The first day of December 2020, almost a month after the presidential election, was gray and rainy. That afternoon, President Trump, struggling to come to terms with the election result, had heard I was at the White House for another meeting and sent word that I was to come see him immediately. I knew what was coming.
Over the preceding weeks, I had been increasingly concerned about claims by the president and the team of outside lawyers advising him that the election had been “stolen” through widespread voting fraud. I had no doubt there was some fraud in the 2020 presidential elections. There’s always some fraud in an election that large. But the Justice Department had been looking into the claims made by the president’s team, and we had yet to see evidence of fraud on the scale necessary to change the outcome of the election.
The data suggested to me that the Democrats had taken advantage of rule changes—especially extended voting periods and voting by mail—to marshal the turnout they needed in their strongholds in key states. I had been a vocal critic of these rule changes precisely because they would increase the opportunity for fraud and thus undercut public confidence in the election results. There was also no question that, in some areas, state rules meant to guard against fraud—for example, the requirement that voters file applications for mail-in ballots—were not followed. This also increased the opportunity for fraud. Still, the opportunity for fraud isn’t evidence of fraud.
Under our system, the states have responsibility for running elections. Claims that the election rules are not being followed fall under the states’ jurisdiction, and the burden is on the complaining party to raise the matter with state officials and courts to have it addressed. This often requires pressing the states to conduct in-depth audits of relevant districts needed to resolve alleged irregularities. The Justice Department does not have the authority or the tools to perform that function. Instead, its role is to investigate specific and credible allegations of voting fraud for the purpose of criminal prosecution. A complaint just saying the rules were not followed is not enough.
When I looked at the voting patterns, it also appeared to me that President Trump had underperformed among certain Republican and independent voters in some key suburban areas in the swing states. He ran weaker in these areas than he had in 2016. It seemed this shortfall could explain the outcome. The fact that, in many key areas, the president ran behind Republican candidates below him on the ballot suggested this conclusion and appeared inconsistent with the fraud narrative. [Continue reading…]