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Why is Trump peddling a discredited voter-fraud theory about NH?

The problem with Trump's New Hampshire voter-fraud conspiracy theory isn't its inanity; it's what he intends to do about it.
Image: A voter stands in voting booth while voting in the New Hampshire U.S. presidential primary election in Manchester
A voter in the booth in Manchester, N.H., on Feb. 11, 2020.Mike Segar / Reuters

Donald Trump still can't bring himself to believe the fact that he narrowly lost New Hampshire four years ago. In fact, as TPM noted, the president continues to cling to a conspiracy theory to explain his defeat in the Granite State.

On Monday night, President Donald Trump pushed yet again his evidence-free conspiracy theory claiming out-of-state voters illegally cost him New Hampshire in the 2016 general election."We should have won the election, but they had buses being being shipped up from Massachusetts," he told his booing supporters at a campaign rally in Manchester, New Hampshire. "Hundreds and hundreds of buses. And it was very, very close even though they did."

If this sounds at all familiar, it's not your imagination. Let's circle back to our earlier coverage on this deeply strange argument.

Just weeks into his presidency, Trump met with a group of senators to discuss Neil Gorsuch’s Supreme Court nomination. The president, for reasons that weren’t altogether clear, insisted at the meeting that he would’ve won New Hampshire had it not been for widespread voter fraud.

According to a Politico report, after Trump insisted illegal votes were cast by people “brought in on buses,” there was “an uncomfortable silence” in the room.

A year later, in February 2018, the president spoke at a Republican National Committee dinner, and again claimed that the only reason he narrowly lost New Hampshire in 2016 was voter fraud.

After the 2018 midterms, Trump pointed to his New Hampshire conspiracy theory as a rationale for "recalling" election results he doesn't like.

To the extent that reality still has any meaning, an exhaustive review conducted by state officials after the 2016 cycle found nothing to bolster the president's strange assertions.

The review process was actually pretty interesting. New Hampshire officials started with the highly dubious Crosscheck system, which pointed to more than 94,000 possible examples of people casting more than one ballot. Secretary of State Bill Gardner was able to quickly narrow that list down to 4,579. After accounting for middle names and initials, the list shrunk again to 3,624.

Using a variety of related methods, the state continued to gradually narrow the list from 955 to 142 to 91 to five. Does that mean New Hampshire found five real-world examples of actual voter fraud?

Not exactly. As Slate’s Mark Joseph Stern explained a while back, “One college student voted in the wrong location on the faulty instruction of an election official. An elderly woman appears to have filled out her recently deceased husband’s absentee ballot. Two people cast a ballot in Dixville Notch’s famous midnight primary without establishing domicile there. Just one person actually voted twice; he was fined $2,500 and threatened with criminal prosecution if he ever did it again.”

That’s it. That’s all the evidence showed. There was literally nothing to suggest out-of-state voters – with or without the benefit of buses – cast any ballots in New Hampshire at all.

The point isn’t that the results were surprising; they were actually quite predictable. Rather, the point is that Trump and his team peddled a ridiculous conspiracy theory before the review, kept peddling the same theory after the theory was discredited, and use nonsense like this to argue in support of new voting restrictions across the country.

The more the president points to anecdotes like these to justify new voter-suppression policies, the more important it is to remember that he doesn’t have any idea what he’s talking about.