WASHINGTON ― Two weeks after President Donald Trump said he wanted an investigation into millions of “illegal” votes, the promised executive order remains somewhere in the ether.
Trump appeared obsessed with the issue in his first days in office, telling a group of senators ― without any evidence to support the claim ― that Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton’s victory in November’s popular vote tally by a margin of 2.9 million was entirely due to 3 million to 5 million illegally cast ballots.
He then expanded on his theory in an ABC News interview, claiming that each and every one of those illegal votes was cast for Clinton ― without explaining how he could possibly know that.
Trump promised the probe in a pair of tweets sent the morning of Jan. 25: “I will be asking for a major investigation into VOTER FRAUD, including those registered to vote in two states, those who are illegal and....” and “even, those registered to vote who are dead (and many for a long time). Depending on results, we will strengthen up voting procedures!”
That investigation was to be started with an executive order to be signed the following day, Thursday, Jan. 26, which then became Friday or Saturday.
Since then, the issue has disappeared entirely.
“At this time, we don’t have an update,” White House Deputy Press Secretary Lindsay Walters said.
Justin Levitt, a Loyola Law School professor and voting rights expert, said the order’s disappearance is not terribly unexpected. “I wouldn’t be surprised if this falls by the wayside for a whole lot longer,” he said.
Levitt wrote a 2007 report titled “The Truth About Voter Fraud” when he worked at the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University’s School of Law. It found that the amount of actual in-person voter fraud was so small as to not present a significant threat of altering elections.
“It would be one thing if they did an actual study,” Levitt said. “There’s nothing like the tone of the proposal set up in the tweets. I’m enormously skeptical of any quote-unquote investigation that announces its conclusions ahead of the actual investigation.”
There is zero evidence of widespread voter fraud in the presidential election ― a point made by Trump’s own lawyers when they were trying to shut down recounts in three key states that Trump won unexpectedly.
During last year’s campaign, Trump and his aides pointed to a roundly discredited political science blog post hypothesizing about potential illegal voting, as well as a 2012 Pew Center on the States report about voter registration rolls. Trump again cited that study in the Jan. 25 ABC News interview.
But Trump did not appear to understand the substance of the report he was citing. He claimed erroneously that it dealt with voter fraud, rather than out-of-date registration rolls that contain voters who have died or have moved to other states. Both Trump’s daughter Tiffany and his chief strategist, Steve Bannon, were registered in two states during the last election, for example.
Trump, however, claimed that being registered in more than one jurisdiction proved the existence of illegal voting: “You have people registered in two states. They’re registered in a New York and a New Jersey. They vote twice,” Trump said.
In his meeting with congressional leaders on Jan. 23, Trump reportedly cited a story he claimed was told to him by a pro golfer and German immigrant in Florida who was not allowed to vote while others in line who appeared to be from Latin America were permitted to cast ballots. Trump’s story, though, was subsequently debunked by the golfer himself, and it appears Trump only heard about it third-hand.
Trump, nevertheless, has not backed away from his claims, despite his White House’s inaction. In an interview with Fox News host Bill O’Reilly released Tuesday, Trump repeated his views ― again without any evidence.
“Look, Bill, we can be babies, but you take a look at the registration, you have illegals, you have dead people, you have this ― it is really a bad situation. It is really bad,” Trump said. “I’m going to set up a commission to be headed by Vice President Mike Pence and we are going to look at it very, very carefully.”