The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

A conservative group debunks Trump’s voter-fraud claims (yet again)

Election officials read documents before a hand recount of ballots in Wisconsin in November 2020. (Nam Y. Huh/AP)

Repeatedly now, conservatives who are sympathetic to voter-fraud allegations have conducted audits in the key states that Donald Trump contested in 2020. And repeatedly, they have come up empty when it comes to finding anything amounting to the widespread fraud that Trump claimed — and they have often explicitly debunked him.

The latest example comes in Wisconsin, where the conservative Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty conducted its own 10-month review parallel to the one spearheaded by state legislative Republicans. Its report argues that certain procedures weren’t adequately followed. But on the big issue of voter fraud — the one Trump and his allies have hyped as proof that he actually won — the institute is pretty emphatic in its conclusion.

“There was no evidence of widespread voter fraud,” the report says. “In all likelihood, more eligible voters cast ballots for Joe Biden than Donald Trump. We found little direct evidence of fraud, and for the most part, an analysis of the results and voting patterns does not give rise to an inference of fraud.”

Republicans have often raised concerns about the election that came up well shy of Trump’s claims of widespread fraud, and this report is in line with that. It found that more than 23,000 votes “did not comply with existing legal requirements” and that this number exceeded Biden’s 20,608-vote margin in the state. But it notes that it’s very unlikely, even if all those votes were excluded, that the result would have been different.

What’s more, it says even its scrutiny of those ballots doesn’t point to fraud.

“There isn’t much, if any, evidence that these voters did anything intentionally wrong (in many instances, they seem to have relied on the advice of election officials) and one might conclude — whether as a matter of law, fairness, or political survival — that it would be unreasonable to throw out their ballots,” the report says.

Finally, it rejects Trump’s claims of a late-night “ballot dump” in Milwaukee. Trump has pointed to similar supposedly fraudulent, but subsequently debunked, dumps benefiting Biden in Milwaukee and other urban, heavily Democratic areas.

“The number of absentee ballots counted on election night in Milwaukee is consistent with what was reported to be outstanding,” it says. “Despite frustration and suspicion about Milwaukee ‘ballot dumps,’ the existence of the votes and the percentage that went for Joe Biden (about 85.7%) appear to be plausible.”

The report adds: “Put simply, there was no unexplained ‘ballot dump.’ ”

When any such group is conducting an audit, it’s fair to ask what viewpoint it comes from. This is a group that thinks voter fraud is an issue worth probing. It also casts doubt on the severity of the Jan. 6 insurrection. But it describes Trump’s attempts to overturn the election through Congress as “shameful.”

In other words, it’s a pretty mainstream conservative group that was open to finding something nefarious. And after 10 months, it found no evidence of significant fraud.

It’s not alone.

  • In Georgia, a post-election audit of paper ballots was conducted by Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger (R), who made combating voter fraud a centerpiece of his 2018 campaign for the job. He concluded: “The audit confirmed that the original machine count accurately portrayed the winner of the election.” Raffensperger also conducted a later signature-match audit in Atlanta-based Cobb County, an issue he said raised legitimate questions. It, too, came up empty. “This audit disproves the only credible allegations the Trump campaign had against the strength of Georgia’s signature match processes,” he said.
  • In Michigan, a review run by another voter-fraud-focused Republican, state Sen. Edward McBroom (R), was arguably even harsher on Trump and his allies. It said of a popular claim of vote-switching in Antrim County that was pushed by Trump and his allies: “The Committee finds those promoting Antrim County as the prime evidence of a nationwide conspiracy to steal the election place all other statements and actions they make in a position of zero credibility.” And of the idea of a ballot dump in Detroit-based Wayne County: “The data suggests that there was no anomalous number of votes cast solely for the president, either in Wayne County or statewide.”
  • In Arizona, a review of ballots in Phoenix-based Maricopa County by the so-called Cyber Ninjas was extensively hyped by Trump and allies. It wound up confirming the accuracy of the results. While raising other concerns, it stated, “The paper ballots are the best evidence of voter intent, and there is no reliable evidence that the paper ballots were altered to any material degree.”

The Arizona report, like the new one in Wisconsin, sought to argue that certain aspects of how the election was conducted merit suspicion and reform. The Wisconsin report casts its findings as a middle ground between Trump’s wild claims and those who argue that such audits are intended only to create such suspicion — to emit smoke into an arena in which there is no evidence of fire.

While addressing those two arguments, it says that “the truth may lie between these two poles.”

But Trump planted his pole very firmly in a place that the evidence didn’t warrant. The idea of widespread fraud was the argument he made for why he didn’t actually lose. And those who might otherwise be allies in that fight and be sympathetic to such claims keep reinforcing that there’s just no there there.

Republicans, of course, will continue to point to the alleged reasons for suspicion of the process. But at some point, with Trump still claiming a “stolen” election with gusto more than a year later, you would think that anyone interested in truly reforming our elections might start with acknowledging that the basis offered by the Republican Party’s leader has been found to be bunk over and over again — including, most notably, by would-be allies in the fight.