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Louis Jacobson
By Louis Jacobson November 28, 2016

Donald Trump's Pants on Fire claim that millions of illegal votes cost him popular vote victory

President-elect Donald Trump provoked a firestorm on social media with a series of tweets on Nov. 27 that questioned the integrity of the balloting that elected him president.

In one tweet, Trump wrote, "In addition to winning the Electoral College in a landslide, I won the popular vote if you deduct the millions of people who voted illegally."

He later tweeted, "Serious voter fraud in Virginia, New Hampshire and California - so why isn't the media reporting on this? Serious bias - big problem!"

These tweets offer a cornucopia of assertions we’ve already debunked, including the notion that Trump won the Electoral College in a "landslide" (False), that he won the popular vote (Pants on Fire), and that 3 million votes were cast by illegal aliens (False).

We found zero evidence for Trump’s charge that he "won the popular vote if you deduct the millions of people who voted illegally," and a lot of reasons to conclude that it didn’t happen.

The current status of the vote

Almost three weeks after Election Day, the ballots are mostly — but not entirely — counted.

The most comprehensive vote-tracking analysis is published by David Wasserman of the nonpartisan Cook Political Report. As of noon on Nov. 28, according to Wasserman’s calculations, Hillary Clinton led Trump by roughly 2.24 million votes -- specifically, 64,654,483 for Clinton, 62,418,820 for Trump, and 7,192,036 for other candidates.

Late ballot tabulations in some states are still trickling in -- many of them states, such as California, where Clinton fared overwhelmingly well. For this reason, Wasserman tweeted on Nov. 26 that Clinton seems to be on track to win the popular vote by 2.5 million to 2.7 million votes, or a margin of about 2 percentage points over Trump.

So to erase Trump’s popular-vote deficit, there would need to be almost 3 million votes for Clinton that were cast illegally. And that assumes that all 3 million of these "illegal votes" went to Clinton and not a single one went to Trump.

That’s a really big number. For a sense of scale, 3 million votes is more than were cast for any presidential candidate in 36 states plus the District of Columbia. And 3 million people is more than a quarter of the estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants in the United States — a group that InfoWars specifically singled out as the source of 3 million illegal votes.

A lack of evidence

As we’ve previously noted, conspiracy-minded websites — notably Alex Jones’ InfoWars — have posted articles claiming that 3 million votes in the presidential election were "cast by illegal aliens." We rated that False.

As evidence of its claim, InfoWars’ headline referred to a report from and tweets from Gregg Phillips, whose Twitter profile says he’s the founder of VoteStand, a voter fraud reporting app.

However, there is no report from, and Phillips told PolitiFact he is not affiliated with that website. Tweets by Phillips on Nov. 11 and Nov. 13 said that "we have verified more than 3 million votes cast by non-citizens" and that Phillips had "completed analysis of database of 180 million voter registrations. Number of non-citizen votes exceeds 3 million. Consulting legal team."

Phillips has not responded to PolitiFact’s queries for additional information. He told us previously that he has chosen not to release more information because he is still working on analyzing the data and verifying its accuracy. Phillips would not say what the data is or where it came from, or what methodology he used. He said he would release the information publicly once he is finished.

On a Nov. 28 conference call with reporters, Trump spokesman Jason Miller mentioned two pieces of evidence that Trump had also cited earlier in the campaign. One was a 2012 Pew Center on the States study whose author denies that it found any evidence of voter fraud. The other was a 2014 article posted on the Monkey Cage blog hosted by the Washington Post; it prompted multiple articles by other political scientists casting doubt on its accuracy. In any case, neither study offers analysis of the 2016 electoral returns.

True the Vote, a group that has argued that election fraud is widespread, gave Trump’s comment rhetorical support but did not provide specific evidence.

Backing from elected Republicans was scarce. One GOP senator, James Lankford of Oklahoma, said on CNN's New Day, "I don't know what (Trump) was talking about on that one." He added that while there may be irregularity "on the edges," he has "not seen any voter irregularity in the millions."

Voter fraud uncommon

Other research suggests that voter fraud is not widespread.

News21, a national investigative reporting project funded by the Carnegie Corporation of New York and the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, found just 56 cases of noncitizens voting between 2000 and 2011.

