It took just over a day for an announcement from the office of the Texas secretary of state hinting that thousands of noncitizens might have voted to make it into President Trump’s Twitter feed. “58,000 non-citizens voted in Texas, with 95,000 non-citizens registered to vote,” Trump wrote, apparently lifting the data from an episode of “Fox & Friends.” “These numbers are just the tip of the iceberg. All over the country, especially in California, voter fraud is rampant. Must be stopped. Strong voter ID!” A bit later, he retweeted Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, who hyped the same numbers with an all-caps intro: “VOTER FRAUD ALERT.” Paxton’s presentation of the argument was at least nuanced in a way that Trump’s wasn’t. He pointed out that the 95,000 noncitizens had been identified as such by the Department of Public Safety. In fact, as the world quickly learned, it was even less firm than that. The name matches were weak (as the notice to counties indicated in an all-caps warning of its own), and in short order the state and individual counties started clearing names from the list as people’s statuses were confirmed. As our fact-checkers noted, it’s also more than possible that people on the list obtained citizenship since the time they first presented documentation to the state about their status. In 2016, more than 110,000 people in Texas were granted citizenship. Over the decade from 2007 to 2016, nearly a million people became citizens in the state.
This wasn’t a mystery at the time of Trump’s tweet. The Texas Tribune had already written an entire thread on Twitter urging caution after the state’s initial announcement.
“You might be seeing headlines or tweets tonight that claim Texas says 58,000 non-citizens have voted in Texas,” the paper wrote on Jan. 25. “That is not true. That is not what the state has said.” Two days later, watching “Fox & Friends,” that’s what the president tweeted anyway.
Trump and the Tribune are not in the same business. The latter is interested in sharing accurate information about what’s happening in Texas; the former is interested in sharing information, regardless of provenance, that advances his political goals. Often, during his time in politics, that has meant hyping misunderstood, misrepresented or completely untrue claims about voter fraud. Most infamously, Trump championed an apparently entirely fabricated claim of millions of fraudulent votes cast in the 2016 election with zero evidence — his goal being to cast doubt on the popular vote margin that year, in which he placed second. (That, too, is why he isolated California as being another example of alleged fraud: Hillary Clinton’s wide margin of victory there alone gave her more total votes than Trump.)