President Donald Trump shared the below message via Twitter during his first full week in office:
“I will be asking for a major investigation into VOTER FRAUD, including those registered to vote in two states, those who are illegal and…even, those who registered to vote who are dead (and many for long time). Depending on results, we will strengthen up voting procedures!”
President Trump has repeatedly alleged that but for the three to five million illegal votes, he and not Secretary Clinton, would have won the 2016 election’s popular vote. He has based those claims on a “long held belief” while not providing any supporting evidence.
I, too, have a long held belief. I belief that facts are important.
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Fact: There were 137 million votes cast in the 2016 election and about eight instances of voter fraud reported by various states around the country. That comes out to approximately .0000006 percent.
Fact: President Trump’s attorneys, the National Association of Secretaries of State, Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, the Center for Election Innovation & Research and a long list of legislators and election administrators of all political affiliations have debunked the widespread voter fraud claims made by President Trump. Additionally, in court during Michigan’s vote recount, Trump shared, “all available evidence suggests that the 2016 general election was not tainted by fraud or mistake.”
Fact: This is not new. Allegations of voter fraud have long been used as justification for voter suppression efforts. In Georgia, these tactics include massive purges of the voter rolls, voter ID laws, proof of citizenship requirements for voter registration, and cuts to early and Sunday voting. In Alabama, the legislature passed strict voter ID laws and then proceeded to close several DMV offices in counties with large African American populations, making it more difficult for residents to get the ID necessary to vote. The same legislators distancing themselves from this particular falsehood have trafficked this same shaky theme as a pretext for voter suppression across the country.
Fact: Many state and county election officials, and non-profit organizations across the country, including the New Georgia Project, The Coalition for the Peoples’ Agenda and NAACP in my home state, work tirelessly to bring Americans into the voting process. They work together without attention to political party lines. That is America’s greatness. However, President Trump’s rhetoric is dangerous and is a threat to progress. It undermines the integrity of our elections and encourages laws that disproportionately disenfranchise, and in too many cases criminalizes, voters of color.
We should be making voting easier, not more difficult. We must remain vigilant and shed a bright light on facts. We must create a demand for public policy that is based on facts. During the election, there was debate about whether to take Trump’s rhetoric literally or seriously. If the first week of his administration is any indication of what we can expect in the future, I strongly encourage us to do both.
Reverend Dr. Raphael G. Warnock is senior pastor at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta and a long-time voting rights advocate.