President Donald Trump won the Electoral College vote in resounding fashion and is, as of today, the duly elected president of the United States. Most other politicians would be content with this result in a presidential election, but Trump is not most politicians. It clearly sticks in his craw that he lost the popular vote by about 2 percent to Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton, and so he called for a "major investigation" on Wednesday morning into voter fraud that he claims cost him the popular vote.
Since the election, Trump has repeated the claim a number of times that more than 3 million people voted illegally, thus costing him the popular vote. Trump groused about voter fraud almost immediately following his election victory, but he seems to have settled on the number "3-5 million" in mid-December during a closed-door meeting on Capitol Hill with Congressional Republicans. Since then, Trump and his surrogates have repeated the claim often, which has repeatedly riled the media, who claim that there is no evidence of voter fraud on such a massive scale.
Trump repeated the claim on Monday during a meeting with lawmakers, and White House Press Secretary was grilled by reporters about the assertion during his press briefing. Spicer did not back off of the claims, but also did not state that he personally believed them, choosing instead to defend the comments by saying, "the president does believe that."
Trump doubled down Wednesday morning on Twitter:
even, those registered to vote who are dead (and many for a long time). Depending on results, we will strengthen up voting procedures!— Donald J. Trump (@Donald J. Trump) 1485346426.0
Voting procedures and voting integrity are typically the purview of state governments, but the Department of Justice does have some oversight authority under the Voting Rights Act, and other federal statutes. While it is unlikely that an investigation would uncover millions of illegal votes in a single presidential election, it may serve to bolster claims Republicans have long made about voter fraud and corruption, particularly in large cities.
There is, moreover, some evidence that, in some locations, systematic voter fraud may have occurred. For instance, the Michigan recount effort led by former Green Party nominee Jill Stein uncovered massive irregularities in a number of Detroit precincts.
While both Republicans and Democrats agree that some level of voter fraud exists, there is a wide partisan gap between voters of the two parties in terms of how pervasive they believe voter fraud to be. For instance, a Gallup poll taken in August revealed that a slight majority (52 percent) of Republicans believe that voter fraud is a "major problem," as compared to only 26 percent of Democrats. A Washington Post poll taken in October showed that 60 percent of Republicans believe that illegal immigrants and other ineligible people vote in "meaningful amounts," compared to less than 25 percent of Democrats and less than 40 percent of independents. Support for voter ID laws to combat voter fraud is also strongly determined by party affiliation.
However, until now, valid, systematic studies about the prevalence of voter fraud have been virtually non-existent. If the Department of Justice follows through on Trump's desire, that may be about to change.