Sifting through a trove of 2016 US election data, scholars find no evidence of fraud

The Press booths seen at Quickens Loans during the floor vote to nominate Donald Trump for the presidential race (USA, Ohio, Cleveland, 19 July 2016). Photo: Nina Berman / NOOR

Hertie School Visiting Scholar Michael C. Herron and colleagues examine Trump’s fraud claims.

“In addition to winning the Electoral College in a landslide, I won the popular vote if you deduct the millions of people who voted illegally.” - Donald Trump, via Twitter, November 27, 2016 

With recounts underway and Republican President-elect Donald Trump publicly alleging voter fraud involving “millions of people who voted illegally,” the credibility of the 2016 General Election is under intense scrutiny. Although the rate of voter fraud in American elections is extremely low, this did not prevent Trump, his vice presidential running mate, and others allied with him from claiming during the campaign, during early voting, and now post-election that Trump might be the victim of fraudulently cast votes, either at the polls or via mail. Trump’s and others’ many campaign-period claims about fraud and assertions that the 2016 election was rigged were the motivation behind a voter fraud project conducted by Hertie School Visiting Scholar and Dartmouth College Professor Michael C. Herron, together with Dartmouth colleagues David Cottrell and Sean J. Westwood. The project culminated in their just-released report, Evaluating Donald Trump’s Allegations of Voter Fraud in the 2016 Presidential Election.

Herron and his fellow researchers suspected prior to the election that fraud allegations might dominate the post-election political landscape, so they initiated a research project to evaluate the relationship between election returns and potential sources of fraud. Using both historical election data and voting returns from the 2016 election, their research focuses on non-citizen populations, deceased individuals, the timing of results, and voting technology. After an extensive analysis of voting data sets from two groups of states, recently highlighted as potentially problematic, they did not uncover any evidence consistent with Trump’s assertions. These states were Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin, which are the subject of ongoing recount efforts, and California, New Hampshire, and Virginia, three states cited personally by Trump. Moreover, they did not observe any striking abnormalities. While their results do not imply that there was no fraud at all in the 2016 presidential contest, nor do they imply that it was error-free, the researchers say the results strongly suggest that voter fraud concerns fomented and espoused by the Trump campaign are not grounded in any observable features of the 2016 presidential election.