On Recounts and Voter Fraud

In two years on the Fairfax County Electoral Board, I got to see a lifetime’s worth of election administration issues.  From revamping the county’s voting system, to investigating fraud, to implementing voter photo ID requirements, to handling two recounts – including the closest recount in Virginia history – and  the media frenzy around errors during that 2013 AG’s race, there wasn’t much more that could have possibly happened in election administration that didn’t happen during my time in office.

But I’ve never seen a candidate who lost by 46% demand a recount – and raise money to pay for it.  And I’ve never seen a winning candidate claim fraud kept him from winning even bigger.

Ah, 2016.  You never cease to disappoint.  Stein’s recount demand is a pointless waste of resources (and, as is typical for the left, other people’s money) and Trump’s claim that he actually won the popular vote except for voter fraud is not supported by the evidence.  That we’re still talking a month later about the results of this election is disappointing, but unsurprising.  For some reason, Americans have been unwilling to confront unpleasant realities lately, and that unwillingness is one of the few bipartisan things left.

Every election since 2000 has seen claims of voter fraud (usually coming from Republicans) and claims of voter suppression (usually coming from Democrats).  Both exist.  Both are real.  There are documented and prosecuted cases of each.  In Virginia, this cycle, we had folks aligned with Democratic constituencies charged with fraud.  In the past, we’ve had the same thing happen on the GOP side (although the charges were later dropped).  When we investigated alleged double voting in Fairfax in the 2012 election, thanks to Maryland’s party registration requirement (which we don’t have in Virginia), the numbers were about even between registered Republicans, Democrats, and independents.  Fraud isn’t something that only benefits one party or the other.

Rarely, though, do we see the winner claim voter fraud had an impact on races, which is what makes Trump’s claims so odd.  Apparently Stein’s absurd request for a recount got under his skin, and he also apparently bought the completely undocumented claim that some 3 million non-citizens voted in 2016 across America.  Losing Virginia apparently bothered him as well:

The problem with the President-Elect’s tweet here is that there’s just no evidence of any major fraud in Virginia this cycle.  There were concerns before the election with the Governor’s blanket attempts to restore voting rights to felons, but those were addressed.  As of the weekend before the election, only 21,000 of the 67,000 felons who had their rights restored since July were registered to vote according to the Governor’s office.  We have no way of knowing how many of those 21,000 actually voted and who they voted for, since information on those who have had their rights restored has been spotty.  We know who registered and then had their registrations cancelled after the Supreme Court’s overturning of McAuliffe’s unconstitutional blanket restoration, but more data beyond that, especially in terms of turnout, will take a while longer to determine.  What we do know, however, is that even if all 21,000 who registered voted for Hillary, it doesn’t account for her 220,000 vote margin across the Commonwealth.  Nor can it be called fraud, because it wasn’t – these were voters who were legally entitled to cast a ballot.

The specter of non-citizen voting has been raised, and outside watchdog groups have been doing investigations of the issue for a while now.  The Public Interest Legal Foundation did a survey of eight Virginia counties, and came up with a number of 1046 alleged non-citizens who appeared to be registered to vote, and approximately 200 of those cast ballots before they had their registrations cancelled.  Those votes, if actually cast by non-citizens who knew they weren’t eligible to vote, meet the legal definition of voter fraud and are a class six felony in Virginia.  At the same time, we’ve seen in Fairfax publicized situations where people were called for jury duty in Fairfax and claimed to be exempt because they weren’t citizens.  That shouldn’t happen, obviously, because the jury pools are drawn from the voter registration rolls.  Those situations were all referred to law enforcement for investigation.

There’s also the perennial challenge of keeping the voter lists up-to-date.  There is no automatic, easy way to track voter registrations when voters move out of state, and that creates a situation where some people can be registered in multiple jurisdictions at the same time.  It’s not supposed to happen, but it does, and it is a logical precursor to voter fraud – we rarely see situations of ballot stuffing in America, but where there is fraud, it’s usually people taking advantage of dual registrations to cheat and vote more than once.  Every election, Republicans push for purges of voter lists to get potential inactive or dual registered names off the list, and Democrats fight it, claiming that the purges hit too many legitimately registered voters and represent an attempt at voter suppression.  A national voter registration database could fix a lot of these problems, but both parties have problems with the idea.

That’s the extent of the issues with potential voter fraud in Virginia this year – some non-citizen voting, felon restoration of rights, and the perennial issues that never seem to go away.  All of this stuff has been investigated and reported on by the media – we wouldn’t know about any of it had it not been – but none of it is significant enough to be characterized as “serious voter fraud” – at least, assuming “serious” means “impacted the outcome of the election in a major way.”  All voter fraud is serious, but not all of it has the potential to change the outcome of an election.  Fraud in Virginia, at the very least, is extremely unlikely to have resulted in Hillary Clinton’s win.  You can blame that on Northern Virginia – that includes Prince William, home turf of the guy Trump fired as his campaign chair.

I said as much to the President-Elect on Sunday night.

As for Jill Stein’s tilting at windmills in Wisconsin and Pennsylvania, the case there demonstrates the wisdom of Virginia’s laws regarding election recounts.  In Virginia, the losing candidate – and the losing candidate only – can ask a court for a recount if the result is within 1% within 10 days after the election has been certified, but the candidate has to pay for it.  If the recount is within .5%, as we saw in 2013, the Commonwealth will pick up the tab, but the campaign that lost still has to petition the court for the recount.  Nothing is automatic, and only the loser has standing to request the recount.  A third-party group or someone else can’t just demand recounts willy-nilly.  Which is how it should be, because recounts are time and resource intensive activities, and they distract from the workload of election administration departments across America.  These are offices that are largely understaffed already, and lack the resources needed to handle their regular workload, let alone additional chores.

Recounts where the outcome will not change are unnecessary wastes of time and resources, even if they’re paid for.  The Stein recount is pointless for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is that she isn’t the proper person to be asking for recounts in these states anyway – Clinton was the losing candidate, and if she wanted a recount, she should be asking for one, not another candidate who didn’t come close to winning.  I also find it oddly ironic that the same people who ignored the arguments I and other photo-ID proponents made that requiring photo IDs will help bring more legitimacy to the process are suddenly now making the “restore faith in democracy” argument to justify these unnecessary recounts.  Despite their claims to the contrary, I don’t find it persuasive that these recounts will help restore faith in democracy.  No matter what happens, somebody is going to say that the recount was rigged and those claims will get media attention.  That’s just the nature of public life in 2016.

I’ve even seen calls for a complete audit of the entire vote everywhere.  Not only is that unnecessary, it’s largely impossible.  If election administrators across the country had the money to do a full recount of the Presidential election, they’d likely want to use that money for new equipment, not a pointless review of a race that wasn’t close and has already been conceded.

We’re at the third stage – bargaining – of the five stages of grief this election cycle, apparently.  Hopefully we’ll get through this soon and move on to acceptance.

Stein’s recount is a pointless waste of time.  The President-Elect’s claims of “serious voter fraud” in Virginia, at least, are without merit or evidence.

The election is over, folks.  Donald Trump won, and he won fair and square, regardless of the final popular vote totals.  Let it go.

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