Although President Donald Trump won enough states last year to give him the Electoral College victory, he lost the nationwide popular vote by approximately 2,868,000 votes.
Nevertheless, the President and his senior political advisor, Stephen Miller, have repeatedly declared (without any apparent foundation in fact) that he only lost the popular vote because of 3 million to 5 million votes that he believes were cast by “illegals.”
Undeterred by the lack of any credible evidence for his unsubstantiated claim, President Trump has called for a “major investigation” that, according to White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer, would be focused on “urban areas.”
For some, President Trump’s repeated assertions of wide-spread voter fraud in 2016 might be seen as just one more indication that his ego and pride are not always firmly grounded in reality – a speculation about the President that, if accurate, would be truly terrifying.
A more likely viewpoint, however, is that there is a method to the President’s apparent madness about “voter fraud.”
Analysts like President Sherrilyn Ifill of the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund and University of California Professor Robert Reich have observed that, in their view, President Trump’s false assertions of widespread voting fraud have a rational, if undemocratic, purpose.
As Ms. Ifill recently wrote in the Washington Post: “This issue has been studied, and every credible academic review has concluded that widespread voter fraud does not happen in this country…. A person is more likely to be struck by lightning than commit voter fraud….”
“A presidential command to investigate the existence of a phenomenon that has been demonstrated not to exist can accomplish only one thing,” she concluded, “a nationwide system of voter intimidation authorized at the highest levels of government.”
Professor Reich’s criticism is equally alarming. “Trump’s false assertion of massive voting fraud is intended for one purpose,” he recently observed in Newsweek, “to legitimate more voter identification laws around the country.”
These critiques, if accurate, are deeply troubling for our democratic system, as is a similar conclusion by the League of Women Voters’ President, Chris Carson. The League’s position, moreover, is supported by timely research into the practical impact of voter identification laws upon voting behavior.
Published last January by the University of Chicago, detailed analysis of voting conducted by Professors Hajnal, Lajevardi and Nielson confirms a well-known field observation about elections: strict voter identification laws have a negative impact upon the turnout of racial and ethnic minorities – and “skew democracy toward those on the political right.”
These are the truth – the facts – that we know, not “alternative facts” propounded by the President of the United States. Yet, Professor Reich has posed a compelling question that we cannot ignore, especially when the defense of our democracy is at stake.
“What do we do,” he has challenged us, “when we have a President and White House surrogates, along with enablers in the right-wing-media, who continuously lie about something as fundamental to our democracy as whether we’ve got massive voter fraud?”
The answer, he declared, is “we find, spread and continue to speak the truth…, and we demand that big lies like this be corrected.”
This, precisely, is what my colleagues in the House of Representatives and I are in the process of doing – determining and publishing the truth about the absence of widespread voter fraud in this country.
On Jan. 25, I was joined by fellow Ranking Member Robert A. Brady of the Committee on House Administration and Assistant Democratic Leader James E. Clyburn in sending inquiries to the 102 chief election officials and attorneys general in all 50 states and the District of Columbia.
We requested that each of these officials who have the legal responsibility to oversee elections in their state inform the Congress of all cases in which their offices have determined that an individual who cast a vote in the November election was prohibited by law from doing so.
That investigation is ongoing, but for now, I will offer these personal observations.
Our system of elected, democratic government cannot be based upon an obsession with false numbers and statistics. It cannot be grounded in “alternative facts” when there is no clear evidence to support those false and destabilizing claims.
The truth, supported by compelling evidence, is that Republicans in statehouses across America have passed restrictive laws that impair the ability of legitimate voters to participate. They have used the myth of voter fraud to justify their abuse of our most fundamental democratic principles.
This year, even more Statehouses are considering voter suppression legislation. It is up to each of us to fight for the truth and work against these undemocratic policies.
We must protect our democracy.
Congressman Elijah Cummings represents Maryland’s 7th Congressional District in the United States House of Representatives.