Here’s the Entertaining Saga of Donald Trump’s 3-5 Million Illegal Voters

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I’ve managed to restrain myself from commenting on President Trump’s idiotic claim that 3-5 million noncitizens voted in the 2016 election,1 but I have to admit that I’ve been entertained by the ever-changing cast of studies that have been trotted out to defend this claim:

  1. Trump himself first cited a 2012 Pew study, and became angry when ABC’s David Muir suggested he had misinterpreted it. But he had. The study in question was solely about inefficiencies in voter registration, not fraudulent voting. In fact, at the time the report was released the author specifically said that he had “not seen evidence” of any fraudulent voting.
     
  2. With that shot down, attention turned to a 2014 study by Jesse Richman and David Earnest. This one used survey responses to construct an estimate of fraudulent voting, and concluded that a maximum of 500 thousand to 1 million noncitizens might have voted in recent federal elections. This is far below Trump’s claim, and anyway it’s virtually certain that the study is massively flawed due to its tiny sample size. Once that’s accounted for, the most likely conclusion from this study is that zero noncitizens voted.
     
  3. With two studies shot down, Trump tweeted today about an old favorite that he heard about again on CNN this morning. This time it’s a guy named Greg Phillips, an old tea partier who’s now a board member of True the Vote. Remember them from 2012? Phillips is also the author of a smartphone voter-fraud reporting app. I’m not joking about this. Phillips recruited a small army of folks who were worried about the election being rigged, and they all downloaded his app and then sent in reports of fishy-looking voters on Election Day. The app is, um, not very sophisticated. Check it out:
     
    That’s the whole thing. Phillips combined these reports with his archive of “184 million voting records we’ve collected over time,” and then applied an “enormous amount of analytic capability” to produce a final list of 3 million fraudulent votes. He claims that after everything is verified, which will take a few more months, he will release his full list along with the algorithm he used. You betcha. This is so ridiculous it’s basically self-debunking.

So that’s where we are. Trump burbles something stupid, and then his defenders rush out to dig up evidence to support him, each defense more harebrained than the last. I can hardly wait to see what’s next. Sampling the entire nation’s voting records for names with diacritical marks and then comparing it to a survey of people in Toledo? Claiming the NSA has phone records of voter fraud stored at Area 51? The mind boggles.

1Even without knowing anything, it’s idiotic. There are about 20 million noncitizens in the US. Trump is therefore saying that 15-25 percent of all noncitizens voted. This is fantastically beyond anything even remotely plausible.

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"It's that we're screwed with or without him if we can't show the public that what we do matters for the long term," writes Mother Jones CEO Monika Bauerlein as she kicks off our drive to raise $350,000 in donations from readers by July 17.

This is a big one for us. So, as we ask you to consider supporting our team's journalism, we thought we'd slow down and check in about where Mother Jones is and where we're going after the chaotic last several years. This comparatively slow moment is also an urgent one for Mother Jones: You can read more in "Slow News Is Good News," and if you're able to, please support our team's hard-hitting journalism and help us reach our big $350,000 goal with a donation today.

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