Since the first week of his presidency, President Donald Trump has falsely claimed that there was mass voter fraud in the 2016 presidential election. He has repeatedly and baselessly singled out California as a supposed center of this fraud.
He did so again in an interview that aired Sunday on NBC’s “Meet the Press.” This time, he added a new false claim to try to support the original false one.
Host Chuck Todd asked Trump if he is bothered by the fact that he lost the popular vote in 2016. Trump responded: “Well, I think it was a – I mean, I’ll say something that, again, is controversial. There were a lot of votes cast that I don’t believe. I look at California.”
He continued: “Take a look at Judicial Watch, take a look at their settlement where California admitted to a million votes. They admitted to a million votes.”
Facts First: California made no such admission. And there is no evidence that there was widespread voter fraud in California in 2016.
In January, the conservative group Judicial Watch announced that it had settled its 2017 lawsuit against the state of California and the county of Los Angeles. The settlement required the county to remove the names of inactive voters from its voter lists, and it required the state to direct other counties to remove inactive voters from their own lists.
Trump got the “1 million” figure from Judicial Watch: the group said that as many as 1.5 million registrations would have to be removed in Los Angeles County as a result of the settlement.
But there was no evidence that any of these inactive people voted illegally; Judicial Watch itself said most of them are simply “voters who have moved to another county or state or have passed away.” And California did not admit any wrongdoing as part of the settlement.
“The Judicial Watch settlement provided no evidence of fraud whatsoever,” said Rick Hasen, an expert in elections law and a professor of law and political science at the University of California, Irvine.
Studies have shown that voter fraud is very rare in the US, and there has been no indication of widespread fraud in California in 2016. In 2018, the Los Angeles Times reported: “There were 149 cases investigated by state officials in 2016, more than most years over the past decade. Investigators only found six cases out of 23.1 million votes cast worth sending to local district attorneys.”
Tom Fitton, president of Judicial Watch, said he thought Trump’s statements in the interview were too unclear to definitively fact-check. Fitton argued that the presence of large numbers of inactive voters on the rolls in California and across the country is “consistent with the concern that there are large numbers of illegal votes.”
That in itself, however, does not prove that there was even a single illegal vote.
UPDATE: This story has been updated to include comments from Tom Fitton, president of Judicial Watch.