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Assessing Claims Of Voter Suppression And Voter Fraud


Republicans, beginning with President Trump, warn of rampant voter fraud. Democrats say that new voting regulations in Florida, Georgia, North Dakota are designed to keep down the votes of minorities. Then there are worries about what kind of fraud new technologies might make possible. Michael McDonald joins us now. He runs the U.S. Elections Project. He's also an associate professor of political science at the University of Florida. Thanks so much for being with us.

MICHAEL MCDONALD: Great to be with you.

SIMON: We should explain first you've been an expert witness in multiple election lawsuits, including in behalf of the plaintiffs who are suing Georgia over that law. I'm from Chicago, you know, where they say that vote fraud and a 16-inch softball are the civic sports. But is vote fraud, in fact, rampant in this day and age?

MCDONALD: Well, one of the cases that I was recently involved with was in Kansas where we were challenging, with the ACLU, a law that required individuals to provide documentary proof of citizenship before they become registered to vote. And in that case, Kris Kobach, who's the secretary of state there, who also served on Trump's voter integrity commission, he had some of his experts, other people who've also been pushing this idea that there's rampant vote fraud at least in the media - but when they got onto the stand, and they had - were under oath, and they could not perjure themselves, they were unable to substantiate the massive vote fraud that they often allege in public. And so when we actually look at the data, when we actually look at the prosecutions - and there have been millions and millions of dollars spent trying to promote the idea that there's vote fraud, investigate it - we find very little of it. Yes, there is some that occurs. It's a handful out of the billions of votes that are cast. We're talking about tens of votes that have been substantiated. And then - and so, you know, in the big scheme of things, yes, we can point to some isolated instances of vote fraud. But it's not the overriding concern that we might have in our democracy. There are other things that we need to worry about more in terms of our administration of elections.

SIMON: Has it been used as a cover for voter suppression?

MCDONALD: Well, it's often a rationale for adopting more stringent identification laws or requiring more information from voters or doing away with different forms of more convenient voting. So it often comes - those sort of reforms that prominently, you know, mostly Republicans push are - come under the guise that there's some sort of vote fraud that needs to be addressed. In fact, if you go way, way back - I mean, this isn't anything new in our history. If you go way, way back to when we first adopted voter registration in the middle of the 1800s, it was - vote fraud was the reason why we adopted voter registration or why we have the second Tuesday after the first - you know, the first Tuesday after the first Monday for voting. That was also a single day because of vote fraud. They were concerned that people were voting over multiple days and could vote more than once. So this is nothing new in our history to have these allegations of vote fraud then be used to enact some sort of reform measure.

SIMON: In the about 40 seconds we have left - every week, we seem to hear about the database of some secure system for a company or a government agency being hacked. Is there a danger vote counts could be hacked and tip an election?

MCDONALD: You know, we can never say never on any sort of issue. But the good news for the election systems is that in order to get access to them they - there's air that's protecting them. They aren't on wireless networks. You have to be physically present. And so you'd have to be able to get into a warehouse, actually install some malicious code and then affect the vote count that way. And election officials are looking for these sorts of changes. The stories that we're hearing about right now, they're often about just poorly tabulated, calibrated machines where there's some design issue with the machine. But they're not actually changing votes. It's just some poor designs with the machines themselves.

SIMON: Professor Michael McDonald, thanks so much for being with us.

MCDONALD: Great to be with you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.