• A report by the liberal Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law found that most cases of noncitizens voting were accidental. "Although there are a few recorded examples in which noncitizens have apparently registered or voted, investigators have concluded that they were likely not aware that doing so was improper," reads the 2007 report.

• In 2012, Florida Gov. Rick Scott’s administration started an effort trying to crack down on noncitizens voting by comparing driver's license data against voter rolls. The Florida Department of State created a list of 182,000 potential noncitizens that had voted. That number was whittled down to 2,700, then to about 200 before the purge was stopped amid criticism that the data was flawed given the number of false positives — including a Brooklyn-born World War II vet. Ultimately, only 85 people were removed from the rolls.

Meanwhile, ProPublica, an investigative journalism project, tweeted that "we had 1,100 people monitoring the vote on Election Day. We saw no evidence the election was ‘rigged’ " and "no evidence that undocumented immigrants voted illegally."

Experts unconvinced

Experts dismissed the substance of Trump’s tweet.

"This is patently false," said Costas Panagopoulos, a Fordham University political scientist. "There would need to be a massive national conspiracy and coordination effort to do this, and illegal aliens would need to be on the voter rolls in states across the country months earlier to be eligible to vote. It is also very convenient the estimated fraudulent vote is just enough to give Trump the popular vote. Not likely a coincidence."

Emory University political scientist Alan Abramowitz added, "If Mr. Trump seriously believes that there was significant vote fraud in any state, he should file a formal protest and ask for an investigation. He does not — he is simply repeating baseless claims."

And University of Denver political scientist Seth Masket said the claim is short on basic logic.

"It’s bizarre to claim that Clinton had the ability to generate millions of illegal voters but not use them to help her win the Electoral College," Masket said.

Our ruling

Trump tweeted that he "won the popular vote if you deduct the millions of people who voted illegally."

Neither Trump nor his allies have presented any evidence of widespread illegal voting. In reality, studies have consistently shown that voter fraud is nowhere near common enough to call into question millions and millions of votes.

Indeed, the ability to carry off such a far-reaching conspiracy — potentially involving millions of people over the course of several months and without being noticed by election administration officials, many of them in states controlled by Republicans — is ridiculously illogical. We rate Trump’s statement Pants on Fire.

Editor's note, Nov. 28, 5:00 p.m.: This post has been updated to include references to Miller's conference call. The rating remains unchanged.

Our Sources

Donald Trump, tweet, Nov. 27, 2016

Donald Trump, tweet, Nov. 27, 2016

True the Vote, "Statement Regarding Trump's Claim of Illegal Voting," Nov. 28, 2016

David Wasserman, "2016 National Popular Vote Tracker," accessed Nov. 28, 2017

CNN, 2016 exit polls, accessed Nov. 28, 2016

David Wasserman, tweet, Nov. 26, 2016

ProPublica, tweet, Nov. 27, 2016

ProPublica, tweet, Nov. 27, 2016

The Week, "Republican senator totally baffled by Trump's claims about 'millions' of 'illegal' votes," Nov. 28, 2016

Washington Post, "Trump is wrong. People are as likely to say they’ve been abducted by aliens as committed voter fraud," Nov. 27, 2016

Washington Post Fact Checker, "Donald Trump’s bogus claim that millions of people voted illegally for Hillary Clinton," Nov. 27, 2016

PolitiFact, "Fact-check: Did 3 million undocumented immigrants vote in this year's election?" Nov. 18, 2016

PolitiFact, "PolitiFact, "No, Donald Trump is not beating Hillary Clinton in the popular vote," Nov. 14, 2016

PolitiFact Wisconsin, "Despite losing popular vote, Donald Trump won in 'electoral landslide,' GOP's Reince Priebus says," Nov. 21, 2016

PolitiFact Florida, "Donald Trump wrongly says the number of illegal immigrants is 30 million or higher," July 28, 2015

Email interview with Alan Abramowitz, Emory University political scientist, Nov. 28, 2016

Email interview with Lorraine Minnite, Rutgers University political scientist, Nov. 28, 2016

Email interview with Seth Masket, University of Denver political scientist, Nov. 28, 2016

Email interview with Rob Richie, executive director of FairVote, Nov. 28, 2016

Email interview with Costas Panagopoulos, Fordham University political scientist, Nov. 28, 2016

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Donald Trump's Pants on Fire claim that millions of illegal votes cost him popular vote victory

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