Vice President Mike Pence will head an investigation into voter fraud, President Trump said in remarks broadcast this weekend, after alleging for months that widespread illegal voting cost him the popular vote.
On the campaign trail, Mr. Trump argued that he would only lose key swing states such as Pennsylvania if serious voter fraud occurred in left-leaning cities like Philadelphia and Pittsburgh. While he won the Keystone State and subsequently took a majority of votes in the Electoral College, Trump lost the popular vote to Democratic challenger Hillary Clinton by nearly 3 million votes.
Since then, Trump has continued to say that between 3 and 5 million illegal immigrants voted in Democrat-leaning states such as California, where Clinton won by millions of ballots. Despite a lack of evidence to support these claims and pushback from both Republican and Democratic congressional members calling on him to drop the claims, Trump has insisted that a probe into the alleged fraud is necessary to safeguard the nation’s democratic process.
"I'm going to set up a commission to be headed by Vice President Pence and we're going to look at it very, very carefully," Trump told Fox News Channel's Bill O'Reilly in an interview that aired Sunday.
Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell (R) of Kentucky acknowledged on CNN's "State of the Union" that voter fraud does occur, but said that "there is no evidence that it occurred in such a significant number that would have changed the presidential election."
He also cautioned against using federal funds in a deep dive into the issue.
"And I don't think we ought to spend any federal money investigating that," he said. "I think the states can take a look at this issue."
Several other Republicans have agreed, hoping the president will focus his energy elsewhere now that he's entered the office.
Late last month, House Oversight Committee chairman Jason Chaffetz (R) of Utah said he saw no evidence of voter fraud in the general election and declined to have the committee investigate it, but noted that the Justice Department was free to open an investigation at Trump’s request.
Past investigations and studies into voter fraud have found that the phenomenon is rare, without enough weight to sway an election. A study by Justin Levitt, a law professor at Loyola Law School, Los Angeles, found that nationwide, since 2000, there have been 31 instances of the types of voter fraud targeted by voter identification laws.
Still, the debate around election laws in light of possible fraud has divided legislators and elected officials along partisan lines. In recent years, Democrats have generally tried to make voting easier and to oppose voting restrictions, which they argue often disproportionately affect minority and low-income citizens. Meanwhile, Republicans have worked to enact stricter regulations, arguing that such measures are vital to ensuring only citizens with legal voting rights cast ballots.
The future of voting legislation across the country remains uncertain, as states look to the federal courts to settle more than a dozen lawsuits involving voting rights and access.
“Voting litigation is increasing, not decreasing,” Ned Foley, an election law professor at The Ohio State University, told The Christian Science Monitor last week. Judging by judicial outcomes so far, he says, “The main impression … is that when a law looks like it’s engaging in outright disenfranchisement of a valid voter, even conservative judges have been stopping that. [But] the judiciary is more tolerant with state legislatures adjusting issues of convenience and accessibility, if the adjustment is not outright disenfranchisement.”
This report contains material from Reuters and the Associated Press.