How false fraud claims are eroding integrity of American election system

For a deeper look at the efforts to undermine election integrity in the United States — and what can be done to stop it — Judy Woodruff is joined by Rick Hasen, professor at the University of California Irvine, and author of the book "Election Meltdown: Dirty Tricks, Distrust, and the Threat to American Democracy."

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    And for more now on efforts to undermine election integrity and what can be done to stop it, I'm joined again by Rick Hasen. He's a law professor at the university of California, Irvine, and the author of the book "Election Meltdown."

    Rick Hasen, welcome back to the "NewsHour."

    So many fresh elements to this story today. We just heard Amna Nawaz reporting. Let's just pull out one piece, and that's the Senate Judiciary Committee report on what former President Trump did to try to put his own person in charge at the Department of Justice.

    What is — what are the consequences of that?

    Rick Hasen, University of California, Irvine: Well, I think you have to see it as just one of three main paths that Trump was pursuing to try to overturn the results of the election.

    One path which we knew about was trying to pressure local and state election officials, like the secretary of state of Georgia, where he called up for him to manufacture 12,000 votes to overturn the results. One was his attempt to convince his supporters, millions of supporters, that the election was stolen.

    And now we learn more detail today in this report about the third path, which was through the Department of Justice. This Trump loyalist, Jeffrey Rosen — Jeffrey Clark — excuse me — was ready to send letters out saying that the Georgia legislature and potentially six other legislatures should reconvene and should announce, rather than accept the results that Biden had won those states, that, instead, that Trump had won those states.

    And then those alternative slates of electors would have been sent to Congress and there would have been a fight there. I think it's no exaggeration to say that, had these letters been sent out, we could have been emerged into a political and constitutional crisis.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So, you have that going on.

    And then, meantime, you have these ongoing efforts in states like Arizona, Texas, Georgia to call into question the results of the vote count in 2020. And then you now have candidates running, as we do for governor of Virginia, Glenn Youngkin, who's saying that there should be an audit of results.

    What do these ongoing questions about the integrity of elections, what do they do to the overall electoral process and voters' confidence in it?

  • Rick Hasen:

    Well, we know from many polls that a majority of Republicans and a huge majority of Republicans who are Trump supporters believe the false claims from Trump that the election was stolen.

    Now, certainly, we should be having audits of election results. That's a best practice. After the elections are over, then you have a procedure where you make sure that the votes were accurately counted. Those things happened.

    We also had election contests and protests, where there were official ways, through court cases and administrative ways, to try to find out if the electoral results were correct. All of those confirmed the results of the election.

    What happened recently in Arizona and what's happening now in other states like Wisconsin and Pennsylvania can't accurately be called an audit. This is really a public relations attempt to convince millions of people that there's something to worry about, about the last election.

    And I'm much more worried about the ramifications of that for the next election and what it's going to mean if we have people in power who are supposed to be counting the votes who parrot this big lie that the election was stolen. Are we really going to be able to trust the results of the election?

    So we had this fake claim of a stolen election last time that could lead to an actual stolen election the next time.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And how much of that, Rick Hasen, is going to depend on who's in power, which party controls state legislatures, which party a governor of a state belongs to, for example?

  • Rick Hasen:

    Well, if you remember last time, there were many Republicans who held the line. I mentioned Raffensperger in Georgia. There was the governor of Arizona, Doug Ducey, who's Republican.

    There were Republican state legislators in Wisconsin, in Pennsylvania. There were Republican judges on the Third Circuit and elsewhere who rejected Trump's claims. The problem is that those Republican heroes of the last time around who would not bend or break the law to try to overturn the results of the election, many of those people are being replaced.

    Raffensperger is being primary by Jody Hice, who was featured in the report just before I came on. Hice has parroted the claim that the election was stolen.

    If he's the chief election officer in Georgia, how are we going to know that the election is going to be fairly done? What's going to happen if Trump leans on him next time, if there's another narrow loss, to claim that there was fraud and provide the predicate for the state legislature to go forward and claim that there should be a different slate of electors that could then be accepted by a Kevin McCarthy if he is the speaker of the House, and he's in charge of running the House and counting those Electoral College votes?

    So, a lot of it depended not on our laws, but on norms of complying with the rule of law and following fair election results. If we don't have the right people in place the next time, people who are going to adhere to the rule of law, we're going to be in a lot of trouble.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Well, what are some of the kinds of safeguards that you have been calling for?

    You have been — in fact, you have been critical of the Democrats so far. You said they should have paid more attention to this already, since the last election. But what are some of the political and the legal changes that you think need to be made in order to ensure that these future elections, whether it's 2022, '24 and beyond, are fair and free?

  • Rick Hasen:


    I do think that Democrats right after Biden was inaugurated should have looked for a bipartisan package on this danger of election subversion. It's not too late. But it's harder now, because positions have hardened on both sides.

    I would point to things like requirement of paper ballots. About 12 percent of American voters in 2020 voted on fully electronic voting machines. Just imagine how many more people would believe Trump's lies about the election being stolen if there wasn't a piece of paper that could be verified.

    We also need to change The Electoral Count Act. That's the arcane set of rules going back to 1887 which detail how you're supposed to count those Electoral College votes from coming into the states. Remember, there were over 100 members of Congress and U.S. senators who rejected both Arizona and Pennsylvania's Electoral College votes for Biden on no basis during 2020.

    So we need to make that harder to do. There has to be an actual reason to be rejecting those. There's lots that can be done on the federal level. On the state level, these have to be fought state by state. And we need to be politically organized.

    We need to, as a country, Democrats, Republicans, independents, come together and stand for the rule of law and make sure that our elections are going to be run fairly, so that they don't benefit Democrats or Republicans, but that the election results accurately reflect the will of the people.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And just to be clear, going back to what you said earlier about audits, you're saying some audits are appropriate.

    But how are voters to tell the difference between an audit they can trust and one they can't?

  • Rick Hasen:

    Well, the audits that happened — and the kind of the gold standard are what are called risk-limiting audits.

    These happen. It's part of the governmental process. And there are outside observers that can watch that process. There are all kinds of transparency measures. These happen within the weeks after the election being finalized. It doesn't happen nine or 10 months later. It doesn't happen on a partisan basis.

    The state legislatures are not involved in this. You don't bring in outside groups like Cyber Ninjas to do it. There are procedures. There are professionals who are running our elections. And those professionals, certainly, they need to comply with the rules. We need to watch them. They should be making sure that the results are accurate.

    But they have procedures in place, so that we can have confidence, if you just follow the facts, that our electoral results accurately reflect the will of the people.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Rick Hasen, law professor at the University of California at Irvine, thank you so much. We appreciate it.

  • Rick Hasen:

    Thank you.

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