Paul Gieringer let Missouri Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft talk for half an hour, explaining the state’s complicated new voter ID law to a crowd of two dozen at the local community center, before raising his hand. “How many cases of voter fraud have there ever been in Missouri?” Gieringer, 61, asked. “We know it’s happened,” said Ashcroft, 44, noting that he didn’t have any hard numbers, although he cited a 2010 incident in which a couple claimed a false address on their voter registration forms to vote in a primary election. “How many are an OK number? Is it OK to have one or two?” The Republican secretary of state didn’t mention that the new law he’s traveling the state to promote — aimed at combating voter impersonation — wouldn’t have stopped the couple, a fact his office later confirmed. “He brought up the red herring of voter fraud,” Gieringer later told NBC News.
Missouri is one of eight states that have passed or are implementing laws with more rigorous voter identification requirements this year. Fueled by President Donald Trump, who has claimed, without evidence, that voter fraud deprived him of the popular vote in 2016, there’s more energy behind election legislation than ever before. Trump has appointed a federal commission to find and combat voter fraud — a problem experts say doesn’t exist on a large scale.
“With President Trump, voter fraud is a crime that’s a high priority,” the commission’s vice chairman, Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, said in an interview.
Trump’s stance is already playing out in court: His Justice Department, which under President Barack Obama fought Texas over its voter ID law, filed a motion Thursday supporting the latest version of the law. After nearly a decade of raising alarm about alleged vote fraud, Kobach, a leading advocate of tough voter requirements, said it’s heartening to have the muscle of a federal commission and the Justice Department tackling the issue.
But it is the states, where Republican-controlled legislatures are using more sophisticated tactics than they have previously, that are poised to have the most immediate effect in the 2018 midterms and the 2020 presidential election.