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David Becker Debunks Trump on The Drive

David Becker of the Center for Election Innovation and Research came on The Drive with Steve Jaxon, the day after an interview was broadcast between the new president and David Muir of ABC News, in which the president made false claims about voter fraud. In the interview he cited a Pew study, which however does not report what he said it did. Steve Jaxon brought David Becker, the author of the study in question and an expert in election operations, to explain the study and debunk the president’s false claim. Here is the transcript of the interview. (Before the conversation, producer Mike De Wald plays this sound bite from the interview of the night before.) For more information about the Center, visit its website, http://www.electioninnovation.org


“Muir: What you have presented so far has been debunked. It’s been called false.
Pres.: Look at the Pew report.
Muir: I called the author of the Pew report last night and he told me that they found no evidence of voter fraud.
Pres.: Well why did he write the report?”

Steve Jaxon:
Well that was last night with David Muir on ABC, and the current president, who is officially about to, or has, signed one of those things that looks like a menu and he just keeps signing them. Anyway, whatever. The gentleman who was the author of the study of the Pew study on voter fraud debunked President Trump’s claim that voter fraud is the reason he lost the popular vote, saying his research found no such thing and he is with us right now. Mr. David Becker, he’s with the Center for Election Innovation and Research and he was with the Pew Report. David, thank you so much for taking the time.


 

david becker

David Becker of the Center for Election Innovation and Research

David Becker:
My pleasure, Steve.

Steve Jaxon:
The Bay Area welcomes this. Explain how all this began. I mean, it starts back a number of years ago. You were with the Pew report, you did the study on voter fraud. Please explain the genesis and the whole thing.

David Becker:
Sure, and I have to correct one thing. It’s not a study of voter fraud at all, it’s a study of voter lists and how difficult it is for election officials to keep up with voters as they move and in come cases, die. It’s a real challenge for election officials, not only here in California but everywhere, which is mainly because...

SJ
Which is why some people are registered in a couple states, maybe, because the previous state after they moved, did not pull them off the rolls.

DB
That’s exactly right, it happens to millions of people every year and you can imagine. Ask anyone, any of your listeners, whenever they have moved do another state, have they thought to call their former state and get taken off the list. No one does. And to be honest, there’s a good reason for that. It’s actually very hard to do. Because you don’t want someone just calling and saying, “Hi, I’m David Becker, you should take David Becker off the voter lists,” without providing some proof of who they are. So it’s a challenge for elections officials to keep this up to date and we found that a lot of voter records, roughly about one in eight of them, had some inaccuracy in them. But there is a huge chasm between the administrative inefficiency of an out of date record on a voter file and the criminal act of a fraudulent vote. And there are many checks and balances in between those things, to prevent all but just a few of those from happening. Yes, voter fraud does exist in very very small numbers, it’s extremely rare across the United States, but nothing even close to approaching the kind of numbers that have been thrown around.

SJ
Right, three to five million, I mean, give me a break! You’ve tweeted, “As I’ve noted before, voter integrity is better in this election than ever before, zero evidence of fraud.”

DB
That’s exactly right, I mean, there is… the election officials all around the country, Republicans, Democrats, non-partisans, all agree, that they have seen zero evidence of any kind of widespread fraud. They’ve seen a few cases. The Secretary of State of Tennessee, a Republican, recently did a study or investigated the 2016 election in his state, and they found forty-two potentially fraudulent votes worthy of investigation out of over 4.3 million votes cast in 2016. That is an infinitesimally small voter fraud rate. And it really speaks to how seriously the American people are trustworthy about our democracy and how protective they are of it, and also the fact that voter fraud just doesn’t make sense as a crime. You’re risking years in jail, possibly a fine, for the big payoff of casting one more ballot in an election in which 140 million ballots are being cast. It just doesn’t make any sense.

SJ
Exactly. And as was noted at his second official press briefing, on Tuesday, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer defended Trump’s latest claims of voter fraud, and Trump has been citing a 2008 Pew study, right, and that’s the one that you were involved in?

DB
That was the 2012 Voter Registration study. I think they got the dates mixed up. That was a study that I directed when I was at Pew running the elections program there. That is, I worked at Pew for 8 years. I’ve been working in elections for 20 years with the Justice Department, and later on with Pew and now with the Center for Election Innovation and Research, so I’m familiar with all the studies. There have been multiple attempts to look for voter fraud. The Bush Justice Department did it for many years, to investigate voter fraud. The Federal Election Assistance Commission wrote a study, and Republican and Democratic Secretaries of State do it after every election. They investigate it just like I mentioned the Tennessee Secretary does. What they find is it’s more than zero but it’s not much more than zero. It’s a very rare occurrence and they do a wonderful job of, when it does happen, they investigate it and where appropriate, they prosecute.

SJ
Yeah, I’m looking at The Hill dot com, and it actually says, “Spicer may have been thinking of Pew’s 2012 study, which you authored and did not report what Spicer claimed it did. And they’re confusing all this. But yet, now the president’s going to sign another big restaurant menu thing, as I call them, to, you know… make everyone look into voter fraud for the last number of years, or whatever.

DB
Yeah, it was going to happen today, they postponed that signing of an executive order until tomorrow or Saturday, they say, and we’ll have to see what’s in it. They’re truing to fix a problem that’s already fixed. This is really something that, again, the state election officials, who are the experts in doing this, people like Secretary of State Padilla here in California, Secretary Hargett in Tennessee, Secretary Husted in Ohio, Secretary Schedler in Lousiana, all of whom are Republicans except for Secretary Padilla, all of whom have looked into this and said there is really no significant evidence of any kind of significant voter fraud.

