Pretext should not drive policy.
The good news: A Republican-led state committee in Michigan this week concluded an investigation of the 2020 presidential election in Michigan and found “no evidence of widespread or systemic fraud."
The bad news: Despite finding no evidence of fraud, GOP legislators in Michigan persist in seeking a package of 39 election law reforms that would, in sum, make it harder for law-abiding Michigan residents to vote.
Predictably, former President Donald Trump immediately lashed out at the GOP state senators who led the investigation.
The committee’s 55-page report, the culmination of an eight-month investigation, stated: “Citizens should be confident the results represent the true results of the ballots cast by the people of Michigan.” President Joe Biden won the November election in Michigan by more than 154,000 votes.
Predictably, former President Donald Trump immediately lashed out at the GOP state senators who led the investigation, urging the people of Michigan to “vote them out of office” and calling the investigation a “cover up.”
The report by the Michigan Senate Oversight Committee debunks a number of 2020 conspiracy theories, such as claims that ballots were cast by dead people and voters who had moved out of state. (They weren’t.) Similarly, the report noted that inspection of paper ballots in a number of jurisdictions rebutted baseless allegations that vote counts were changed by tabulating machines provided by Dominion and other vendors. And — contrary to a claim voiced by Trump — the report found that Detroit did not have more votes cast than it has people. In fact, 250,138 votes were cast in Detroit, about 50 percent of the city’s registered voters and 37 percent of its total population of 670,000. The report goes so far as to recommend that the state attorney general consider “investigating those who have been utilizing misleading and false information” about election fraud in Michigan “to raise money or publicity for their own ends.”
And yet, GOP state legislators are still moving forward with laws motivated, at least in part, by the very falsehoods they just debunked. Among other things, the bills would require voters to include with their absentee ballot application a copy of their driver’s license, a step that could create an obstacle for voters without access to a photocopier, and which could increase a voter’s risk of identity theft. The bills would curtail the use of drop boxes, forcing voters to travel greater distances to a clerk’s office or rely on the U.S. Postal Service, which delayed delivery of ballots in 2020.
The bills would also prohibit the secretary of state from sending unsolicited absentee ballot applications to voters and from posting absentee ballot applications online. And they would prevent clerks from supplying prepaid return postage for absentee ballots. Perhaps a lawsuit filed by the Justice Department on Friday challenging similar laws in Georgia will give pause to legislatures like Michigan’s that are considering laws that would tend to suppress voting rights. Without any evidence of fraud, what possible purpose could these laws serve?
These bills follow a frustrating national trend aimed at solving a problem that doesn’t exist.
We already know that increasing obstacles to voting will make it more difficult for people to obtain and return absentee ballots, a practice that proved extremely popular during the pandemic. Even without those health concerns, absentee voting is essential for voters without reliable transportation, a predictable employment schedule, child-care coverage and other systems of support. Many voters simply cannot stand in line for long periods of time on Election Day. Similarly, rural voters may find it difficult to travel to a polling place instead of using a drop box closer to their homes.
These bills follow a frustrating national trend aimed at solving a problem that doesn’t exist. Without a genuine need to prevent fraud, there is no legitimate reason to impose new obstacles to voting. The only reason to persist in seeking these changes is if suppressing voter turnout is not a collateral consequence but the goal.
Trump has demonstrated that a lie, if repeated often enough, will be believed by many people.
This means that even though the report refutes every myth about fraud in Michigan in the 2020 election, Trump’s disinformation campaign that the election was stolen from him continues to shape public policy. Trump has demonstrated that a lie, if repeated often enough, will be believed by many people.
When I served as a prosecutor, I was not able to initiate an investigation unless I had predication, that is, a factual basis to believe that a crime had been committed. A civil lawsuit cannot be filed unless a lawyer attests that he has evidentiary support for his claims, formed after a reasonable inquiry. But here, baseless claims alone were enough to spark the Michigan Senate investigation that spanned eight months and included 30 hours of public hearings, testimony from 87 witnesses and review of subpoenaed documents from the secretary of state. After all of that, Senate Republicans found nothing to support Trump’s cries of foul play. But the insidious aftereffects of the lies have taken root, nonetheless.
We should all welcome oversight, transparency and accountability in our elections. But if we are going to enact laws that have the effect of suppressing our right to vote, then we need to base those policy decisions on evidence, not the false allegations of those advancing their own self-interest.