Somewhere, in a cubicle in Washington, a data analyst is panicking. She has just been asked by the Trump administration to show how 3 million people (or, preferably, more) voted illegally. Deep down, she knows that this is a ridiculous request. But she’s a team player. She will first try to identify specific cases of clear voter fraud. The goal will be to collate these clear cases into a list of names and addresses. A list with 3 million entries. She’ll start with the low-hanging fruit. She’ll cross-reference voting lists (not registration lists) to the National Death Index. She needs to look at real voting lists since dead people may still be on the registration lists without actually voting. She’ll find a few matches but, unfortunately, they will all prove to be false positives. People with the same name, people who didn’t really die, people who didn’t actually vote. She’ll then try to figure out if undocumented immigrants voted by cross-referencing voter lists with e-verify, the government’s electronic employment verification tool. She’ll get a few hits, but, again, they will all prove to be false positives. People with the same name, people who actually are citizens but aren’t in the system, and so on.
And that’s where the investigation will end, right? Wrong. President Trump has shown us that he is never wrong, and must prove it despite incontrovertible evidence to the contrary. Fortunately for him, there are still a few ways to find 3 million illegal votes. They just all depend on egregious misapplication of statistics and data manipulation that can be spun into obscurity by the press secretary and the other dynamos in the Trump team. Here are the options.
Option 1: Use Bad Survey Data
When Sean Spicer was pressed to defend the president’s voter fraud claim, he cited this paper, by Jesse Richman, Gulshan Chattha and David Earnest. They used an internet survey and found that a small fraction of people said they voted, but also clicked that they weren’t citizens. Of 32,800 surveyed in 2008, a total of 339 people labeled themselves as non-citizens. Of those, 38 people also claimed that they voted, about 11 percent. Since there are 11 million undocumented immigrants in this country (according to Pew Research), we can take 11 percent of 11 million people and calculate around 1 million fraudulent votes. Damn, not quite close enough to 3 million. But enough to get you some voter ID laws passed (and, after all, isn’t that really the point?).