So, we’ll see what the investigation with the executive order says. I also hope that this isn’t something that’s just done in states – where they’re only looking into states like California and New York, if they really want to be serious about this, I mean, election integrity has to matter. It can’t just matter when your candidate lost. It has to matter all the time. And so that means, you know, if we want to look at California and New York, we should be looking at all fifty states. And again, we can be almost entirely certain about what they are going to find, which is the same thing that the Bush Justice Department found in the last decade, which is the same thing that the Federal Election Commission found last decade, and is the same thing that Republican and Democratic Secretaries of State are finding, you know, every two years.

SJ
What kills me is that if Trump and his people actually think that they lost New York and California because a bunch of illegals voted, you know, and there was voter fraud, give me a break! I mean, come on! It’s California and New York!

DB
That’s a great point. I mean, I don’t want to comment or really try to anticipate what’s going on in their thoughts, but if the Democrats’ grand strategy was to delivery three to five million illegal votes, and they concentrated them in California and New York, that wouldn’t be a really great political strategy.

SJ
(laughter)

DB
So, you know, when the margins were, you know, 10,000 votes in Michigan, when the margins were 25,000 votes in Wisconsin, you know, you would have thought that they would have done this a little more effectively. But more importantly, the election officials in these states have looked at this. There would be indications if there were fraud at any kind of level like that. They would have seen this well before the election. And it’s not that they found little. They found nothing.

SJ
Right. And all fifty states do this, right?

DB
Yeah, I think people often, because most of us think of elections every two or four years, they don’t really think about their election officials in between. But it’s not like Secretary Padilla and all of the wonderful county election officials in California woke up on November 8th and said, “Hey let’s put on an election.” They’re working every day of every week of every month, anticipating the next election. And as you know, here in California, if it’s Tuesday, there’s probably an election going on somewhere. So, they are working to ensure the integrity of the election. They know their data, their systems, they know what to expect and if there’s something that looks weird or wrong, they are on top of it. And this is true in every state. For all your listeners and any voters anywhere, if you ever get a chance to listen to or meet your election officials, especially your county or state election officials, take that opportunity. They really appreciate that. These are people who are working very hard for you, to make that one day, maybe once every two or four years, as easy as possible for you, so you can express your voice.

SJ
We are talking with David Becker, he’s now with the Center for Election Innovation and Research, which I want to talk about in a second. We have a listener question: Any idea what an investigation such as this, that Trump is talking about, would cost? That’s got to be a lot of money.

DB
Yeah, well, we’ll have to see. It’s a great question. We’ll have to see what the executive order says. One of the things, and I say this as someone who used to work at the Justice Department as well, the Justice Department does have authority to investigate federal voter fraud. And usually what happens, just like with any law enforcement agency, if it gets a complaint or a credible report of possible voter fraud, it will investigate. This is slightly different. This is investigating something in the absence of any evidence or any credible report of voter fraud. And trying to find something that doesn’t exist, that you have no evidence to suggest exists, could be time consuming and expensive. We’ll have to see. This isn’t going to cost a hundred thousand dollars. I mean, any effort like this is going to be well into the millions, tens of millions, hundreds of millions.

SJ
Exactly. And by the end of it they’re going to say, OK, well, never mind, let’s move on and keep buildin’ that wall.

DB
Yeah, it’s unfortunate because there are things that election officials are doing to improve the process and make it more secure and more responsive to voters, and it could be very helpful if the president would sit down with some of the election officials including members of his own party and learn from that. That could be a very constructive discussion, because there could be some ways in which the federal and the state and local governments could cooperate and make things easier and better for voters and build efficiencies into the system. I don’t think that’s likely where we’re going with this, but you know, hope springs eternal.

SJ
The Center for Election Innovation and Research, tell me about that.

DB
So I… It’s a fairly new non-profit. I left Pew last year along with a colleague. What we do is work with, in a very non-partisan way, with election officials all across the country at the state and local level, to improve how elections are run and also to try to increase baseline turnout among all voters. Turnout, in almost all elections, with the exception of presidential elections, has been in decline, and actually it’s been in historic decline. We had the lowest turnout in any federal election since 1942, which was November 2014.

SJ
That’s frightening.

DB
So, in California, which has very good election officials and very good election laws, is certainly not immune to this. California sees very low turnout in most elections, compared to other states and compared to what it would like to see.

SJ
We kick ass in the Bay Area, when it comes to that, though.

DB
Sometimes you do, and sometimes not as much. But it depends, and there’s going to be local elections in a lot of jurisdictions this coming year in 2017. Those often see turnout well below 20%, sometimes even below 10%.

SJ
Yeah, I know.

David Becker:
And so we’re going to be working with election officials and strictly in a bi-partisan way and non-partisan way, to use data and technology to see what we can do to make elections run better for everybody, to save money, make it more responsive to what voters want and expect, and then also, hopefully, use that to get a few more voters to show up for elections other than once every four years.

SJ
Right, right on, and is it “Center for Election Innovation dot org” or... I don’t have the website right in front of me.

David Becker:
Yeah, that’s OK, it’s “election innovation dot org” is our website. People can follow me on Twitter on @BeckerDavidJ and hopefully people will learn something. Hopefully we’re out there helping people understand how their election officials are working to help them every day.

SJ
Beautiful. He’s the author of a Pew study on 2012 on voter fraud, well, OK, that’s not correct, that’s from The Hill, I’m reading that. But you have debunked Trump’s claim that voter fraud is the reason he lost the popular vote and he mentioned your study last night and obviously it’s just bizarre. And it’s such an honor to talk to you, David, and I hope we can talk again.

David Becker:
Thanks a lot Steve, it’s been a pleasure.

SJ
All right, thank you David Becker, Center for Election Innovation and Research.

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