I was born and raised in Cook County, Ill. So if you think you have an original joke to impart about dead people voting there, trust me, you probably don’t. I’ve heard them all.
Now elections in our country haven’t always been clean. Chicago, of course, was notorious last century for machine politics and its larger-than-life leaders, like the late Richard J. Daley, subject of the colorful bio simply titled “Boss.” To this day, Republicans bitterly maintain that John F. Kennedy stole just enough Windy City votes to become president in 1960 (conveniently ignoring that vote-counting in conservative downstate areas wasn’t exactly a pristine process).
But presidential elections in Illinois haven’t really been competitive since the 1980s. Democrats have won seven straight elections there.
In 2016, Hillary Clinton thumped Donald Trump by 17 points and almost 1 million votes, even improving on former Illinois U.S. Sen. Barack Obama’s 2012 performance. If the Dems stole the state last year, they should teach a master class on theft.
Still, despite a profound lack of recent evidence, the Land of Lincoln remains, for many conservatives, the epitome of voter fraud. This makes some sense, since their crusade against tainted elections is mostly a faith-based proposition.
Those inconvenient facts didn’t stop Republicans in the Michigan Legislature from trying to ram stricter voter ID bills through in the lame duck session, although it ultimately petered out. It wouldn’t surprise anyone if the legislation comes back this term.
Michigan is fast becoming the new Illinois. The myth of Michigan voter fraud is growing, with a number of conspiracy theories circulating well beyond our borders. That’s not surprising, as we were the closest state in the country in the 2016 presidential election, with Trump eking out just a 10,704-vote margin.
But because the correct candidate won, it’s kind of odd for some conservatives to keep grumbling about Clinton stealing the state. She didn’t. She lost.
That’s not to say there weren’t problems with Michigan’s election. Secretary of State Ruth Johnson, who’s a Republican, launched an investigation last year after voter irregularities were uncovered during the state’s partial recount. Disturbingly, 87 optical scanners broke in Detroit, the Detroit News reported. And ballot box and recorded vote totals didn’t match in roughly 60 percent of the city’s precincts.
But Bureau of Elections Chief Chris Thomas, who probably enjoys the most sterling reputation of any public servant in the state, says there’s no evidence of “anything we’d call fraudulent” so far.
What’s needed is better training for election officials and new equipment. The state is thankfully set to get new voting equipment in time for the 2018 gubernatorial election. But Thomas believes that improved training is the key for smoother elections in Michigan.
Unfortunately, in our choose-your-own-facts era, this will fall on deaf ears. Those who want to believe dastardly Democrats are stealing elections in Detroit (however poorly in 2016) will continue to do so.
And too many Republican officials are willing to entertain their tin-foil hat theories because there’s a practical benefit in laws that typically make it harder for African-Americans and young people to vote. Those are key Democratic voting blocs, after all.
Susan J. Demas is Publisher and Editor of Inside Michigan Politics, a nationally acclaimed, biweekly political newsletter. Her political columns can be found at SusanJDemas.com. Follow her on Twitter here.