President Trump arrives to speak during a visit to the Pennsylvania Shell ethylene cracker plant on Tuesday, Aug. 13, 2019 in Monaca, Pa. (Susan Walsh)

At about 8:30 a.m. Wednesday, I went to the website of the California secretary of state and downloaded data on voter registration in each county in that state as of February. Then I went to the Census Bureau website and pulled counts for the total population and the number of adult citizens residing in each. I calculated the percentage of registered voters as a function of those two populations, opened a graphic design program and made the chart you see below.

I was done by about 8:50.


(Philip Bump/The Washington Post)

In the abstract, the chart probably isn’t particularly eye-opening. In each county in California, the number of voters is a subset of the adult citizen population, which is itself a subset of the total population. Okay. Fine.

The reason I created that graph, though, was because of this April tweet, thrown out into the social-media miasma by the ever-enthusiastic conservative activist Charlie Kirk.

As you can see from my chart, none of the numbers offered by Kirk is accurate. In fact, the chart I made is likely inaccurate only in overestimating the density of registered voters, since I’m comparing 2019 registration data with 2017 and 2018 population data. The reason California is solid blue is — get this — because there are 8.6 million registered Democrats and 4.7 million registered Republicans.

Thinking-face emoji, indeed.

Mind you, even if voter registration counts did exceed the population, that wouldn’t mean that voter fraud was real. This idea that the existence of invalid registrations in a county is proof of fraud is like claiming that the presence of a crowbar in a house means a criminal lives there. Or, really, that the presence of a howler monkey in a house suggests that it’s the home of a burglar, given that howler monkeys are probably used to commit burglaries only slightly less often than registrations linked to dead people are used to vote.

Selfishly, people rarely have “update my voter registration” on their to-do lists before moving or dying. A study released in 2012 determined that there were a number of outdated records on voter files as a result — but that this was not an indicator that fraudulent voting occurred. The number of times that people have voted fraudulently in recent years by walking into a polling place and pretending to be someone else is minuscule, particularly as a function of the number of votes cast.

Congratulations to me for debunking a four-month-old Charlie Kirk tweet, right? Time well spent? Well, unfortunately, it became necessary to do so on Tuesday night, when President Trump decided to retweet it out of the blue. The 20 minutes of effort it took me to kneecap this argument from Kirk — including the time spent in Adobe Illustrator making it pretty — was more work than Trump decided to put in. He saw numbers from Kirk, figured they were good enough and pushed them out to his tens of millions of followers.

Given that earlier in the day he had defended accusing a former president of complicity in a death by waving it away as merely a retweet, we should probably not be too surprised that he didn’t put in time to figure out if the often-wrong Kirk had missed the mark before pushing the ol’ retweet button.

By sharing Kirk’s nonsense, Trump was trying to bolster the case for this tweet that he sent immediately prior.

The president has been hammering away at the need for voters to present identification before voting since before he was elected. During the 2016 campaign, he warned that certain areas of Pennsylvania (a reference to heavily black areas of Philadelphia where Mitt Romney did particularly poorly in 2012) were hotbeds of fraud and that his supporters would need to watch the polls closely.

Then he won Pennsylvania and decided that the real fraud was in places like California, which he lost. Never mind that, three years later, no more than a handful of instances of fraudulent ballots have been identified nationally. Trump continues to insist that voter fraud is real, that he therefore probably won the popular vote and that ID laws are needed.

That those laws often have the side effect of reducing turnout among lower-income (and therefore more heavily Democratic) voters is simply a happy coincidence.

What’s particularly amazing about the above tweet, though, is the context in which Trump places that call for voter ID. It’s an essential component of ensuring election security, he says — an effort that gained urgency after the 2016 election not because of voter fraud but because of the risk of foreign actors, notably Russia, trying to manipulate voting results.

In other words, Trump is saying that any effort to secure voter files, ballot systems and county registrars is “meaningless” without enacting voter ID, a measure explicitly focused on preventing a form of fraud that is all but nonexistent. He is not even expressing concern about fraud broadly, like the absentee-ballot fraud that tainted a North Carolina congressional election, forcing a new election next month. Just: We need voter ID, because of reasons.

Why? There are two possibilities.

One is that he simply sees securing elections as something Democrats want, so he is trying to ensure that Republicans get something out of it, too. We saw this earlier this month when Trump suggested that making guns harder to access after the mass shooting in El Paso should be coupled with the immigration restrictions he has advocated since taking office. (Never mind that this was apparently one of the goals of the shooter himself.) In other words, maybe it’s a cynical ploy: If people want to make a change that I don’t care about, I’ll make them give me something I do care about.

The other possibility, of course, is that Trump simply doesn’t know what he’s talking about. It’s often hard to determine if he says or tweets untrue things because he doesn’t care that they’re untrue or because he doesn’t know they’re untrue. Trump has long denied that Russia tried to influence the 2016 election and has repeatedly insisted that it didn’t actually affect the vote. (There remains no evidence that actual votes were manipulated as part of Russia’s interference efforts.)

Maybe he simply doesn’t get that flaws exist in the electoral system, and maybe he sincerely believes that in-person voter fraud is common. He has repeatedly talked about people going to vote, walking out and putting on a new shirt and then going in and voting again — a scenario that’s . . . probably never happened anywhere? But maybe he thinks it has.

One thing is obviously apparent from this series of tweets: Trump is not concerned with presenting accurate information to the public in support of his policy priorities. (But, then we already knew that.) He could have tasked any staffer with evaluating Kirk’s tweet and, in short order, discovered that it was nonsense. It was more important to him, though, to find any random combination of Arabic numerals to which he could point as evidence that he was right.