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The GOP's addiction to 'voter fraud' claims

A Trump campaign's shelved report reveals what Republicans pretend not to know: Voter fraud is extremely rare.

Last month, we learned that in late 2020 the Trump campaign commissioned an independent report to look into its claims of widespread voter fraud. When completed, it was immediately tucked away because (surprise!) there was no evidence of the campaign to swing the election that former President Donald Trump claimed was happening.

The Washington Post on Friday revealed new details about the report and its methodology for testing Trump’s baseless accusations. And given what we now know, it’s clear that the analysis from Berkeley Research Group hasn’t only further undercut the narrative that Trump was pushing in 2020. It should be the nail in the coffin of the broader Republican claim that “election integrity” concerns outweigh broader access to the ballot box.

Trump's baseless conspiracy theories have become folded into Republican orthodoxy.

As the Post lays out, even as Trump was telling Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger that dead people voted in the 2020 election — “a minimum is close to about 5,000,” he claimed — his campaign was well aware that was false. The Berkeley Research Group report found only “a ‘potential statewide exposure’ of 23 such votes across the Peach State,” with “’high confidence’ of only nine dead voters in Fulton County.” Those numbers couldn’t change the election’s results, not when Trump lost the state by more than 11,000 votes.

The researchers also tested theories such as whether there were massive “dumps” of votes after the election, whether a swath of new fictional voters had been added to voter registration files and whether there was ballot harvesting at nursing homes. None of the findings were useful to the Trump campaign, which neglected to include them in several court filings. In all the scenarios tested, “researchers said there was no reason to believe the final vote totals in five key states were fraudulent,” the Post reported.

And yet Trump and his campaign haven't stop pushing their baseless conspiracy theories. Instead, they have become folded into Republican orthodoxy. Even when not specifically referring to the most outlandish claims, like those at the core of the Dominion Voting Systems lawsuit against Fox News, the GOP labeled systemic voter fraud as a major threat to the country.

It’s the backbone of the Republican National Committee’s assertion that “due to a lack of transparency during the 2020 elections, Americans are understandably skeptical about aspects of our voting process and will continue to be unless transparency improves.” It makes up the core of the decision from several Republican-led states to pull out of a bipartisan organization that helps coordinate voter rolls across state lines that actually helps to detect voter fraud. And it is the driving force in several states to deploy police resources to investigate and prosecute a slew of crimes that simply are not happening.

What stands out is that the small amount of potential fraud that the researchers found shows that there is reason to take election security seriously. Just not as seriously as Republicans would like to pretend. And “pretend” really is the operative word here, because for years now there has been no evidence that backs up the narrative of widespread voter fraud. The Heritage Foundation’s Election Fraud Data Base has found only 1,422 instances of voter fraud nationwide over the past 40 years. Even if all of those instances had occurred in Georgia in 2020, it still wouldn’t have been enough to swing the election to Trump.

The simple fact of the matter is that 'mass voter fraud' is too good a narrative for Republicans to give up

It’s also well-established at this point that there’s no partisan affinity on either side for voter fraud cases. And yet the GOP continues to frame it as a case of Democrats cheating and Republicans swooping in to safeguard the system. In practice, much as with border security, the only number that could deter this rhetoric is zero. But even then, the argument would then likely shift to claim that the fraud is still occurring but not being properly detected.

The simple fact of the matter is that “mass voter fraud” is too good a narrative for Republicans to give up, even in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary. It gives them a pretext to crack down on voting rights, a seemingly benign excuse to oppose federal voting rights legislation and an explanation for election losses that weren’t even close. Even this latest set of findings, paid for with Trump campaign money, won’t be enough to break them of their addiction.