There is not a scintilla of evidence for this claim, and Mr. Trump’s own lawyers have admitted as much, stating in a court filing opposing a recount in Michigan that “all available evidence suggests that the 2016 general election was not tainted by fraud or mistake.” Yet one after the next, leading Republicans are spreading this slander of American democracy, smoothing the way to restrict voting rights across the country.
On Sunday, Vice President-elect Mike Pence told ABC’s George Stephanopoulos that it was Mr. Trump’s “right to express his opinion as president-elect.” When pushed to admit that the illegal-voting claim was not true, Mr. Pence shifted the burden of proof away from Mr. Trump, even though Mr. Trump has accused millions of Americans of committing a crime. “Look,” Mr. Pence said, “I don’t know that that’s a false statement, George, and neither do you.”
Paul Ryan, speaker of the House, told CBS’s “60 Minutes,” “I have no knowledge of such things,” before defending Mr. Trump’s claims as “giving voice to a lot of people who have felt that they were voiceless.” (As recently as October, Mr. Ryan’s spokeswoman noted that “our democracy relies on confidence in election results” and that Mr. Ryan was “fully confident the states will carry out this election with integrity.”) Reince Priebus, currently the chairman of the Republican National Committee and Mr. Trump’s pick for chief of staff, told CBS’s John Dickerson that “no one really knows” if millions of people voted illegally. “It’s possible.” It’s equally true that no one really knows for sure that Reince Priebus wasn’t snatched away and replaced with a doppelgänger hatched by aliens — it’s possible, isn’t it?
This is how voter suppression efforts start. First come the unverified tales of fraud; then come the urgent calls to tighten voter registration rules and increase “ballot security,” which translate into laws that disenfranchise tens or hundreds of thousands of qualified voters.
That’s already happened in Wisconsin and North Carolina, in Ohio and Texas, where Republican lawmakers pushed through bills requiring voter IDs or proof of citizenship; eliminating early-voting days and same-day registration; and imposing other measures. Virtually all these laws aimed at making voting harder for citizens who happen to be members of groups that tend to support Democrats. While federal courts have struck down some of these laws, more keep popping up. In Michigan, lawmakers are pushing to fast-track a voter-ID requirement even though there was no evidence of voter impersonation there. In New Hampshire, the incoming governor, Chris Sununu, wants to do away with same-day registration, also despite the lack of any evidence that it resulted in fraud.
Reality is beside the point. Dallas Woodhouse, the executive director of the North Carolina Republican Party, recently told The New Republic, “Whether there’s widespread voter fraud or not, the people believe there is.” It doesn’t seem to matter to G.O.P. leaders that election officials around the country of both parties have confirmed that there was no fraud on Election Day. What matters to them, as strategists have long known, is that Republicans do better when fewer people vote. Under a Trump administration, anti-voter efforts could become national in scope — through congressional legislation, a hostile Justice Department or a Supreme Court nominee with little regard for voting rights. Undermining the integrity of the electoral process and making it harder to vote is threatening to all Americans, regardless of party. The cynical Republicans now in power figure that all they have to do is fool the public long enough to win the next election. It’s outrageous, but it’s hard to see why they would stop when lying has gotten them this far.