The Trumpstad Report: Voter Fraud

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Trump hair: Lorie Shaull/Noun Project, mustache: Aldric Rodríguez Iborra/Noun Project

Part of a series on the ties that bind Iowa’s governor and the GOP presidential nominee.

“Nov. 8, we’d better be careful, because that election is going to be rigged,” Donald Trump told a crowd gathered in Columbus, Ohio, one month ago. “People are going to walk in and they’re going to vote 10 times, maybe, who knows?”

The wild claim, rated pants-on-fire false by the Pulitzer-winning PolitiFact, is suspected to be part of a face-saving effort in the event Trump is overwhelmingly defeated, which increasingly appears to be a likely outcome. The GOP presidential nominee, the website pointed out, has also advanced the debunked idea that the 2012 election was rigged, among other theories:

Trump’s claims also echo more mainstream GOP arguments for voter ID laws, which a majority of states now have and are ostensibly meant to prevent the sorts of scenarios Trump and other Republicans have warned about. The only problem is, academic research, government inquiries, and journalistic investigations have all clearly shown there is no credible evidence that voter fraud is a problem. There is, however, a great deal of evidence, as the American Civil Liberties Union has noted, that the laws “have the potential to deny the right to vote to thousands of registered voters who do not have, and, in many instances, cannot obtain the limited identification states accept for voting,” often because they cannot afford the costs involved.

The research has shown, the ACLU adds, “that more than 21 million Americans do not have government-issued photo identification; a disproportionate number of these Americans are low-income, racial and ethnic minorities, and elderly” — demographic groups that typically vote for Democrats.

Voter ID bills, including one passed by the Iowa House in 2011 after Gov. Terry Branstad returned to office, have often borrowed language from the American Legislative Exchange Council, a conservative nonprofit that crafts model legislation for state lawmakers who are members of the organization. In a list of ALEC members published in 2005 (and embedded below), Branstad is named as a founding member of the group, which was formed in 1973 when the governor was a freshman state representative, and a recipient of its ALEC Pioneer Award.

When Branstad returned to the governor’s office in 2011, he backed the anti-voter fraud proposals of the new secretary of state, Republican Matt Schultz, including the voter ID push, claiming that Iowans who “falsely vote” were a significant issue even as Schultz openly admitted that he didn’t know how extensive the supposed problem was but wanted to “close potential loopholes.” (Trump also supports voter ID laws; in January, he told someone at a rally in New Hampshire, “This voting system is out of control. You have people, in my opinion, that are voting many, many times. They don’t want security, they don’t want cards.” And in May, he implied in a conversation with MSNBC’s Chuck Todd that he opposed same-day voter registration, which is allowed in Iowa.)

Senate Democrats killed the voter ID bill, but that didn’t stop Schultz from misusing federal funds meant to improve access to the polls to the tune of $250,000 to root out voter fraud, nailing a handful of people with criminal charges who mistakenly thought they could vote, sometimes because they were given incorrect information from authorities or poll workers. And they could have voted, had Branstad not rescinded an executive order issued by Gov. Tom Vilsack automatically restoring felons’ voting rights, making Iowa one of just three states to permanently bar them from the franchise unless they apply for and receive the governor’s blessing. In other words, to the extent that voter fraud exists in Iowa, it exists largely because of Branstad himself.

In June, Schultz’s successor Paul Pate successfully defended the state’s felon disenfranchisement law in front of the Iowa Supreme Court. He was being sued by Kelli Jo Griffin, whose probation officer failed to tell her she couldn’t vote after completing probation for a felony cocaine conviction. The law effectively functions as a discriminatory poll tax, requiring felons to pay off most of their fines before even becoming eligible to make an appeal to Branstad to restore their voting rights. Ahead of the Supreme Court ruling, Branstad announced he was “streamlining” the process to make appeals easier, yet they still have to get current on payments first, and only a fraction of a percent of the state’s disenfranchised felons have managed to get their rights back.

Meanwhile, trials stemming from Schultz’s crackdown are still ongoing and, just last week, forced a Waterloo man to plead guilty to voter fraud to avoid prison time after a poll worker falsely assured him he was eligible to vote in 2012. He voted for President Obama, a Democrat. Now he owes more than $1,200 in fines — $750 for unlawfully voting, plus other tacked-on fees, which he cannot afford.

Branstad’s office did not respond to a request for comment asking whether the Iowa governor believes this November’s election will be rigged against Trump, if he played any role in crafting ALEC’s model legislation on voter ID, or what he thinks of the Iowa GOP’s crackdown on the virtually nonexistent problem of voter fraud.

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Gavin Aronsen is an editor and reporter for and founding member of the Iowa Informer. He previously worked as a city reporter for the Ames Tribune, research assistant to investigative journalist Wayne Barrett at the Village Voice, and in various roles at Mother Jones, where his work contributed to a National Magazine Award nomination for the magazine's digital media coverage of the Occupy Wall Street movement. Email: garonsen [at] iowainformer [dot] com.