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PolitiFact.com | Tampa Bay Times

PolitiFact: Donald Trump's Pants on Fire tweet about illegal voters

Nearly three weeks after Election Day, President-elect Donald Trump continues to lash out against what he calls a rigged election system — one that nonetheless carried him to the presidency despite losing the popular vote to Hillary Clinton.

"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," Trump tweeted Sunday.

Trump's camp stood by the statement Monday, but there remains no credible evidence or substantial investigations into fraud to back it up.

The alarming claim earned the rebuke of academics and all-day fact-checking by journalists around the world. Even a member of his own party, U.S. Sen. James Lankford, R-Okla., said Monday on CNN's New Day, "I don't know what he was talking about on that one."

Trump's claim was even more interesting with the announcement by a Michigan elections board certifying he won the state's 16 electoral votes, widening his Electoral College lead to 306 over Clinton's 232.

For a ridiculous claim without a shred of proof, there's just one rating: Pants on Fire.

In addition to his lament about fraudulent votes, Trump's Sunday tweets offered a cornucopia of assertions we've already debunked, including the notion that Trump won the Electoral College in a "landslide" (False), that he won the popular vote (Pants on Fire), and that 3 million votes were cast by illegal aliens (False).

We found zero evidence for Trump's charge about "millions" of illegal votes separating him and Clinton in the popular vote.

The ballots are mostly, but not entirely, counted.

The most comprehensive vote-tracking analysis is published by David Wasserman of the nonpartisan Cook Political Report. As of noon Monday, according to Wasserman's calculations, Clinton led Trump by roughly 2.24 million votes — specifically, 64.65 million for Clinton, 62.41 million for Trump, and 7.19 million for other candidates.

Late ballot tabulations in some states are trickling in — many of them states, such as California, where Clinton fared overwhelmingly well. For this reason, Wasserman said Clinton seems to be on track to win the popular vote by 2.5 million to 2.7 million votes, or a margin of about 2 percentage points over Trump.

So to erase Trump's popular-vote deficit, there would need to be almost 3 million votes for Clinton that were cast illegally. And that assumes that all 3 million of these "illegal votes" went to Clinton and not a single one went to Trump.

For a sense of scale, 3 million votes is more than were cast for any presidential candidate in 36 states plus the District of Columbia. And 3 million people is more than a quarter of the estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants in the United States — a group that the conspiracy website InfoWars specifically singled out as the source of illegal votes.

Evidence lacking

Trump's team did not respond to queries from PolitiFact. In a conference call with reporters Monday, Trump spokesman Jason Miller mentioned two pieces of evidence that Trump had also cited earlier in the campaign.

One was a 2012 Pew Center on the States study whose author denies that it found any evidence of voter fraud. The other was a 2014 article posted on the Monkey Cage blog hosted by the Washington Post; it prompted multiple articles by other political scientists casting doubt on its accuracy. In any case, neither study offers analysis of the 2016 electoral returns.

Alex Jones' InfoWars and similar websites have posted articles claiming that 3 million votes in the presidential election were "cast by illegal aliens." We have rated that False.

As evidence of its claim, InfoWars' headline referred to a report from VoteFraud.org and tweets from Gregg Phillips, whose Twitter profile says he's the founder of VoteStand, a voter fraud reporting app.

However, there is no report from VoteFraud.org, and Phillips told PolitiFact he is not affiliated with that website. Tweets by Phillips on Nov. 11 and Nov. 13 said that "we have verified more than 3 million votes cast by noncitizens" and that Phillips had "completed analysis of database of 180 million voter registrations. Number of non-citizen votes exceeds 3 million. Consulting legal team."

Phillips has not provided additional information to PolitiFact. He told us previously that he has chosen not to release more information because he is still working on analyzing the data and verifying its accuracy. Phillips would not say what the data is or where it came from, or what methodology he used. He said he would release the information publicly once he is finished.

True the Vote, a group that has argued that election fraud is widespread, gave Trump's comment rhetorical support but did not provide specific evidence.

Lankford, the Oklahoma senator, added that while there may be irregularity "on the edges," he has "not seen any voter irregularity in the millions."

Fraud uncommon

Credible research suggests that voter fraud is not widespread. Some examples:

• News21, a national investigative reporting project funded by the Carnegie Corporation of New York and the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, found just 56 cases of noncitizens voting between 2000 and 2011.

• A report by the liberal Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law found that most cases of noncitizens voting were accidental. "Although there are a few recorded examples in which noncitizens have apparently registered or voted, investigators have concluded that they were likely not aware that doing so was improper," reads the 2007 report.

• In 2012, Florida Gov. Rick Scott's administration started an effort trying to crack down on noncitizens voting by comparing drivers' license data against voter rolls. The state created a list of 182,000 potential noncitizens that had voted. That number was whittled down to 2,700, then to about 200 before the purge was stopped amid criticism that the data was flawed given the number of false positives. Ultimately, only 85 people were removed from the rolls.

Meanwhile, ProPublica, an investigative journalism project, tweeted it had 1,100 people monitoring Election Day activity and saw no evidence of rigging and "no evidence that undocumented immigrants voted illegally."

Experts dismissed the substance of Trump's tweet.

"This is patently false," said Costas Panagopoulos, a Fordham University political scientist. "There would need to be a massive national conspiracy and coordination effort to do this, and illegal aliens would need to be on the voter rolls in states across the country months earlier to be eligible to vote. It is also very convenient the estimated fraudulent vote is just enough to give Trump the popular vote. Not likely a coincidence."

Emory University political scientist Alan Abramowitz added, "If Mr. Trump seriously believes that there was significant vote fraud in any state, he should file a formal protest and ask for an investigation. He does not — he is simply repeating baseless claims."

University of Denver political scientist Seth Masket said the claim is short on basic logic.

"It's bizarre to claim that Clinton had the ability to generate millions of illegal voters but not use them to help her win the Electoral College," Masket said.

The statement

Says he "won the popular vote if you deduct the millions of people who voted illegally."

Donald Trump, Sunday in a tweet

The ruling

PolitiFact ruling: Pants on Fire Neither Trump nor his allies have presented any evidence of widespread illegal voting. In reality, studies have consistently shown that voter fraud is nowhere near common enough to call into question millions and millions of votes. We rate Trump's statement Pants on Fire.

PolitiFact: Donald Trump's Pants on Fire tweet about illegal voters 11/28/16 [Last modified: Monday, November 28, 2016 8:39pm]
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