Firm: No proof of Trump voter fraud claims in Michigan

Jonathan Oosting
Detroit News Lansing Bureau

Lansing — A conservative economic analyst said his firm’s preliminary review of Michigan voting data does not support Republican President Donald Trump’s unsubstantiated claim that voter fraud cost him the popular vote to Democrat Hillary Clinton.

Republican Secretary of State Ruth Johnson also reiterated her belief that there was no widespread fraud in Michigan’s November election, touting her own efforts to boost election integrity in recent years.

Trump on Wednesday morning called for a “major investigation” into potential voter fraud, suggesting a large number of votes by “those registered to vote in two states, those who are illegal and even, those registered to vote who are dead.”

“This isn’t just about the 2016 election, this is about the integrity of our election system,” White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer said later Wednesday.

Spicer added that Trump didn’t see voter fraud in states he won, such as Michigan. Trump’s own attorneys argued there was no evidence of voter fraud in Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania when Green Party candidate Jill Stein requested election recounts.

Trump won Michigan by 10,704 votes over Clinton. The margin tightened slightly — by 103 votes, unofficially — in the partial state recount that the Republican businessman fought in court.

But Spicer said the president is concerned by irregularities in “very populous states and urban areas” where Trump did not spend much time campaigning.

Initial results from an ongoing review of Michigan voting data by Anderson Economic Group of East Lansing is consistent with the firm’s previous analysis debunking fraud “conspiracy theories” perpetuated by Stein and others, CEO Patrick Anderson told The Detroit News.

Trump won the Electoral College but lost the national popular vote to Clinton by about 2.8 million votes. He has reportedly pinned the loss on illegal votes from 3 million to 5 million undocumented immigrants. Federal law generally prohibits non-citizens from voting.

Spread proportionally across the states, it would mean Clinton received about 250,000 fraudulent votes in Michigan, Anderson said, and “there sure doesn’t seem to be any evidence of that.” But he noted AEG is still examining data sets. The firm is expected to complete a report by the end of the week.

“I’m still having trouble acknowledging this was said by a U.S. president,” said Anderson, a former deputy state budget director under Republican Gov. John Engler.

AEG first took a deep dive into Michigan election results last month after Stein alleged potential “fraud or mistake” in calling for an expensive hand recount of statewide ballots. A group of computer scientists has also raised the specter of vote total manipulation, and allegations surfaced of “malicious cyber activity” by the Russian government.

The East Lansing firm applied the same kind of “sophisticated statistical tools” it uses for business clients — an exploratory data analysis comparing results from the same counties in successive elections and two types of hypothesis tests — and found there was no evidence to support those claims, as detailed in a Dec. 15 letter to the Michigan Secretary of State’s office.

Peter Schwartz, an AEG consultant working on the new analysis with Anderson, said the firm is running a “battery of tests” on existing data also incorporating additional metrics to examine the potential veracity of Trump’s new claims, including the percentage of immigrants in each Michigan county.

“We’re going to continue our analysis, but thus far, as with the first set of conspiracy theories, we haven’t determined any type of tampering in the way that’s been alleged by the president,” Schwartz said.

Johnson defends election integrity

The Michigan Secretary of State’s office on Wednesday declined direct comment on Trump’s call for a voter fraud investigation, noting the White House has not yet made many details clear.

But Johnson “has made election integrity her top priority since taking office and she supports efforts that strengthen trust in our election system for all voters,” said spokesman Fred Woodhams.

Johnson’s office does not believe there was “widespread fraud” in Michigan’s Nov. 8 general election, Woodhams continued, pointing out that the Pew Charitable Trusts has consistently named Michigan a high-performing state for election administration.

The state is conducting an audit of Detroit’s election due to irregularities discovered during the aborted recount, including mismatches between ballot boxes and recorded vote totals in nearly 60 percent of the city’s precincts.

Bureau of Elections Director Chris Thomas said Tuesday officials have “seen a lot of performance issues” so far in Detroit audit but have “not run into anything we’d call fraudulent.” A full report is expected early next month.

Since Johnson took office in 2011, her office has removed 1.1 million ineligible voters from Michigan rolls, including dead people, those who have moved out of state or are not citizens, according to her department. Initiatives include more frequent checks of a Social Security Administration death list and participation in an interstate cross-check system to identify voters who have moved.

“Johnson has been at the forefront of efforts nationally to ensure Michigan has a squeaky clean voter list,” Woodhams said.

The National Association of Secretaries of State, which represents Johnson and chief election officials like her in 39 other states, released a statement Wednesday saying members “are not aware” of any evidence supporting Trump’s claims but are “open to learning more about the administration’s concerns.”

“In the lead up to the November 2016 election, secretaries of state expressed their confidence in the systemic integrity of our election process as a bipartisan group, and they stand behind that statement today,” said the statement.

Recount role reversal

While Stein predicated her Michigan recount request on potential vote fraud or error, attorney Mark Brewer said her legal team was careful to never say they had any actual evidence of fraud.

Instead, they argued vote machines are susceptible to hacking, and the only way to ensure it hadn’t happened was through a hand recount, said Brewer, former chairman of the Michigan Democratic Party.

Attorneys for Trump successfully halted the recount, arguing that Stein was not an “aggrieved” candidate because she had no chance of winning the election through a recount and had no basis for her request beyond speculation.

“All available evidence suggests that the 2016 general election was not tainted by fraud or mistake,” Trump’s attorneys wrote in a Dec. 1 Michigan filing.

Asked about that comment Wednesday, Spicer told reporters “there’s a lot of states that we didn’t compete in where that’s not necessarily the case,” pointing to California and New York, both of which Trump lost.

Brewer, speaking on his own, called Trump’s continued claims of voter fraud “nonsensical” and likened them to “fake news.”

“It’s ridiculous,” Brewer said. “This country faces all kinds of issues and problems, and to have a president who is obsessed with this fantasy is just a complete waste of time and energy that should be devoted elsewhere.”