The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Yet again, Trump falsely blames illegal voting for getting walloped in California

President Trump said July 23 that California's election results are "rigged," adding, "You got people voting that shouldn't be voting." (Video: The Washington Post)

A few hours after celebrating his $16 billion bailout to farmers affected by the trade war with China, President Trump told a roomful of young conservatives about the dangers and political opportunism of socialist handouts.

“Socialism is not as easy to beat as you think,” Trump said to attendees of Turning Point USA’s Teen Student Action Summit. Why? Because people like free things.

“Don’t kid yourself,” he said later. “Not as easy when I’m up there on the debate [stage] all alone with some maniac that they” — the Democrats — “chose and that maniac is saying, ‘We’re going to do this for you! We’re going to do that for you! We’re going to give you everything! Everybody gets a free Rolls-Royce, every family!' ”

“ 'And we’re going to take better care of illegal immigrants than we take care of our own citizens!’ they tell you,” he said.

The riff was off in a new direction.

“And when they’re saying all of this stuff, and then those illegals get out and vote, because they vote anyway. Don’t kid yourself,” he said. “Those numbers in California and numerous other states, they’re rigged. They’ve got people voting that shouldn’t be voting. They vote many times, not just twice, not just three times. It’s like a circle. They come back, they put a new hat on. They come back, they put a new shirt on. And in many cases, they don’t even do that. You know what’s going on. It’s a rigged deal.”

Trump is making three claims here, all untrue.

The first is that immigrants who are in the country illegally vote in federal elections. Despite years of investigation into alleged voter fraud, no evidence has emerged of any significant number of people casting illegal ballots, much less people who are in the country illegally. On the face of it, the idea doesn’t make much sense: A group of people worried about attracting attention from federal authorities are going to risk their presence in the United States and their incomes to . . . vote?

American citizens barely vote, and we’re allowed to. We’re supposed to believe that immigrants in the country illegally are so concerned about their representation in the U.S. House that they both violate a federal law and do so publicly to have their voices heard? It’s ridiculous.

The focus on California here is obvious. Trump lost California by 4.3 million votes in 2016. As Trump allies have pointed out, take away California and Trump wins both the electoral and popular votes. (Flip Texas, though, and Hillary Clinton wins both.) Trump presents himself as popular and reflecting the will of the people, something that’s hard to do when the people preferred another candidate in 2016. But if those millions of votes were illegal? Well, now we’re in business.

That brings us to Trump’s second claim: that people vote over and over again.

This nonsense about people putting on a hat to vote again is something Trump has said before. It seems to be predicated on the idea that the integrity of the voting process rests on the ability of pollworkers to remember if they’ve already seen a prospective voter cast a ballot.

The next time there’s an election, try this: Go in, give your name, get your ballot, vote — and then go out, put on a hat and try it again. In your experience, what would happen? I suspect it would be something like this: Either you’d be recognized and the poll workers would assume you were drunk or you’d go up and give your name again and they’d see you voted and the poll workers would assume you were drunk.

To be fair, Trump has spent a lot of time hyping and trying to rig online surveys, in which voting multiple times doesn’t even require a new hat. So perhaps he just assumes it works in real life, too.

He should know better from personal experience. In 2004, he tried to cast his vote for president with a film crew and TV personality in tow. He wasn’t on the voter rolls, so he was repeatedly turned away from polling places in New York.

The show was “Access Hollywood.” The TV personality was Billy Bush. You can’t make this stuff up.

The third untrue thing Trump said to the Turning Point teens was that the process was rigged. He was subtle in a Trumpy way, suggesting with an audible wink that fraudulent voting is allowed by California’s Democratic leadership. That’s why the voters didn’t have to change shirts: The state’s leadership is in on it.

So let’s think about this, too. The idea is that poll workers are given instructions to let people come in and vote over and over? Instead of just, say, faking the results? It’s like running a bank and instead of wiring money to a surreptitious account you ask friends to come in and rob the place every two weeks. Good way to loop a lot more people into your crimes! And yet, despite that, there’s no evidence that this even happens.

Now Trump and his allies will claim that there’s lots of evidence of fraud in California in the form of lots of people being eligible to vote who shouldn’t be. They may, as Trump has in the past, point to a settlement between the conservative group Judicial Watch and Los Angeles County in which more than a million people will be removed from voter files. Across the state, a number of counties have more voters on the rolls than eligible voters.

Why? Because people die and people move. And since it’s rare for anyone to bother voting multiple times in multiple places or to try to vote using an assumed identity — because, again, people don’t really care about voting anyway — the voter rolls fill up with people who don’t live in those counties anymore.

There was a report from the Pew Center on the States several years ago that noted that voter rolls were bloated with outdated registrations but that, as its authors quickly noted after Trump seized on the research, there was no indication of rampant fraud.

Again, let’s consider an analogy. Let’s imagine that someone claims that there are thousands of burglaries in a small town in a year. To bolster that claim, they note both that lots of people own screwdrivers, which could be used to pry open a window, and they point to the only burglary on record, in which a screwdriver was used.

This is not strong evidence of an epidemic of burglaries, particularly as there haven’t been many burglaries recorded. Perhaps the response is that the burglaries have gone undetected, which is fair. But by that argument you could similarly claim that every person on Earth has been abducted by aliens at some point but had the memory of it erased. Maybe! Probably not.

Trump keeps hyping this stuff because he wants to impugn immigrants, disparage Democrats as corrupt and seem more popular than he actually was in 2016. It’s as untrue now as it ever was. Hopefully some or most of the teenagers in the audience for his speech are more aware of that than he seems to be.