Editorial: Trump should drop bogus fraud claim, focus on real voting reform

The Trump administration’s focus on voting would be better directed at issues such as updating the nation’s voting machinery, now more than a decade old.
The Trump administration’s focus on voting would be better directed at issues such as updating the nation’s voting machinery, now more than a decade old. tljungblad@kcstar.com

President Donald Trump said Wednesday he wants a “major investigation” into voter fraud in America. Apparently, he actually believes that millions of people cast illegal votes in November, costing him the popular vote victory.

The claim, first advanced by Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, is laughable. It’s based on old studies and wild conjecture, debunked by election officials in both parties. Wednesday, the National Association of Secretaries of State said it doesn’t know of any evidence supporting Trump’s assertion.

Former Missouri Secretary of State Jason Kander said this week that it would be easier to fake a landing on Mars than to pull off such a massive voter fraud scheme.

The Trump administration should simply stop talking about this. An inquiry focused only on fraudulent voting would waste time and money, revealing the truth we already know (and further humiliating the president in the process).

There is something Trump could do, though, if he’s truly interested in election reform. He could propose a fresh look at how Americans cast ballots.

Fifteen years ago, in the shadow of the 2000 hanging-chad debacle in Florida, Congress passed the Help America Vote Act to make voting easier and more reliable. Washington gave states money for new voting machines and set up a commission to propose best practices in ballot and registration procedures.

But many legislators and election officials quickly ignored that advice and continued the age-old practice of twisting voting laws for partisan purposes. That, Mr. President, is the real scandal in American elections.

Kobach, in particular, has been part of the problem. He’s still pursuing a two-tiered voting system with different ballots for state registrants and those who signed up using federal procedures, even though courts have told him that’s illegal. He should give it up.

Two weeks ago, The Associated Press reported that thousands of provisional ballots in Kansas were discarded last year, despite evidence that some of those voters thought they had properly registered. If even one properly cast ballot was thrown out, it’s unacceptable.

Meantime, the Kansas secretary of state continues to chase allegations of double-voting, promising to prosecute any miscreants he finds. That effort has proved so spotty that some Kansas lawmakers want to rescind Kobach’s ability to take voting cases to court.

Missouri has problems, too. Republicans in the legislature still resist early voting — not because it’s a bad idea, but because it may draw too many Democrats to the polls. This year, for the first time, Missourians will need a photo ID to vote (although not until June, after Kansas City’s spring election). The photo ID requirement will make it harder for some people to vote.

Voting irregularities are common in St. Louis, where Democrats hold a strong majority.

Changing blatantly partisan voting rules would be a good first step. It would not be enough.

Much of the nation’s voting machinery is now more than a decade old. Computer parts are missing or nonexistent. Software is outdated. Ballot security is suspect. Some jurisdictions report the disappearance of untraceable votes, cast on computer-like machines that leave no paper record.

Three years ago, a federal commission warned of a coming crisis with outdated voting machines. Today the problem is only worse.

Fixing old voting systems won’t be cheap. By some estimates, it would cost more than $1 billion just to update the nation’s voting machinery. Few cities and counties have the money. Washington will need to help.

While they’re at it, Congress should examine more fundamental voting questions. Why vote in November — on a Tuesday? Why not extend voting for a 24-hour period, perhaps on a weekend? What about voting through the internet? Automatic, same-day voter registration? There are dozens of possible reforms that would make voting easier and more secure for almost everyone.

Lawmakers of good will should discuss a range of nonpartisan reforms to make voting simpler, more accurate and accessible. They should identify sources of funds for upgraded equipment, provide states with enforceable guidance to standardize the voting process and help guarantee voter rolls are complete (something even Trump says he wants to see).

Americans must be allowed to vote, and they must trust the outcome. The president’s call for an unnecessary, ego-driven voter fraud investigation does nothing to advance either goal. A vigorous update of American voting systems would.