People For the American Way

“Trumptastrophe”: “Election integrity” and how MAGA Republicans attempt to suppress voters

News and Analysis
“Trumptastrophe”: “Election integrity” and how MAGA Republicans attempt to suppress voters
Image: Gage Skidmore / Flickr

Welcome to our weekly “Trumptastrophe” series that serves to remind us of the destructive policies, decisions, and actions we encountered during the Trump presidency and the threats that he and others in the MAGA movement still pose – and to keep those moments clear in our memory as we fight to defeat Republican extremists during the upcoming elections.

This week’s Trumptastrophe sheds light on the various methods employed by MAGA Republicans to allegedly bolster “election integrity,” but were really just trying to disguise their attempts to make it harder for millions of Americans to vote – all in a desperate attempt to make it easier for Republicans to win elections with an agenda not supported by the voters.

On May 11, 2017, former President Donald Trump signed an executive order creating a commission charged with investigating alleged voter fraud in the 2016 election. The commission was a sham from the beginning — a platform for right-wing activists who have long made unproven claims about voter fraud to justify voting restrictions and voter suppression.

The commission was also about Trump’s ego. After winning an Electoral College victory but losing the popular vote by millions, Trump claimed without any evidence, “I won the popular vote if you deduct the millions of people who voted illegally.” He also falsely claimed that he only lost New Hampshire because out-of-state voters were illegally bused in to vote against him.

Shortly after the launch, People For the American Way published “Trump’s ‘Election Integrity’ Commission: The Lies and the Cold, Hard Facts.” An excerpt:

Vice President Pence chairs the Commission with Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, a notorious advocate of voter suppression laws. Members include other arch voting rights foes: Hans von Spakovsky and Ken Blackwell. …

Studies have repeatedly found that there is virtually no individual voter fraud in the U.S. But false claims about fraud have been used as justification for a wave of voter suppression laws passed by Republicans since Barack Obama was elected president, building on a concerted push during the George W. Bush administration.

The commission spiraled from one embarrassment to another. In a single week in September 2017:

  • Commission co-chair Kris Kobach published a column in Breitbart claiming to have proof that Democrats had stolen the New Hampshire Senate race. As Right Wing Watch noted, “Kobach’s claims were quickly and easily debunked, and New Hampshire’s secretary of state himself told Kobach so” at a commission meeting.
  • An email released by the Campaign Legal Center documented a Heritage Foundation employee arguing that the “election integrity” commission should include no Democrats or “mainstream Republicans,” apparently concerned that people not on board the voter-fraud propaganda campaign would “guarantee” the commission’s “failure.” The author was revealed to be Hans von Spakovsky.
  • Unhappy about a reporter’s questioning of von Spakovsky, commissioner J. Christian Adams falsely suggested that the journalist may have been lying about teaching at Columbia University.
  • The commission invited a questionable gun researcher to a commission meeting “to propose that the federal government perform background checks on people trying to vote.”

By January 2018, the commission had proven itself to be a partisan farce and Trump disbanded it.

Of course, the campaign to make it harder for some people to vote never went away. After right-wing Supreme Court justices gutted key sections of the Voting Rights Act in 2013, Republican legislators across the country passed new voting restrictions. The 2017 People For report on Trump’s bogus commission cited legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin calling voter suppression “the real voting scandal of 2016,” noting that a new restrictive voter ID law in Wisconsin contributed to the lowest turnout in the state in two decades.

After Trump’s defeat in 2020, the MAGA movement and its Republican allies went into overdrive, promoting lies and conspiracy theories about Trump’s loss to justify a slew of new restrictions on voting meant to boost the prospects for future right-wing candidates. Cleta Mitchell, a lawyer who participated in the notorious phone call on which Trump tried to bully Georgia’s Secretary of State into “finding” enough votes to overturn Trump’s defeat, became a key figure in a coordinated voter suppression effort flying the same deceptive “election integrity” flag as Trump’s commission.

Along with passing new voting restrictions at the state level, MAGA Republicans have fought hard to prevent passage of stronger federal voting rights protections, which von Spakovsky called an “invasion of state sovereignty.” In 2022, Republican senators reenacted shameful historical filibusters of civil rights legislation to defeat these measures.

After voters overcame new obstacles, turned out in 2022, and prevented the “red wave” that MAGA activists were hoping for, Blackwell and his Family Research Council colleague Tony Perkins called for still more restrictions on early voting and mail-in ballots. In 2023, the New York Times reported that “Republican-led legislatures have continued to pass significant restrictions on access to the ballot.” Cleta Mitchell was recorded telling right-wing activists, “I think you have got to figure out what we have to do, where to fix the system that gives a Republican candidate a potential chance to win.”

Trump’s ill-fated “election integrity” commission and MAGA Republicans’ ongoing attacks on voting rights remind us that lies about voter fraud have a sinister purpose and harmful effect. They undermine Americans’ faith in our elections. And they fuel MAGA Republican campaigns to pass restrictive voting laws, which actually do undermine the integrity of our elections by making it harder or impossible for some people to cast a vote and have it counted.

MAGA legislators who passed anti-voting laws after Trump’s defeat have likely boosted his odds of winning this year. People For the American Way will be working with other voting rights advocates to defend democracy and empower voters to overcome new barriers to voting.

These are just some of the reasons we need YOU in this fight. So, find your favorite way to unwind after reading through this week’s recap, and then make a plan for how you will fight back this week, this month, this election cycle.


Donald Trump, Elections, Trumptastrophe, voter suppression