— President Trump, remarks at a news conference, April 8, 2020
In our database of Trump’s false or misleading claims, there are many items that we have collected over the years that for some reason or another had not risen to the level of a full fact check. But here’s a situation where the president’s persistent effort to advance a false narrative cries out for a Pinocchio rating — especially because his latest remarks prompted puzzled inquiries from readers.
Let’s take a look.
Trump, without evidence or by relying on dubious sources, has persistently claimed that massive voter fraud is occurring in the United States. The most recent major case allegedly involved a Republican operative, in North Carolina, but Trump instead suggests such fraud is being perpetrated on behalf of Democrats, especially in blue states. In recent days, he has attacked the whole notion of mail-in voting in a time of coronavirus social distancing, even though he votes by absentee ballot.
Here’s how he previously characterized what happened in California:
June 23, 2019: “Take a look at Judicial Watch. Take a look at their settlement. California admitted to a million votes. They admitted to a million votes.”
Aug. 15: “I think you have voter fraud all over the country. If you look at California if you look at so many other states, in California, they settled — they had a million people that they found through Judicial Watch, and plenty of other places too. So, we have to stop voter fraud. Voter fraud is a big problem in this country. There’s no question about it.”
Aug. 18: "So when people show up to vote — because, if you look, Judicial Watch made a settlement with California, I guess, or Los Angeles, where they found over a million names that was very problematic — a problem. And you just take a look at that settlement; that’s a lot of names. You had people that were well over 100 years old that were voting, but we know they’re not around any longer. So, you have a lot of voter fraud.”
But this is completely wrong. The lawsuit had nothing to do with people who had voted — but people who had not voted. Judicial Watch, a conservative group, in 2017 sued the state and Los Angeles County to meet requirements under the National Voter Registration Act to clean up its voter registration files. The group said that the state had not done so for at least two decades and that there were more than 1.5 million registrations on the county’s file of inactive registered voters
“State election officials and a conservative legal group have reached a settlement over how California handles records of inactive voters,” reported the Associated Press when the lawsuit was settled in early 2019. “At issue was how election officials were handling records of voters who hadn’t voted in repeated elections and were not part of active voter rolls in the state.”
The text of settlement did not say there was fraudulent voting or any type voter fraud. There was also no admission of wrongdoing. It simply set up a process for notices to be sent to people found to be inactive; their names would be removed if they did not vote in the next two federal general elections.
Indeed, Judicial Watch’s news release on the implementation of the settlement was titled: “California Begins Massive Voter Roll Clean-Up.”
When Trump first made this claim, California Secretary of State Alex Padilla issued a statement to our colleagues at PolitiFact and FactCheck.org: “No matter how much he repeats them, Trump’s lies about voter fraud are patently untrue. Specifically, the settlement with Judicial Watch, Los Angeles County, and the Secretary of State contains absolutely no admission to or evidence of ‘illegal votes.’ The President’s claims are untrue and yet another distortion aimed at undermining confidence in our elections.”
The White House did not respond to a query seeking an explanation for Trump’s statements.
The Pinocchio Test
Once again, the president is grasping at straws to make bogus claims about alleged voter fraud. He has concocted a fantasy of people illegally voting out of a case involving people who failed to vote. He earns Four Pinocchios.
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