In Orson Welles’ 1941 epic ‘Citizen Kane’, reporters huddle near the printing press on election night as it becomes clear that the results will not be good news for their boss, the the Charles Foster Kane edition.
One of them has a front page with the title they were hoping for: “Kane Elected”. He then lowers his head and nods towards the version they need to go with instead. “Fraud at the polls!” he declares.
Election fraud is one of the oldest accusations a politician can make in U.S. elections – though no modern day president has done so with such frequency and with so little evidence as President Trump.
As a report, it is sensational and often irresistible. The Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law examined its enduring appeal in a 2007 report, observing that voter fraud has “the feel of a bank robbery: downright doomed but technically fascinating,” and dark enough to make the headlines. “
The predominance of the topic in the conservative news media, where it is treated as a more widespread problem than the facts show, may help explain how Mr. Trump, an avid consumer of cable news, came to be. so obsessed.
In fact, election officials across the country, representing both parties, said there was no evidence that fraud played a role in determining the election outcome this year. The most common allegations of electoral fraud – ballot reports issued by someone voting twice, or by a deceased or otherwise ineligible person – can almost always be traced to a misunderstanding such as a typo, error. writing or a false assumption that two people with a common name are in fact the same person, according to the Brennan Center.
Yet the subject has been a staple of Fox News coverage since the 2000s, when hosts like Bill O’Reilly broadcast exaggerated stories about immigrants who voted illegally, campaigns that paid people for their votes, and community groups like ACORN whose employees had submitted fraudulent voter registrations. (ACORN employees, who were also the subject of an attack announcement that John McCain’s campaign waged against Barack Obama in 2008, did not appear to be trying to influence the vote, but rather to be paid for voter registration work that they hadn’t actually done.)
Allegations of electoral fraud have often involved absurd and far-fetched scenarios – deaths, dogs, buses full of people of color – which is another way of life in the public imagination. In recent years, conservative activists have released unverified reports that buses full of illegal voters showed up at polling stations from California to Wisconsin.
Famous was the story that Republican Senator Christopher S. Bond from Missouri told in 2000 about a 13-year-old springer spaniel who was registered to vote in St. Louis. Mr Bond argued that more anti-fraud protections, such as the requirement for identification, were needed after his colleague, Senator John Ashcroft, lost his seat as more Missourians voted for a dead man: the governor Mel Carnahan, who had been killed a plane crashed several weeks before the election but remained on the ballot. Mr. Ashcroft did not dispute the results.
The fantasy of a stolen election has elements that Mr. Trump has long incorporated into his story about himself. There are clear perpetrators (undocumented immigrants, big-city Democratic political machines) and a victim (him) – and usually enough ambiguity that he can float extravagant but unfounded rumors.
He laid the groundwork for his refusal to concede for a while. Speaking to Mark Levin, the Talk Radio and Fox News host in September, Mr. Trump suggested that some voters were receiving multiple ballots in the mail. He said, “People say, ‘Hey, what’s going on? I just received a whole series of ballots. ”