This piece originally appeared on Huffington Post.
For longtime observers of voter suppression laws, it wasn’t a surprise when it was discovered that Wisconsin and North Carolina lawmakers were deliberately disenfranchising minority voters under the guise of preventing voter fraud. After all, conservative politicians have all but admitted that these laws purportedly combatting “voter fraud” are meant to help elect conservative candidates.
It also came as no surprise when Donald Trump suggested that Democrats will use voter fraud to win the 2016 presidential election.
Just as Trump has embraced years of GOP attacks on President Obama, Hillary Clinton, immigrants and others, the GOP presidential nominee has seized on the widespread but erroneous belief that Democrats have used voter fraud to win election after election. Trump has regularly claimed that voter fraud is rampant in America,baselessly charging that Republicans were defeated in 2012 due to voter fraud andcalling for a “revolution” to protest President Obama’s victory. Indeed, large swaths of Republican voters believe that Obama used voter fraud to win in both 2008 and 2012.
Now, Trump insists that polling firms are deliberately skewing poll results against him, and at least one of his advisers, Roger Stone, claims that this is part of a grand conspiracy to cover up the fraud that Democrats are planning to unleash in the coming election. If Hillary Clinton defeats Trump but his “private polls” show him leading, Stonesays, the real estate mogul should try to block Clinton’s inauguration and call his supporters into the streets to protest. “It will be a bloodbath,” he warned.
While Trump and Stone’s suggestions have raised eyebrows from Democrats and Republicans alike, no one should be shocked after years of GOP claims that elections have swung to Democrats because people unlawfully vote multiple times by impersonating others, undocumented immigrants are illegally voting and thegovernment hands out free cell phones — the notorious “Obama phones” — in order to win votes for Democratic candidates.
For example, then-congresswoman Michele Bachmann falsely claimed that Obama won re-election in 2012 because he gave millions of undocumented immigrants the right to vote by executive order — an order that never existed. William Gheen of Americans for Legal Immigration PAC said that 2008 was the most “fraudulent election I’ve seen in my life.” Trump surrogate Wayne Allyn Root said the community activist group ACORN, which has been defunct since 2010, stole the 2012 election by having people vote “10 times each for the Democrats” and predicted that ACORN “will steal states with weak voter ID laws,” “stuff the ballot box in inner cities” and “have illegal aliens voting” in 2016. And conservative activist Tony Perkins erroneously alleged that “there is some evidence” that the “Obama phone” was used to help re-elect the president. More damagingly, GOP lawmakers have cited such bogus claims in attempts to justify laws that strip voting rights from thousands of eligible voters.
Thousands of people across the country have already lost or are on the verge of losing their ability to cast a ballot as a result of this push to suppress the vote, even though, as Michael Waldman of the Brennan Center for Justice noted, “Statistically you are more likely to be hit by lightning than to commit in-person voter fraud.” Studies consistently demonstrate that widespread voter fraud is nothing but a myth. When Pennsylvania’s restrictive voter ID law was challenged in court, the state even admittedthat there “have been no investigations or prosecutions of in-person voter fraud in Pennsylvania.”
Beyond just Trump’s paranoia, the Republican Party’s sweeping attacks on voting rights will be the real legacy of the voter fraud craze. Republicans promoted the voter fraud myth so they could impose damaging laws in the hopes of winning elections. They were so successful in convincing their base of these myths that their presidential candidate is now taking them to dangerous extremes.