There’s no good argument underlying President Trump’s insistence that U.S. elections are undermined by rampant voter fraud. There’s no evidence at all that they are, despite years of looking and years of rhetoric like Trump’s. There’s no evidence of rampant voter fraud in Florida in the wake of last week’s midterm elections, either, despite Trump’s tweets and commentary.
But there are particularly bad arguments for the existence of voter fraud, two of which Trump offered in an interview with the Daily Caller on Wednesday afternoon. The outlet’s Benny Johnson and Saagar Enjeti interviewed Trump in the Oval Office, and the conversation turned to the recount in that state.
Here’s the first claim Trump made, hoping to bolster his assertion that fraud is rampant: “When people get in line that have absolutely no right to vote and they go around in circles. Sometimes they go to their car, put on a different hat, put on a different shirt, come in and vote again. Nobody takes anything. It’s really a disgrace what’s going on.”
Here’s the second claim he made, hoping to bolster the idea that photo ID should be required at polling places: “If you buy a box of cereal — you have a voter ID. They try to shame everybody by calling them racist, or calling them something, anything they can think of, when you say you want voter ID. But voter ID is a very important thing.”
Let’s start with that second claim, because it’s funnier.
Amazingly, Trump has made this very odd assertion about needing an ID to buy groceries before. He said something similar in August and, at the time, the media assessed the validity of the claim. It is, uh, not valid. Maybe if you’re paying with a check, if people still do that? But if you want to go into a grocery store and buy some Cheerios using cash or a debit card, go nuts. This is a good example of Trump’s imperviousness to being corrected.
The latter half of the comment is also true. Voter ID laws disproportionately make it more difficult for people of color to vote. The laws are usually passed by Republican legislatures in part because they tamp down a voting base assumed to support Democrats. In the past, courts have explicitly called voter ID laws in Texas and North Carolina discriminatory.
What’s more, voter ID is not generally an important thing because incidents of in-person voter fraud, the type of fraud that such laws are meant to prevent, are so rare. If you click this button, a fraudulent ballot will be found at the same rate as they were determined to appear in actual voting. One will pop up for you, on average, once every 29 hours.
There have been a lot of efforts to sniff out fraudulent votes, including by Trump. None have found any significant, organized voter fraud.
Which brings us back to Trump’s first claim, about people voting, leaving the polling place, changing hats and coming back in.
If you have ever voted, you know how ridiculous this is. While you don’t always need a photo ID to vote, you do need to be registered (in nearly every state) and somehow verify your identity, often by matching your signature against one on file.
Unless you live in a small community in which two people are identified solely by their hat colors, and unless you convince the person at the polling place to ignore your face and just focus on your hat color and unless there are for some reason no other checks to validate your registration, your hat-switching or shirt-changing strategy isn’t going to work.
It’s sort of amazing that the president of the United States doesn’t know this or pretends he doesn’t.
Trump should certainly know how hard it is to vote because he famously had to travel to multiple polling places in 2004 when trying to cast his presidential vote, camera crew in tow. (It was for a show hosted by Billy Bush, who has a habit of starring in videos that don’t cast Trump in the greatest light.) Trump wasn’t on any of the voter registration lists and ultimately had to cast a provisional ballot.
To be fair, he didn’t try changing his shirt.
The broader question is why Trump is pushing this obviously untrue assertion about voter fraud. When he made similar claims after the 2016 election, it appeared to be a face-saving move. If millions of people cast votes illegally, the thinking seemed to go, then maybe Trump actually won the popular vote. Here, the goal is different: Trump seems to hope either to curtail the recount in Florida, preserving the narrow leads enjoyed by Republican candidates for the Senate and governor’s seats, or he wants to prepare the ground for objecting to any potential Democratic victories in those races.
Or, maybe, Trump thinks these things are true. They aren’t, but, as mentioned above, he’s impervious to fact-checking. One can picture Trump being told that changing hats won’t fool a poll worker and him waving dismissively. You can probably hear his voice in your head: “Eh, it happens, believe me.”
It doesn’t. Vote fraud almost never happens. You don’t need an ID to buy cereal. You can’t swap hats and magically become another legal voter.
But here we are talking about it yet again.