Following President Donald Trump's assertion that millions of votes cast during the 2016 election were illegal, GOP lawmakers in roughly half of the country's state legislatures have introduced bills to enact stricter voting requirements. They assert that new voter identification laws are necessary to instill public trust in elections, while critics counter that not only is voter fraud too infrequent to address, but that these measures are designed to suppress turnout among racial minorities.
In November 2016, Trump ignited controversy by asserting on social media that he had lost the popular vote to former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton because of millions of illegitimate votes, according to USA Today.
"In addition to winning the Electoral College in a landslide, I won the popular vote if you deduct the millions of people who voted illegally," Trump tweeted out.
On Jan. 23, the president stated during a meeting with GOP lawmakers that he believed between 3 million to 5 million votes cast during the presidential election were illegal, citing no evidence.
On Feb. 5, Trump announced that he would ask Vice President Mike Pence to head a probe to find evidence of widespread voter fraud.
"I'm going to set up a commission, to be headed by Vice President Mike Pence, and we're going to look at it very, very carefully," Trump told Fox News.
The proposed commission has yet to materialize. In February, during the National Association of Secretaries of State convention in Washington, D.C., executive director David Becker of the Center for Election Innovation and Research noted before the gathered secretaries of state that they would have immediately detected widespread voter fraud if millions of ballots submitted during the election were illegitimate.
"There is a system of checks and balances in place," Becker said, according to ThinkProgress. "We all know in this room that if there were massive voter registration fraud, we would have seen large numbers of flagged records that didn't match DMV records or social security records, that we would have seen unusual levels of activity we hadn't seen before, that we would have seen large numbers of requests for out of state mail ballots that we hadn't seen before."
Despite the lack of evidence to substantiate the president's assertion, Republican lawmakers in roughly half the state legislatures have proposed new voter ID requirements in 2017, NPR reports.
Republican state Rep. Bob Marshall of Virginia has introduced legislation that would require residents in his state to produce physical evidence of their citizenship in order to vote in state and local elections. GOP lawmakers in Arkansas have proposed amending their state constitution to require voters provide photo ID for both in-person and absentee ballots.
Several GOP lawmakers have asserted that stricter voting requirements are necessary even without evidence of widespread fraud.
"To say that there's not a voter fraud problem ... I think that's another inaccurate statement," said Republican state Rep. Christopher Olson of North Dakota. "Maybe there have been no convicted cases but it doesn't mean that we don't have an issue."
Republican state Sen. Regina Birdsell of New Hampshire, who has sponsored a bill that would place more scrutiny on residency requirements, asserts that stricter voting requirements are justified by providing voters with peace of mind.
"I don't know if there's a lot of cheating," Birdsell said. "I just know that because of our loose laws, people feel that way. I call it trust but verify."
Critics of voter ID laws assert that they put an undue burden on racial minorities, who are statistically less likely to have the photo identification to meet stricter requirements.
On Feb. 15, a study conducted by political science professors Zoltan Hajnal, Nazita Lajevardi and Lindsay Nielson at the University of San Diego found that stricter voting requirements resulted in a larger racial gap in election turnout, The Washington Post reports.
The study found that in general elections, Latinos were 4.9 percent less likely to turn out than whites in states without strict voter identification laws but 13.2 percent less likely in states that did. Asians were 6.5 percent less likely to vote than whites in states without strict laws but 11.5 percent less likely in states with restrictions. For African Americans, the turnout gap between them and whites jumped from 2.9 percent to 5.1 percent in states with strict voter requirements. The turnout gap was even more pronounced in primary elections.
"All of this, of course, has real political consequences," the study's authors wrote. "Because minority voters tend to be Democrats, strict voter ID laws tilt the primary electorate dramatically. ... Unsurprisingly, these strict ID laws are passed almost exclusively by Republican legislatures."