Where’s the beef? Portman won’t provide evidence of voter fraud

Ohio U.S. Sen. Rob Portman with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images.

Ohio Sen. Rob Portman is continuing to raise doubts about the integrity of American elections — even after President Donald Trump’s lies about the 2020 election fueled a deadly insurrection at the Capitol while Congress was trying to certify that Joe Biden had beaten Trump.

And while he continues to say we need to “restore confidence in the integrity of our electoral system,” Portman won’t respond when asked for evidence of widespread voter fraud in the Nov. 3 or any other election.

Portman, a Republican, appears to be trying to walk a line between reality and the wishes of constituents whom Trump has convinced are victims of massive fraud.

On Nov. 23, after multiple recounts, serial Trump losses in the courts and while states were certifying their votes, Portman wrote an op-ed in the Cincinnati Enquirer saying that Biden was “likely” to be the next president.

Four days earlier, Portman’s colleague, Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, took to Twitter to say that Trump “failed to make even a plausible case of widespread fraud or conspiracy.” But in his column, Portman wrote something quite different.

“There were instances of fraud and irregularities in this election, as there have been in every election,” he said. “It is good that those have been exposed and any fraud or other wrongdoing should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law, but there is no evidence as of now of any widespread fraud or irregularities that would change the result in any state.”

Portman’s office at the time ignored requests to produce evidence of any fraud, much less the 12,000 or so fraudulent votes it would have taken to swing the outcome in Georgia.

Last week, after unsuccessfully wheedling and threatening state officials to try to get steal them to steal the election, Trump called a mob of about 8,000 to Washington, D.C. to “stop the steal.” After Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani exhorted the crowd to engage in “trial by combat,” Trump directed them to the Capitol.

They smashed their way in, killed a Capitol police officer, and effectively took the Legislative Branch hostage. One of the rioters was shot and killed while the mob smashed furniture, attacked journalists and looked for Vice President Mike Pence and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, apparently to kidnap or kill them.

In the wake of the outrage, Republican leaders such as Sens. Ted Cruz of Texas and Josh Hawley of Missouri came under withering criticism for stoking the lie that the election had somehow been stolen. Just hours after the deadly riot, Hawley, Cruz — and five House members from Ohio — again objected to certifying the election, again promoting the fevered myth that motivated the mob in the first place. 

Many are now calling that myth “the big lie.”

Portman didn’t join Cruz and Hawley in their objections. But in a tweet Sunday, he continued to cast doubt on the integrity of U.S. elections, saying he wanted to form a blue-ribbon panel to investigate and restore public confidence.

Cruz has been criticized for citing the high percentage of people who believe the election was rigged as a justification to continue contesting it. Of course, a big reason why so many don’t think it was on the level is that Trump, Cruz and many others have used their megaphones to repeat the lie at every opportunity.

False claims of voter fraud now have something of a history in the United States.

In 2007, the George W. Bush Justice Department was embroiled in scandal after it fired seven U.S. attorneys after they refused to prosecute bogus voter fraud cases. Despite the scandal, the GOP persisted in claiming fraud and passing laws they said would fight it.

Portman and others might be reluctant to produce evidence of widespread voter fraud because it seems vanishingly hard to find. For example, more than 135 million people voted in the 2016 presidential election, but it produced just four documented cases of voter fraud. That’s a rate of .00000003%.

Despite his win in 2016, Trump lied relentlessly about voter fraud to explain away the fact that he lost the popular vote by nearly 3 million. He appointed a commission to investigate voter fraud, but it closed up shop without issuing a report, much less having proven fraud.

Critics say a big reason why the GOP doggedly pushes the voter-fraud narrative is that it justifies laws — such as requiring a photo ID — that benefit it politically. For example, 25% of Black voting-age citizens, who are likely to vote Democratic, don’t have a valid government ID, while 8% of white citizens do, according to the Brennan Center for Justice at the New York University Law School. 

Not only have Portman, Trump and others not produced any evidence of widespread fraud, this year’s claims don’t make sense. Instead of being an objective attempt to root out fraud wherever it might exist, Trump and his supporters have only been claiming it where it serves to their advantage.

For example, Trump is not claiming fraud in North Carolina, a swing state he won. And while some Georgia and Arizona congressmen are saying their states’ presidential races were marred by massive fraud, they’re not troubled about votes they received on the same ballots.

In a passionate speech amid the rubble of last Wednesday’s attack on American democracy, Romney called on his Republican colleagues to stop lying to Americans about the election.

“No congressional-led audit will ever convince those voters, particularly when the president will continue to claim the election was stolen,” the former Republican presidential nominee said. “The best way we can show respect for the voters who were upset is by telling them the truth.” 

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