Kris Kobach and the Search for the Mythical Voter Fraud

These responses reflected an uncomfortable reality for Kobach: Though many Republican election officials support stricter voting laws, including such things as photo-identification requirements, they also take seriously that their job is to run elections smoothly and prevent fraud, and weren’t pleased about the implication that they were failing.

Without most of the data it had requested, and without any other evidence of fraud, the commission was stalled. In September, it held a meeting in New Hampshire to investigate Trump’s claim of fraud there, but Bill Gardner, New Hampshire’s secretary of state and a commission member, rebutted the claim. By October, two of the group’s Democrats were complaining that they had been shut out of deliberations and meetings. One of them, Maine Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap, sued to demand access to commission material, and won.

In January, the group was finally put out of its misery, without releasing any findings. The Trump administration said it would not hand materials over to Dunlap, because the commission no longer existed, but a judge disagreed, and in August 2018, Dunlap released the documents he’d obtained. They showed that in its months of work, the commission had uncovered no evidence of fraud.

(The commission’s demise was the start of a rough 2018 for Kobach. In June, a federal judge struck down as unconstitutional a law Kobach had championed that required voters to prove U.S. citizenship. She also rebuked him for his handling of the case, and required him to take a remedial class in the rules of evidence. In November, Kobach lost a gubernatorial election in deep-red Kansas to a Democrat. He also lost the 2020 GOP primary for U.S. Senate.)

Voter fraud does exist—just usually on the individual-voter scale. There have been cases of larger, organized fraud, including in Chicago in 1982 and Brooklyn in 1984, but the numbers involved were not large enough to swing a presidential election, and the laws in these jurisdictions have since been tightened. The most famous purported case of systematic fraud, of Chicago giving the 1960 presidential election to John F. Kennedy, is unproven at best.

Every time Trump claims fraud in the 2020 election, the important thing to remember is that he’s already looked for evidence of such fraud and come up empty-handed. In the 2016 case, furthermore, he had a specific claim, if not a very persuasive one; this time, he hasn’t offered any numbers, just bluster. Voter-fraud campaigners sometimes contend that the absence of evidence is evidence of absence. That may be a wise way to philosophize, but it’s an impracticable way to assess election results.

In refusing to recognize President-elect Joe Biden’s victory in remarks on Monday, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said that Trump “is 100 percent within his rights to look into allegations of irregularities and weigh his legal options.” That’s true as far as it goes, but the question is not whether he has a right to do so; it’s whether doing so is wise and whether he’s likely to prevail. The answer to both questions is no.