Partisan outrage and media curiosity swirled anew early Wednesday morning when President Trump announced on Twitter his decision to charge his administration with investigating “voter fraud”, potentially leading to reforms made in the future.
White House spokesman Sean Spicer was careful to note in his Wednesday briefing that any “investigation”–regardless of the form it takes–would not be limited to the recent 2016 Election and focus more broadly on issues related to outdated voter records where people had died, moved or became ineligible.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) quickly threw cold water on the announcement by castigating Trump for wanting to “investigate something that can clearly be proven to be false,” Roll Call reported. The former Speaker of the House added that she felt sad for the new White House occupant, noting that she “even prayed for him”. Republican National Lawyers Association Executive Director Michael Thielen disagreed, arguing in a statement that Democrats “deny reality”, but grants that America’s decentralized system of elections and current integrity controls largely make voter fraud “hard to catch and hard to prosecute.”
For what may appear to be a herculean research task, there exists clear precedent for how a Trump Administration could move forward. The most direct avenue to study weaknesses in voter registration systems would be for the Civil Rights Division of the Justice Department to return to its practice of enforcing Section 8 of the National Voter Registration Act against counties and states that allow their records to fall into disrepair. The federal law requires local jurisdictions to create uniform and nondiscriminatory measures that remove dead, relocated, and otherwise ineligible voters from the rolls. When research demonstrates that a state is apparently failing the task, the DOJ has the option to bring a suit to force a correction. The Bush Justice Department made multiple examples of states in this manner when jurisdictions in Missouri, Arkansas, Indiana, Maine, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania were not properly maintaining records.
As the DOJ record shows, the changeover to the Obama DOJ exhibited an abrupt halt to such activity, leaving nonprofit organizations like the Public Interest Legal Foundation and the American Civil Rights Union to bring similar cases when the feds refused. These groups found that 141 counties across the United States had more registered voters than residents aged 18 and up. Shortly before Trump’s announcement, the organizations inked a settlement with one Mississippi county that would begin to clean its records after showing greater than 110 percent registration there. Without a DOJ willing to loom large over states in apparent violation, nonprofits will be slow to enforce federal laws on their own without budgets comparable to the Civil Rights Division.
The Trump Administration also has the option to empanel a commission in the mold of Carter-Baker, which in 2005 set out 87 recommendations for election reform that most notably argued photo voter identification rules should be passed either on a federal or individual state levels, according to The Washington Post. The duo also found that at the time, 46,000 New York City residents maintained dual voter registrations in various Florida counties. In response, the Commission stressed that states adopt updated standards to compare data that would better identify duplicate voter registrations.
A Trump Justice Department can also revive enforcement of a criminal statute that apparently was missing from former Attorney General Eric Holder’s law books: 42 U.S.C. § 1973i(e). Twice, the Obama DOJ declined to prosecute cases where individuals voted more than once in a single federal election despite national media coverage. A Democrat candidate for Maryland’s First Congressional District, Wendy Rosen, resigned from the race after her pattern of double voting in Florida and Maryland came to light in September 2012, according to The Washington Post. The Baltimore Sun later reported a plea agreement in state court was made in 2013. Shortly after the 2012 Election, Cincinnati voter Melowese Richardson admitted to casting multiple ballots to help President Obama’s re-election chances in front of a local television camera. State prosecutors brought appropriate charges while a U.S. Attorney did not. Breitbart News later reported that Ms. Richardson was labeled a hero for voting rights by the Ohio Democratic Party in 2014.
Whether “millions” of noncitizen voters cast ballots or not in the 2016 Election will likely prove a mystery since federal and state laws do not currently require proof of citizenship when registering to vote or verification after the fact. If states follow Kansas’ lead and enact such reforms, the level of uncertainty surrounding this question will likely reduce to zero in future elections.
Logan Churchwell is a founding editor of the Breitbart Texas team. You can follow him on Twitter @LCChurchwell. He also serves as the communications director for the Public Interest Legal Foundation.