate). The idea is both paranoid and dumb, for reasons we've articulated before, and lacks any evidence much more robust than the evidence you might provide a kid for the existence of Santa.

On Monday night in Wisconsin, Trump's teleprompter offered him some new metrics in his efforts to instill doubt in the entire process.

Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump held a rally Oct. 17 in Green Bay, Wis. (Video: The Washington Post)

“People that have died 10 years ago are still voting,” Trump said at a rally in Green Bay. “Illegal immigrants are voting. I mean, where are the street smarts of some of these politicians?”

Someone yelled out, “They don't have any,” and Trump agreed with a chuckle. He continued.

So many cities are corrupt and voter fraud is very, very common. The following information comes straight from Pew Research: Approximately 24 million people, one of every eight voter registrations in the United States are no longer valid or significantly inaccurate. One in eight! More than 1.8 million deceased individuals right now are listed as voters. Oh, that's wonderful. Well, if they're gonna vote for me, we'll think about it. But I have a feeling they're not gonna vote for me. Of the 1.8 million, 1.8 million is voting for someone else.

Pew did say that — kind of. But not quite.

Here's why Trump's "rigged" claims just don't hold up (Video: Peter Stevenson/The Washington Post)

As part of a 2012 push to upgrade America's voter registration system, Pew prepared a report that looked at gaps in how the registration system tallies voters. “Voter registration lists are used to assign precincts, send sample ballots, provide polling place information, identify and verify voters at polling places, and determine how resources, such as paper ballots and voting machines, are deployed on Election Day,” the report reads. But the systems “are plagued with errors” that, among other things, waste money.

As an example of how the system fails to accurately reflect the electorate, Pew noted that 12.7 million records that year appeared to be out of date. Some 12 million had bad address information. (The 24 million figure is where those two sets overlap.)

How does that happen? People move. People get married. Sometimes they update their voter records; sometimes they don't. If you've ever moved from one state to another, did you inform the state where you used to live that you no longer needed your voter registration there? Probably not. Did you also vote in both states? Again, I sort of doubt it. This isn't a grand scheme to throw national elections. It's the dust we leave behind in our lives.

Another change that sometimes occurs: People die. Pew did indeed note that 1.8 million voter registrations were for people who had passed away. Their families, it seems, didn't go through whatever process was required to get them taken off the rolls, perhaps because they had other things to worry about. States and counties have processes for culling old, out-of-date records from the voter rolls, but that process takes time (and is itself controversial, given the risk of booting eligible voters from the process).

The critical question here is the one Trump skips over in service to his rhetoric: Are those 24 million bad registrations, or those 1.8 million registrations for dead people, being used in a systematic way to conduct voter fraud? And the answer, very simply, is no.

There are instances in which votes have been cast on behalf of people who have died, certainly. There are probably instances in which people have voted in two states in the same election, too. The broader question is whether these ballots represent any significant part of those cast, much less whether this is part of an organized system to rig the vote. And there's simply no evidence that this is the case. A presidential election involves millions and millions of votes. Even if 1.8 million votes had been cast for dead people — for which there is literally no evidence, and certainly no indicator that it will happen in 2016 — that wouldn't have made a difference in the margins of eight of the past 10 presidential elections.

There's no excuse for someone whose parent died filling out their absentee ballot and sending it in, of course, any more than there is any excuse for committing insurance fraud by burning down your own house. But very, very few people burn down their own houses for the insurance money, and most of those who do are caught. The insurance industry survives just fine as a result, and the default assumption is not that your house fire was your own doing. There are checks and balances, just as there are in the voting process. The system works.

But that isn't even what Trump's saying. He's saying, broadly, that there is a conspiracy to throw the election to Clinton, a conspiracy that, apparently, involves casting votes on behalf of dead people. It is quite literally a conspiracy theory, and one that falls apart if anyone offers even the slightest scrutiny. How does it work? Hundreds of people are enlisted to have voter registrations in multiple states and then cross back and forth to vote? One person has all of these registrations in various places and casts hundreds of ballots? And The Illuminati™ knows in advance where those hundreds of votes can make the most difference? Sure.

Here's a throwback for you. In 2004, Trump appeared in another video with Billy Bush. On Election Day that year, Bush tagged along as Trump tried to vote in New York City. But Trump couldn't vote because his registration information was incorrect. He went to three polling places — in one of those cities that he says is rife with fraud — and ultimately had to cast a provisional ballot. The system made it harder for him to vote, not easier.

So why does Trump insist that fraud is a problem, despite the lack of evidence that it happens with any regularity? Why does he insist the election is rigged against him? Because he's losing, and he's making excuses. Maybe he believes what he's saying; maybe he doesn't. But he's saying it now because the election is looming, early voting is going on and he trails badly.

Trump's problem isn't dead people voting. It's that, politically speaking, his campaign is a dead man walking.