President Donald Trump is now claiming, without evidence, that Democrats are carrying out widespread voter fraud to steal the US Senate election in Florida between Republican Rick Scott and Democratic incumbent Bill Nelson.
It began with Trump’s tweet on Thursday night that law enforcement is looking into “Election Fraud” in the state, claiming that “Florida voted for Rick Scott!” He later added, “Rick Scott was up by 50,000+ votes on Election Day, now they ‘found’ many votes and he is only up 15,000 votes. ‘The Broward [County] Effect.’ How come they never find Republican votes?”
What’s likely happening in Florida, though, is that votes are still being counted. It’s normal, especially in close elections, for results to change as more votes are counted. Particularly toward the end of a count, counties with more votes can start getting to the last few votes, provisional ballots can be verified, and mail-in ballots can come in. If these ballots happen to lean toward a certain party or candidate, then that party or candidate will see a net gain in votes.
In Florida’s Senate race, this has resulted in the count narrowing further as the votes are tallied. On Wednesday morning, Scott was ahead by more than 50,000 votes. In the latest tally, he’s ahead by less than 15,000 votes. Even if Nelson doesn’t overtake Scott, the thin margin could lead to a recount that could flip the results.
Both Scott, the current governor of Florida, and Trump have suggested that something nefarious is going on. They have yet to provide any proof for those claims.
In fact, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement “is not actively investigating any matters related to Tuesday’s election,” Dan Merica and Ryan Nobles reported for CNN, because the Florida Department of State, which oversees elections, hasn’t received any credible allegations of fraud or other criminal activity.
That’s not to say that fraud is absolutely impossible; it’s happened in very rare cases, including in Florida. But it’s ridiculous to claim fraud when there’s no real evidence that something is actually going wrong.
On one hand, this is just more of what we expect from Trump. It is not exactly breaking news that this president is dishonest and hyperbolic, prone to claiming things on Twitter without evidence.
On the other hand, this also shows the longstanding truth about Republican voter fraud claims: They are about winning elections, not really evidence-based concerns.
Republicans’ baseless election fraud claims
Even before there is any credible evidence of election fraud, Republicans like Trump and Scott are claiming that it’s happening. That’s because their primary concern isn’t proving that election fraud is happening, but securing Republican victories in the Senate.
This isn’t new for Republicans.
Time and time again over the past few years, especially after a Supreme Court ruling in 2013, Shelby County v. Holder, weakened the Voting Rights Act, Republicans have pointed to voter fraud to enact new restrictions on voting. And they’ve been very successful: Since 2011, 24 states — all but five via Republican-controlled governments — have passed new voting restrictions, according to the Brennan Center for Justice, a public policy think tank.
But the voter fraud claims are bullshit.
For one, voter fraud is extremely rare. There is a lot of research backing this up, but, based on one investigation in 2012 by the News21 journalism project, there were 0.000003 alleged cases of fraud for every national general election vote cast between 2000 and part of 2012 — and as many as half of those alleged cases weren’t credible. Voter fraud almost never happens in America’s electoral system.
So what’s going on here? The new voting restrictions seem more targeted at minority and low-income voters who tend to vote for Democrats — the kind of voter who may not have the means of transportation or flexible work hours to obtain a specific voter ID, or may rely more on early voting opportunities to cast a ballot. As one federal court concluded, North Carolina’s Republican-backed voting restrictions “target[ed] African-Americans with almost surgical precision.”
In fact, some Republicans have repeatedly admitted that their claims about voter fraud are bullshit. As longtime North Carolina Republican consultant Carter Wrenn in 2016 told the Washington Post, “Look, if African Americans voted overwhelmingly Republican, they would have kept early voting right where it was.”
Wrenn’s comment exposes the truth here: The concern isn’t actual voter fraud. It’s creating a favorable political environment.
This is exactly what Trump and Scott are now doing. There is no evidence that fraud took place in Broward County or elsewhere in Florida. And they haven’t even tried to produce evidence that fraud took place.
But they know that the continuing count or a recount could hurt Republicans’ hold on the Senate. So they’re crying voter fraud before there’s any credible basis for it.