Lisa Rab with a must-read Politico magazine feature:
But that wasn’t it. Not by a long shot. Eleven years after the books were closed on Ashcroft’s probe, another voter fraud investigation is gearing up. Once again, it is being driven by a Republican president who is convinced that he was robbed of the popular vote by a massive conspiracy, larger perhaps than even Bush’s administration had contemplated. In late November, Donald Trump tweeted: “I won the popular vote if you deduct the millions of people who voted illegally.” In January, he told congressional leaders that 3 million to 5 million people voted illegally and cost him the popular vote. He didn’t stop there. Trump promised to form a commission, headed by Vice President Mike Pence, to investigate. In a March 22 interview with Time magazine, Trump said, “I think I will be proved right” about the 3 million illegal votes. He elaborated: “When I say that, I mean mostly they register wrong, in other words, for the votes, they register incorrectly, and/or illegally. And they then vote. You have tremendous numbers of people. In fact I’m forming a committee on it.”
Pence has yet to launch his version of what Ashcroft attempted in 2002, and the very fact that the inquiry is not being run out of the Justice Department indicates that it might proceed very differently. But it wouldn’t be a waste of time for the former Indiana governor (who himself was accused of voter suppression in October) to spend some time studying what happened the last time a Republican administration went looking for a national web of illegal activity at the ballot box. If anything, the results of Pence’s commission might be even less spectacular than before. Elections experts say that’s because voter rolls are cleaner now than they were then, voting systems have been updated in many jurisdictions and stricter voter ID laws are in force. Yet, despite skepticism from high-ranking Republicans in Congress, some conservatives who were involved in the original investigation and who are pushing hardest for the new inquiry insist that the failure to prove widespread fraud is not evidence it doesn’t exist, only that the pursuit wasn’t aggressive enough. It’s a fixation that makes voting experts shake their heads.
“This has been done over and over again,” Becker says. “You don’t waste taxpayer resources without some evidence that an investigation is worthwhile. That’s called a fishing expedition.”