After winning the electoral college and losing the popular vote, Donald Trump alleged voter fraud. He went on to promise a “major investigation” into voter fraud, which failed to support his claim. As it stands, there is no evidence of rampant voter fraud in the 2016 election.
It must be noted that absence of evidence need not be conclusive as evidence of absence—but those claiming voter fraud exists bear the burden of proof. After all, proving that fraud has occurred simply requires finding some evidence of such fraud. Proving that no voter fraud occurred would require analyzing every voter and vote—a far more burdensome task. To use an analogy, if someone claims that there is a monster in Loch Ness, it is up to them to find it. It is not up to others to scour every centimeter of the Loch to prove that it is not there.
Significant voter fraud is rather like the Loch Ness monster—despite the failure of extensive efforts to find it, people keep claiming to have seen it. The latest sighting (of voter fraud, not the monster) was by Kentucky Governor Matt Bevin. At this time, Bevin seems to have lost the election by 5,000 votes. In response he claimed, without proving evidence or answering questions, that there were irregularities in the election.
If such irregularities occurred, it would be a serious matter and call the integrity of the election into question. Unfortunately for the governor, no election official has offered corroborating evidence—the election seems to have been conducted properly. It could, of course, be alleged that every election official is in on the conspiracy or that only the governor can see hidden irregularities. However, the most plausible explanation is that the governor was not telling the truth. Kentucky will, however, recanvas the election results. If it does turn out that Bevin was right, then he should either be regarded as a lucky guesser or praised for having a special ability to discern fraud.
If Bevin’s currently unsupported claim turns out to be wrong, then it would be reasonable to accuse him of crying voter fraud. For those who value the American democracy, this tactic is problematic because it unjustly undermines faith in the election system and thus makes it ever easier for others who lose elections to use the same tactic and thus undermine democracy further. It thus becomes a cycle of corrosion. When the fraud is not real, some people will still believe that the failure to act against the fraud is more evidence of conspiracy and fraud, thus making it worse. While real fraud would be bad, it would be something that could be addressed and thus faith could be restored. To use an analogy, someone who is a hypochondriac can never be cured of an unreal disease. In contrast, if someone is sick, they can generally be cured.
It might be objected that while Republicans cry voter fraud, Democrats cry voter suppression (and other things). Are the Democrats not just as bad? The first reply is that even if the Democrats were falsely crying voter suppression, this would not entail that the Republicans were somehow right about voter fraud or that they would be in the right. To think otherwise would be to fall into a fallacy.
The second reply is that there is, unlike voter fraud, evidence of voter suppression exists. The obvious counter is to argue that all the sources that provide evidence of voter fraud are biased and hence either lying or deceived. The challenge is, of course, to provide evidence that the are in error. In some cases, the reasoning runs in a circle: such sources are wrong about voter suppression because they are biased; they are biased because they claim voter suppression is real. In other cases, there are just ad hominem attacks: the sources are liberal, so they are wrong.
There is, however, no need to rely on liberal sources for evidence of efforts to undermine democracy. The leak of a trove of data recently revealed that certain Republicans believed that adding a citizenship question would help unfairly shift power to the Republicans. Interestingly, recent research shows that the question might not have had the impact the Republicans hoped. But this hardly gets them off the moral hook. If someone thinks you are allergic to peanuts and tries to kill you by secreting peanut dust in your food, they are not off the hook if it turns out you are not allergic to peanuts.
To be consistent, I must also pre-condemn any misdeeds by Democrats that involve making false claims about elections that undermine democracy. Obviously, there must be reliable evidence that such claims have been made and that they are false.