The Senate minority leader once scolded Democrats for not taking the nonexistent issue seriously enough.
On Monday, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell admitted that election fraud is not the major concern that he and his party have made it out to be.
In an appearance in Georgetown, Kentucky, captured by NBC News, the Kentucky Republican was asked about growing public concerns about threats to America's system of government. He responded that the United States is a "very solid democracy."
"Very little election fraud," he said. "There is some, we've had people in Kentucky go to jail for that. It happens occasionally. But our democracy is solid and I don't think, of the things we need to be worried about, I wouldn't be worried about that."
But just last year, McConnell claimed there is "considerable evidence that voter fraud still exists."
McConnell is right that election and voter fraud are basically nonexistent in the United States. Research by the Brennan Center for Justice has documented that widespread voter fraud is a myth.
"It is more likely that an individual will be struck by lightning than that he will impersonate another voter at the polls," a 2007 report by the center found.
But that has not stopped former President Donald Trump and other Republicans from fearmongering about the issue to sow doubt when Republicans lose elections and to push for strict voter identification laws and other steps to make it harder for Americans to vote.
The Republican National Committee's platform, which was adopted in 2016 and kept in place in 2020, includes a section called "Honest elections and the right to vote." In it, the party expresses concern that "some voting procedures may be open to abuse" and endorses "legislation to require proof of citizenship when registering to vote and secure photo ID when voting."
The National Republican Senatorial Committee's chair, Sen. Rick Scott (R-FL), released a March 2021 memo in which he vowed that "Republicans will push to eliminate all voter fraud, all of it, and we will no longer be intimidated by the Democrats playing the race card with their BIG LIE."
Far more Black voters than white voters lack the valid photo identification required to cast their ballot, according to the American Civil Liberties Union.
McConnell himself has repeatedly helped spread the voter fraud myth.
"There is considerable evidence that voter fraud still exists. [Democrats] act like it is nonexistent," he told the Washington Post in November 2021.
In March 2021, McConnell scolded congressional Democrats for trying to pass the For the People Act, a landmark pro-democracy and voting rights bill. His remarks came during an interview with Tony Perkins, the head of the Family Research Council, which the Southern Poverty Law Center has designated as a hate group.
"It undermines photo ID at the polls. Any effort to verify that the person voting is who they say they are," McConnell said at the time. "It requires what we call ballot harvesting, that is the ability to go around a collect a whole bunch of ballots and turn them in for somebody else. Fraught with the potential for fraud."
And in February 2019, after Republican political operatives were caught illegally collecting and forgiving absentee ballots for a 2018 North Carolina House race, McConnell suggested that that highly unusual situation was proof that voter fraud was a serious concern even though the problems were caught under existing laws.
In a floor speech, he said:
Now, for years and years, every Republican who dared to call for commonsense safeguards for Americans’ ballots was demonized by Democrats and their allies. We were hit with left-wing talking points insisting that voter fraud wasn’t real. That fraud just didn’t happen. That modest efforts to ensure that voters are who they say they are and are voting in the proper place were really some sinister right-wing plot.
As you might expect, now that an incident of very real voter fraud has become national news and the Republican candidate seems to have benefitted, these long-standing Democrat talking points have quieted. Now, some are singing a different tune. Now there is new interest in ensuring the sanctity of American elections. I’ve been focused for decades on protecting the integrity of our elections. So I would like to welcome my friends on the left to their new realization that this subject really matters. But I have yet to see evidence they’re actually interested in cleaning up the conditions that lead to messes like this one.
In November 2020, Kentucky's Republican Secretary of State Michael Adams confirmed that there were "no known cases" of voter fraud in the state that year.
McConnell's abrupt turnabout on voter fraud comes in the wake of ongoing efforts by Trump and his supporters to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election, culminating in the U.S. Capitol insurrection that took place on Jan. 6, 2021.
In an NBC News poll released Sunday, a plurality of American voters surveyed ranked "threats to democracy" as the most important issue facing the country.
Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.