The foundation for President Trump's now disbanded voting commission was a conspiracy theory. And it only got more detached from reality from there.
It started when Trump claimed he lost the popular vote because millions of illegal votes were cast, an apparent extension of “the system is rigged” position he took during the campaign, when polls indicated he was going to lose the election.
Trump demanded Congress investigate the alleged voter fraud, but Congress wouldn't touch his evidence-free claims. So Trump set up a voting commission, complete with an anti-voter-fraud crusader at the helm, Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, to try to uncover and fix this alleged widespread problem.
The effort floundered when nearly every state — Republican or Democrat — refused to hand over what the panel wanted: all available voter identification information, including Social Security numbers, birthdays and addresses. The Constitution lets states run elections, and secretaries of states in both parties bristled at the implicit accusation that they ran an election so poorly that thousands of illegal voters cast ballots.
“As secretary of state of Louisiana, I take exception to that,” Louisiana Secretary of State Tom Schedler (R) told The Fix in July in reaction to Trump's allegations of widespread voter fraud. “I don't think we have a bunch of illegal votes being cast in Louisiana.”
The commission was soon on the defensive when at least eight states filed lawsuits, claiming it was asking for much too broad information.
The commission was even sued by its own members, Maine's Democratic secretary of state, saying he was purposefully left in the dark. As The Washington Post's John Wagner reports, a judge partially decided in his favor.
In its waning months, a staff member for the commission was arrested on child pornography charges and another member died.
Less than a year after it got started, it was pretty clear this commission was going nowhere.
An ever-defiant Trump appears to be claiming his commission failed because there was some widespread conspiracy (by mostly Democratic states) to block it from getting to the truth.
But that logic falls apart in the face of reality. Two points in particular:
1. Experts say voter fraud is simply not a widespread problem, and a scheme on the scale the president claimed (millions of votes cast illegally) would be unprecedented in American history.
A seminal 2014 study by Loyola Law Professor Justin Levitt surveyed 14 years of elections and found, out of 1 billion ballots cast, 241 that were questionable enough to be considered potentially fraudulent.
That's why even solid Republican states chafed at the idea of handing over their voters' private information. There was simply no need, because they hadn't let fraud of that degree get by. “I stand on the process we have here,” Louisiana's Schedler told me.
2. Most states already have voter ID laws. “Push hard for Voter Identification!” Trump cried on Twitter on Thursday morning. The 2016 presidential election, which he won, was the first in which voters in two-thirds of states were required to show some form of identification to vote.
As I wrote in May as Missouri was moving to enact its voter ID law: Voter ID laws became very popular after the 2010 election, which is when Republicans won control of state houses and governors' mansions across the nation.
Some of the stricter requirements, like in Texas, were knocked down by the courts on the grounds they discriminate against minorities, since people of color are less likely to have IDs than white voters. (Critics of voter ID laws point out that people of color are also more likely to be Democratic voters.)
But a majority of voter ID laws have stayed on the books and/or states simply amended their laws to make them slightly less strict.
In 2011 alone, eight states passed or amended voter ID laws, according to data from the National Conference of State Legislatures. A handful of states have passed voter ID laws pretty much every year since then. Now, 34 states have laws requesting or requiring voters to show some form of ID to vote.
So when the president claims “system is rigged, must go to Voter I.D.," he's about a decade too late.
Trump's perception of voter fraud is at odds with reality. And that's why his voting commission never stood a chance.