During the presidential campaign, Donald Trump repeatedly suggested that American elections might be so tainted by fraud that a victory could be stolen from him. That innuendo raised hackles among critics who worried that Trump was laying the groundwork to shake faith in the foundations of U.S. democracy.
Then two strange things happened: First, Trump beat even his own team’s expectations and won. Second, he’s now questioning the validity of election counts anyway. Over the last few days, Green Party candidate Jill Stein announced she was filing for a recount in Wisconsin, citing suggestions of irregularities in the vote. Hillary Clinton’s campaign then said it would participate as well. That didn’t sit well with Trump:
In addition to winning the Electoral College in a landslide, I won the popular vote if you deduct the millions of people who voted illegally— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 27, 2016
Serious voter fraud in Virginia, New Hampshire and California - so why isn't the media reporting on this? Serious bias - big problem!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 28, 2016
Trump’s statements are baseless and misleading. It is not just, as many (though not enough) news organizations reported, that Trump provided no evidence for this. There simply isn’t any evidence for it. It isn’t real. Activists who insist there is voter fraud say it’s impossible to prove a negative, which is of course true, but repeated scientific studies have failed to pinpoint anything resembling fraud on the scale that would affect national, or even state-wide, elections. If there were truly millions of fraudulent votes being cast, it would be both detectable and—given the cottage industry around preventing fraud—detected. (Also, if there really were millions of fraudulent votes, wouldn’t that tend to support the case for extensive review of results, rather than detract from it?)
Even if there were not rafts of evidence suggesting that the fraud threat is overblown, one might just look to the likely source of Trump’s claim of millions of illegal votes. The claim was made by Gregg Phillips, who cited his own analysis. He has, however, refused to provide any data to back it up, and since it’s a distant outlier from any other finding, it’s safe to discount it, at least until Phillips produces actual data. But Alex Jones, a conspiracy-theorist radio host, picked up the claim and broadcast it further. We know that Jones has Trump’s ear; the president-elect has appeared on Jones’s show, and told him, “Your reputation is amazing. I will not let you down.”