Soon after his inauguration, President Trump asserted that up to 5 million “illegals” voted in November, saying “we will strengthen up voting procedures.” Earlier, he claimed that he would have won the popular vote nationally if not for “serious voter fraud in Virginia, New Hampshire and California.”
Republicans in Concord, also alleging fraudulent voting, are advancing bills that would make it harder for many citizens to register and vote. Fortunately, Granite Staters are not naive – and we know the truth: Voter fraud is extremely rare. Let’s be clear, falsehoods about illegal voting are being spread as a pretext for restricting access to the ballot box. This risks disenfranchising eligible voters and undermining faith in our democracy.
Despite the complete absence of evidence to support his claim of massive voter fraud, President Trump has promised a major federal investigation, at taxpayer expense. We have been down this path before. During the George W. Bush administration, the Justice Department conducted a five-year investigation into alleged voter fraud. When U.S. attorneys across the country failed to find misconduct and resisted pressure to bring partisan prosecutions, they were fired. The resulting scandal led to the forced resignation of Attorney General Alberto Gonzales.
There is zero evidence of major voter fraud in the Granite State last year. Senior Deputy Secretary of State David M. Scanlan, head of the Election Division, said: “There are some isolated instances of individual voters voting improperly . . . But we haven’t had any complaints about widespread voter fraud taking place.”
Meanwhile, the nonpartisan Brennan Center for Justice has determined that voter fraud happens nationwide as little as 0.00004 percent of the time. A separate, multiyear study by Justice Department senior official Justin Levitt found only 31 credible allegations of voter fraud out of one billion votes cast between 2000 and 2014.
In recent weeks, despite lack of evidence, Republicans in the New Hampshire House have filed multiple bills designed to make voting more difficult by impeding voter registration, making the voting process more cumbersome and increasing waiting times at the polls. Some of these bills are designed to target students at our colleges and universities.
Granite Staters take pride in our state’s brand of open and direct democracy, which encourages maximum participation, including by young people. It is not the New Hampshire way to make voting unnecessarily difficult or to target specific groups of voters with deliberately onerous ID laws. Among other negative consequences, passing such laws could jeopardize our first-in-the-nation presidential primary.
We must learn from ill-conceived voter ID laws in other states. Striking down the laws passed by Republicans in North Carolina, a unanimous federal court ruled that they “target African Americans with almost surgical precision” and “impose cures for problems that did not exist.” Invalidating similar laws in Wisconsin, U.S. District Judge James Peterson wrote: “The Wisconsin experience demonstrates that a preoccupation with mostly phantom election fraud leads to real incidents of disenfranchisement, which undermine rather than enhance confidence in elections, particularly in minority communities.”
When candidate Donald Trump claimed that the election would be “rigged,” and when President Trump now claims that the electoral process has been massively corrupted by millions of illegal votes, these false assertions have real consequences. They undermine confidence in our elections and democracy, and create a dishonest rationale for voter-suppression laws targeting the poor, the young and minorities.
At the end of the Constitutional Convention in 1787, a citizen asked Benjamin Franklin: “Well, doctor, what have we got – a republic or a monarchy.” He famously answered: “A republic, if you can keep it.” Americans should reject falsehoods that discredit our democracy and disenfranchise voters. We still have a robustly democratic republic. And we intend to keep it.
(Jeanne Shaheen is New Hampshire’s senior U.S. senator.)