Under President George W. Bush, the Justice Department launched a five-year investigation into voter fraud in U.S. elections. Despite intense political pressure to find otherwise, that investigation produced “no evidence of any organized effort to skew federal elections.”
But the DOJ’s efforts produced something more important than evidence — political momentum for voting restrictions that disproportionately impact Democratic constituencies.
Now, the lies that Donald Trump tells himself to protect his ego appear poised to serve a similar function. Unwilling to accept that more Americans cast ballots for Hillary Clinton on November 8, the president has spent much of his first week in office explaining that he actually won the popular vote —once you subtract the 3 to 5 million undocumented immigrants who all, to a person, cast ballots for his opponent. His primary source for that claim seems to be the tweets of a former Texas public-health official, who himself has no (publicly presented) evidence and a history of being accused of corruption.
This story may not stand up under scrutiny. But the mere fact that Trump has been nattering on for months about how our elections are plagued by voter fraud has lent the idea credibility in the eyes of the public.
And so, Mike Pence isn’t going to let a total lack of evidence get in the way of a perfectly good excuse to push new voting restrictions.
“I would anticipate that the administration is going to initiate a full evaluation of voting rolls in the country, the overall integrity of our voting system in the wake of this past election,” the vice-president told congressional Republicans at their private retreat in Philadelphia this week, according to leaked audio obtained by the Guardian and the Washington Post. “You can anticipate that we will be looking for ways to work with you, to simply dig into it, to follow the facts, to see where the facts go. That one-person, one-vote principle is at the very heart of this republic and our democratic institutions, and it must be defended.”
Notably, when Florida Republicans launched an effort to “update” their voting rolls in recent years, they ended up removing a lot of qualified voters — who happened to be disproportionately Hispanic and Democratic.
In what is surely a bizarre coincidence, one of the attorneys who (unsuccessfully) defended Florida’s voter purge in federal court will lead the civil rights division of Trump’s DOJ.