Six days before Christmas last year, President Trump retweeted a Twitter user sharing an opinion with which the president obviously agrees.

“There’s no better friend to our constitution and our freedom than [Tom Fitton] and Judicial Watch,” someone with the username “catturd2” tweeted. “They work tirelessly to expose REAL CORRUPTION in the DC Swamp.”

Trump has retweeted Judicial Watch or Fitton, the organization’s president, dozens of times in the past year, amplifying the organization’s attacks on various Trump opponents, including Democrats on Capitol Hill and people once associated with Hillary Clinton’s 2016 campaign. The organization remains committed to promoting stories about Clinton’s private email server, four years after her loss to Trump, but it also often engages in whatever the day’s fight might be at the White House. Last month, for example, it celebrated Trump’s having shared one of its petitions about immigration.

No issue better exemplifies the symbiosis between Judicial Watch’s work and Trump’s rhetoric than the organization’s ongoing focus on what it presents as rampant voter fraud in the United States. Last year, for example, it touted “NO MORE VOTER FRAUD” when it announced that it had won a lawsuit against Los Angeles County, forcing it to remove more than 1 million inactive voters from voter rolls. Trump retweeted that announcement later in the year.

As has been pointed out ad nauseam, the presence of inactive voters on a voter roll is not the same as voter fraud. During the 2016 election, Trump conflated the two regularly as he appeared to try to establish an alibi for an eventual popular vote loss. He based his claims on a 2012 report documenting the number of dead people who were still registered to vote nationally, prompting the authors of the report to come out and clarify that their concern was with accuracy, not that such registrations would lead to fraud. In fact — as has also been pointed out ad nauseam — in-person voter fraud is an exceedingly rare act. There’s no evidence that it happens at any significant scale, despite repeated efforts to uncover it.

That has dissuaded neither Trump nor Judicial Watch from conflating the size of voter rolls with alleged fraud.

On Monday, with the Iowa caucuses getting underway, Judicial Watch made an announcement to that end.

Eight counties, the organization claimed, had more registered voters than actual residents — or so the claim went. In short order, though, an obvious expert on that issue weighed in.

“This is a false claim,” Iowa Secretary of State Paul Pate wrote in response to Fitton’s tweet. “The actual data is available on the Secretary of State’s website for anyone to see. It’s broken down by county and updated every month.” He ended the tweet with “#FakeNews.”

Pate is not a bleeding-heart liberal. He advocated precisely the sort of voter ID law that those focused on voter fraud advocate, even successfully defending Iowa’s ID law in court. He pointed that out to a Judicial Watch supporter who’d criticized his response to Fitton.

Fitton also responded to Pate, insisting that his organization’s data is accurate.

It isn’t.

Pate is correct to note that the state provides updated registration data online. The most recent data is for February 2020, and was published Monday morning.

It’s tricky to compare these data to population data, though, because population data is derived from federal surveys including the decennial census and is therefore generally a year or two old. The most recent county-level population data, for example, is vintage 2018. And even that’s not quite right. Smaller counties are harder to survey, so the best figures for county populations in Iowa are actually estimates based on five years of data. In other words, the best comparison we can make is between data from this week and data that is at least two years old.

What does this data tell us? Well, that there are no counties in which there are more registered voters than population. There are, however, five counties (Dallas, Dickinson, Johnson, Lyon and Scott) where there are more people registered to vote than there were voting-age citizens counted in the vintage 2018 county population data. If this over-registration is supposed to be a Democratic plot, it isn’t working. Three of those counties backed Trump in 2016.

But those numbers are misleading. Iowa breaks out its voter pool into two groups, active and inactive. The latter group are those who face losing their registrations precisely because they may have moved or died. If we compare the adult citizen population in each state to the number of active registrants, only one county, Dallas County, has more active voters (59,667) than adult citizens (57,044).

Dallas is also the fastest-growing county in Iowa. It’s one of the fastest-growing in the country. Meaning that its adult citizen population probably grew over the past two years.

Again, though, it’s beside the point. Just as Los Angeles’s reduction of its voter rolls did as much for preventing voter fraud as adding more locks to the doors of an empty house would prevent theft, removing ineligible voters from county voter rolls has not been shown to actually prevent rampant voter fraud — since rampant voter fraud itself hasn’t been shown to exist. Judicial Watch uses these numbers to fearmonger about people voting illegally, since it can’t show actual illegal voting.

Pate’s embrace of voter ID was similarly focused on addressing a problem that doesn’t provably exist to any significant degree. On Monday, he suddenly found himself in an unexpected position: the target of misinformed anger aimed at something he himself supports.