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Election Experts Dismiss Trump's Repeated Claims Of Illegal Voting

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

As President Trump pushes forward with his agenda, taking several executive actions today, a statement he made last night suggests that he is still mulling over the past. At a bipartisan gathering of congressional leaders at the White House, Trump repeated a claim that he'd made on Twitter late last year, that he would have won the popular vote had millions of people not voted illegally.

Trump lost the popular vote to Hillary Clinton by close to 3 million votes, and last night he suggested it was immigrants who were in the country illegally who had voted. That claim has been dismissed by elections experts. And for more, we're joined by Pippa Norris, director of the Electoral Integrity Project. Welcome to the program.

PIPPA NORRIS: Thank you, pleasure to be with you.

SIEGEL: And first, your response to President Trump's claim, now made twice, that millions voted illegally. What do you say?

NORRIS: I mean, it's very strange. In most cases, whenever you have an election the loser always says there's something wrong because it helps with their supporters. In this case it's the winner. And so understanding why he's making these claims repeatedly well into government now, well past the campaign is a puzzle that really needs to be explained.

SIEGEL: In the month after the election, you surveyed more than 700 election experts, covering every state in the country, on the fairness of the election. Are you confident that had there been large-scale voter fraud you would have heard about it?

NORRIS: Absolutely. The newspapers would have picked it up. The electoral officials, many Republicans, of course, who were running state elections would also have picked up on it. In our survey, when we looked at all the different stages and we asked experts across the United States, in all 50 states plus D.C., the vote count and the voting process actually turned out to be pretty positive in most states.

What was the real problem wasn't there at all. It was all about district boundaries. It was about campaign coverage in the media and campaign finance. So there were problems. Donald Trump is right if he says we need some reforms in American elections. But it's not about voter fraud or impersonation or problems of people casting their vote when they shouldn't be on the voter register.

SIEGEL: Were there, in fact, cases of what we might think of as a straightforward voter fraud? People voting twice, ballots cast in the names of dead people, for example?

NORRIS: If you think about millions of people voting across the country, there's always one or two cases. And those were picked up. But they're very rare. They're not about necessarily and primarily voter impersonation, i.e. people picking up a name and going to the polls and trying to cast a ballot.

Most of it was about unintentional mistakes - somebody, for example, who might be registered in two places or voted in two different areas. But it's not a massive effort, and it's nothing - obviously, if there were millions of these votes cast then Republicans across the country who were running elections in many, many states would have found that out and would have revealed it, as would the press.

SIEGEL: Of course, since the election, the intelligence community said it believes that Russia meddled in the U.S. presidential election, working to tilt the election toward Donald Trump. What was your reaction to that finding?

NORRIS: Well, of course, this actually hit home personally because the Russian hackers actually took one of my papers on electoral integrity from the Harvard research paper, put in malware and then sent it out under a false email which looked as though it came out from me or from Harvard. It's a real problem. And it's an increasing problem, of course, not just in the United States.

It's happened in the Bundestag, in the elections in Germany. And in France, people are very worried about this and are looking at what lessons can be learned from the United States. But it really is a wake-up call in this country to improve cybersecurity and to learn the lessons. And I think any prominent target which sends out information needs to really be aware of cybersecurity and spend more money on that, invest more time in that and really make sure that we have the highest standards.

SIEGEL: Pippa Norris, thanks for talking with us today.

NORRIS: Thank you very much, Robert.

SIEGEL: Pippa Norris directs the Electoral Integrity Project, which is housed at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government and the University of Sydney in Australia.

Today, White House press secretary Sean Spicer was asked repeatedly about President Trump's claim that millions of people voted illegally. Spicer confirmed that Trump does believe that and that voter fraud is a concern that he's had for a while based on studies and evidence that people have presented to him. Spicer mentioned a Pew report from 2008. When asked if the White House would seek an investigation into alleged voter fraud in last November's election, Spicer's response was, I think he won very handily with 306 electoral votes. And he said the president was - and this is a quote - "very comfortable with his win." Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.