Judging by evidence, the federal Election Integrity Commission appears to be a solution in search of a problem. A recent report from five states — including Washington — suggests that voter fraud is minimal.
Long before President Trump seized on the trope that illegal voting was widespread in last year’s election, Washington joined with Oregon, Colorado, Maryland and Delaware to study the issue. Results were recently released, and they indicate that among the 3.36 million votes cast in Washington for last year’s presidential election, 74 of them are questionable.
That amounts to 0.002 percent of the ballots — or 1 out of every 45,405. Other states saw similar results, with Oregon having 54 questionable ballots among its 2 million votes. In Clark County, 11 ballots have been flagged, with 10 of them involving people possibly voting in two states and one person possibly voting twice. Questionable ballots have been passed along to local prosecutors for investigation.
Results from five states are a small percentage of the national vote, yet they call into question Trump’s claim that he would have won the popular vote if not for illegal ballots. Trump lost the popular vote by 2.9 million; if his claim were accurate, Washington’s share of the improper votes would be about 67,000 — if all illegal ballots were cast for Hillary Clinton. Instead, a maximum of 74 have been found.
In other words, the Election Integrity Commission amounts to little more than a snipe hunt. But that did not prevent the president from forming the commission led by Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach and Vice President Mike Pence. The commission has held two meetings since being formed in May. (As an aside, commission members have been criticized for using private email servers as part of their work, possibly in violation of the law. Trump and others frequently made a campaign issue out of Clinton’s use of a private email server.)
The study further calls into question the need for an election integrity commission, which many consider an excuse to pursue policies that will suppress voting rights. Kobach has aggressively pursued claims of voter fraud in his state and reportedly has secured nine convictions in his six years as the top election official in a state that has 3 million people.
In response to the study, Washington Secretary of State Kim Wyman, a Republican, said: “We want to make it as easy as possible for eligible citizens to register and vote, while at the same time protect our elections from fraud or abuse that could jeopardize the public’s faith in the system. That’s why our state and county elections departments go to such great lengths to verify individual voter information time and time again.”
With that, Wyman touched upon the crux of the matter: Faith in the system. Americans have grown increasingly distrustful of the integrity in our election system, a fact that has contributed to falling voter participation numbers. Trust in the system is essential to the future of our democracy, and officials must work to bolster that trust rather than undermine it with unfounded claims of fraud.
To be certain, the possibility of 74 fraudulent votes in Washington is something that must be investigated and addressed. But it is nowhere near the systemwide corruption suggested by President Trump, and it is nowhere near the level required to make us lose faith in election integrity.
Members of the election integrity commission should place more emphasis on evidence than they do upon baseless claims.