As the 2020 presidential primaries continue across the country, Fox Nation host and Fox News contributor Tomi Lahren is laser-focused on reviving the years-old, long-debunked conservative myth of prevalent “voter fraud” in California.
Right-wing groups have a long history of pushing the “election integrity” narrative, which is essentially shorthand for efforts to enact legislation that ultimately makes it harder for people to vote. These myths have been repeatedly debunked. The Brennan Center for Justice has found, based on extensive research carried out by experts in the field, that while election fraud is “very rare,” “repeated, false allegations of fraud can make it harder for millions of eligible Americans to participate in elections.” As the center noted, numerous studies have reached this conclusion, including one commissioned by President Donald Trump’s own administration.
Politicians at all levels of government have repeatedly, and falsely, claimed the 2016 and 2018 elections were marred by millions of people voting illegally. However, extensive research reveals that fraud is very rare, voter impersonation is virtually nonexistent, and many instances of alleged fraud are, in fact, mistakes by voters or administrators.
The Brennan Center's seminal report The Truth About Voter Fraud conclusively demonstrated that most allegations of fraud turn out to be baseless and that most of the few remaining allegations reveal irregularities and other forms of election misconduct. Numerous other studies, including one commissioned by the Trump administration, have reached the same conclusion.
Now, Lahren is taking on the conspiratorial cause of voter fraud, specifically in California, where she resides while apparently making a living relentlessly dumping on the state’s politics and politicians. On the February 26 edition of Fox & Friends, Lahren complained about the state and snarkily noted without evidence that “although people are fleeing California, the voter rolls are incredibly bolstered this year,” adding that it’s “interesting how that works out, isn’t it.”
On March 4, Fox Nation aired a 22 minute-long episode of Lahren’s online show No Interruption, which was dedicated entirely to supposed voter fraud in California. Talking to a panel of three women from the Election Integrity Project-California (EIPCa), Lahren introduced the issue of voter fraud as “the dirty little secret that nobody really wants to talk about, especially a certain political party.” Lahren declared that if a presidential candidate like Sen. Bernie Sanders is elected and the country is “edging closer and closer to socialism,” it “wouldn’t be the will of the American people,” but because of “fraudulent” voters -- a wildly irresponsible assertion to make without evidence. Lahren complained that efforts to “combat this voter fraud epidemic” are labeled as “racist,” “bigoted,” or “disenfranchisement.”
Later in the segment, Lahren asked her guests if it “is a given in this state” to say that “illegal immigrants are voting.” EIPCa co-founder and President Linda Paine responded, “Absolutely,” even though Paine admitted herself that the group has yet to provide any evidence of specific instances of undocumented immigrants voting in California. (The group has submitted approximately 100,000 reports of supposed election fraud in California, receiving no response from the state.) At one point, Lahren declared, “If Donald Trump loses election because illegals, dead people, and double voters are voting, I know there’s going to be a lot of Americans in this country who are going to be very upset,” seeming to lay the groundwork for delegitimizing the 2020 election if Trump loses.
On March 6, Lahren went on Fox & Friends again to promote her Fox Nation special and to push voter fraud myths. Lahren declared, “We have a voter fraud and election integrity epidemic in the state of California.” The show aired excerpts from her Fox Nation interview with EPICa as Lahren conveyed her core message to Fox viewers -- fearmongering about voter fraud: “It's happening in California, and it's going to happen in your state very soon.”
That day, Lahren also filmed another feature on the “California voter fraud epidemic” on Final Thoughts, another one of her Fox Nation shows. Lahren fearmongered that “it’s voter fraud that will bring us socialism, open borders, bigger government, and Democrat-dominated elections for years to come.” Lahren went on to claim that Democrats “can’t win on their ideas,” so “the only way they can win is to cheat.” Lahren branded California as “the poster child for election deception” before listing progressive legislative achievements designed to expand voter access. She then suggested that the “voter fraud epidemic” is worse than coronavirus, referencing a racist myth about the origin of the virus as she warned, “It’s spreading to your state like a diseased bat out of hell.” Lahren also criticized legislation allowing undocumented immigrants to receive driver's licenses, calling it “some bullshit.”
PolitiFact has debunked allegations of voter fraud in the state of California at least three times since Trump started making such claims following the 2016 election: “The allegations … have been widely debunked by elections officials, fact-checking organizations including PolitiFact and PolitiFact California, and other media outlets.”
Voter fraud myths can have an impact on election policy, by actually making it harder for people to vote. In California -- where Lahren is spearheading her own election integrity cause -- The Orange County Register reported that Republican lawmakers are working to enact a law that would require sharing additional personal information to vote, even though experts have concluded that voter fraud is “extremely rare and that voter impersonation is virtually nonexistent.” The Register noted concerns that fearmongering about voter fraud can “lead to further voter suppression while eroding faith in the democratic process.”
The newspaper also pointed out that these types of voter fraud claims have grown in popularity since Trump promoted them. In 2017, Trump formed a “voter fraud commission” to investigate such claims following the 2016 election, which experts warned could lead to suppressing votes before the commission fell apart. In 2018, conservatives again revived voter fraud myths to cast doubt on the Florida gubernatorial race between Democrat Andrew Gillum and Ron DeSantis, the Republican candidate who ultimately won the governorship.
Lahren’s evidence-free fearmongering about voter fraud is reckless, irresponsible, and dangerous to democracy. Fox News and Fox Nation are willingly providing a platform for her to use conspiracy theories to sow doubt among viewers in the upcoming election. Her particular emphasis that Democrats cannot win an election without cheating and her proclamation that a Trump loss is due to illegal voting are laying the groundwork for Republicans to deny the 2020 election results and smear immigrants in the process.