Technically, the proper way to describe claims of widespread voter fraud in the 2016 election is to state that there’s no evidence that it happened. Shortly after the election, we tallied up reports of in-person voter fraud that occurred last year and found a grand total of four examples. There is no evidence that there was fraud at any significant scale at all. Saying this, that there’s no evidence, is a hedge. We say it just in case somehow there emerges evidence that, indeed, hundreds of people registered to vote illegally and went to cast ballots. If we say it didn’t happen and then some evidence emerges, we are stuck. So we say “there’s no evidence” instead of “it didn’t happen.” That’s on the scale of hundreds of votes. On the scale of millions of alleged fraudulent votes, though? It didn’t happen. There’s not only no evidence that it did, it defies logic and it defies statistical analysis to insist that millions of votes were cast illegally in the 2016 election.
Some, like Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa), roll sketchy rumors down snowy hills to come up with fantastical snowballs of numbers that are unlinked to reality. To NBC on Tuesday, King said that he had extrapolated outward from one report of illegal voting in Virginia to assume that perhaps 2.4 million people had voted illegally nationally. He appears to be referring to a report covered by the conservative media that looked at voting from 2005 to 2015 — not 2016.
If there was rampant fraud in most counties in 2016, no one has detected it. That includes the Republicans who are running the elections in most states. (It’s generally Democrats who are assumed to be the fraudsters.) It also includes statisticians, who have looked for mathematical markers of unusual vote surges and found nothing.
King’s not alone in such elaborate mathematics. Often operating from the assumption that voter fraud exists, any number of people have woven elaborate tapestries to present a gauzy case for the presence of fraud in our elections. Were it just the Steve Kings of the world who were embracing this idea, that would be problematic. But on Tuesday, King was responding to a question driven by no less a figure than the new president of the United States, Donald Trump.