Since November, Donald Trump and his surrogates have repeatedly alleged widespread voter fraud affected the outcome of the popular vote in the 2016 presidential election.
Oregon Secretary of State Dennis Richardson said it’s time for President Trump to back up what he says with facts.
When officials make unsubstantiated claims like these, Richardson said, “it causes greater distrust of the government. ... I want to make sure that the citizens of the state can trust their [voting] system.”
One measure that encourages Richardson to trust Oregon’s voting system: The Motor Voter Act, which automatically registers eligible residents to vote when they renew or apply for a driver’s license or state ID at the DMV. Even though he was initially skeptical of the change, Richardson told OPB's "Think Out Loud" that “it actually has strengthened us in some ways” by requiring proof of citizenship for registration.
Last year, Oregon Sens. Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley proposed a national Motor Voter and vote-by-mail bill. Richardson, a Republican, thinks each state should determine its own system, but he expects that other states will adopt vote-by-mail. It costs more when states divide resources between keeping polling places open and serving voters who request absentee ballots, he said.
The secretary of state said voting by mail also helps prevent hacking. He said there’s no sign of fraud in Oregon, and that paper ballots are “not subject to being hacked.” In the last election, “there was no involvement of the internet at all until after all the tabulations were completed.”
The system isn’t perfect, however. According to Richardson, in the primary last May, almost 96,000 registered voters received more than one ballot, and more than 2,000 people actually submitted more than one ballot. While these votes didn’t get counted more than once, Richardson said that shows some confusion surrounding the voting system.
In addition, more than 6,500 Oregon addresses were sent at least 10 different ballots. Almost all of them have been explained — the addresses mostly belong to sorority or fraternity houses, assisted living facilities, or RV parks. Of those instances, “only two that really looked suspicious” being investigated, Richardson said.
Last month, Richardson wrote a letter to the president to tell him there was no voter fraud in Oregon in the last election. He also asked Trump to rescind an order Barack Obama signed after voter databases in a number of states were hacked in the lead-up to last year’s election. The order paved the way for the Department of Homeland Security to classify elections as “critical infrastructure,” which the DHS defines as being “considered so vital to the United States that their incapacitation or destruction would have a debilitating effect on security, national economic security, national public health or safety, or any combination thereof.” It's this designation that makes protecting election proceedings a priority for the Department of Homeland Security, and it was intended to send a message to foreign governments that may attempt to intervene in American elections.
In his statement announcing the designation of elections as “critical infrastructure,” then-Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson emphasized the designation “does not mean a federal takeover, regulation, oversight or intrusion concerning elections in this country. [It] does nothing to change the role state and local governments have in administering and running elections.”
But Richardson isn’t convinced.
“I’m very concerned about the independence of state voting systems,” he said.
With a new administration in the White House, Richardson believes that “critical infrastructure” could be interpreted in ways that infringe on the constitutional rights of states to control their own elections. He also worries that the government will not relinquish power over state elections even in the absence of foreign threats.
“Once you have a federal agency that assumes control of something in a state, it’s very difficult to change that in the future,” he said.
Mostly, Richardson said, he and other secretaries of state are looking for answers on what this will mean for state-run elections — answers Richardson said haven’t been forthcoming from either the Obama or Trump administrations.