Travis Allen, a Republican assemblyman from Orange County and self-anointed candidate for governor, dropped this Twitter bomb the other day: “11 counties in California have more total registered voters than citizens over the age of 18. How is this possible?”
As a matter of fact, it isn’t possible. Allen’s tweet just parrots a subtle falsehood that California’s voter rolls are packed with countless names of people who either don’t exist or are ineligible to vote.
Such assertions in California and other states are the fallacious basis for President Donald Trump’s crusade, via a presidential commission, to root out what he claims is massive voter fraud, but that no one, save himself and his sycophants, believes exists.
On Aug. 1, a conservative, Washington-based organization called Judicial Watch sent a letter to California Secretary of State Alex Padilla, demanding that he clean up the state’s voter rolls in compliance with federal election law.
Judicial Watch alleged “strong circumstantial evidence” that at least 11 California counties have more registered voters than they have American citizens over the age of 18, the fundamental threshold of voter eligibility. The highest cited was 138 percent in San Diego County.
“Allowing the names of ineligible voters to remain on the voter rolls harms the integrity of the electoral process and undermines voter confidence in the legitimacy of elections,” Judicial Watch told Padilla, threatening a federal lawsuit if he didn’t act.
Breitbart, a right-wing so-called “news site” that’s closely aligned with Trump, quickly publicized the Judicial Watch letter in an article that described Padilla, correctly, as “one of the main voices in opposition” to Trump’s “election integrity” commission, refusing to provide voter data it had been demanding.
Allen evidently relied on Judicial Watch and/or the Breitbart piece for his tweet, without attribution.
Were Judicial Watch’s allegations accurate, it certainly would be, of course, a serious scandal and would undermine voter confidence.
However, they bear almost no resemblance to reality.
The Census Bureau provides the basic data about potential voters by calculating how many residents of the state, and of each county, are citizens over the age of 18. Election officials then adjust the estimates incrementally to account for population growth.
Currently, 24.9 million of California’s 39 million residents are adjudged legally eligible to vote and 19.4 million – or 77.9 percent – are registered. Individual counties range from a low of 58.68 percent in Merced County to 88.28 percent in Marin County.
So how did Judicial Watch come up with 11 counties having more than 100 percent of their eligible populations on the voter rolls. It added the counties’ “inactive voters” – names of those who have voted sometime in the past but have been dropped from current registration rolls – and carelessly branded them as registered voters.
However, those inactive voters are just names, now about 5 million statewide, and any that seek to actually vote again must prove their eligibility and, in effect, re-register. Most are no longer living in the counties where they had once voted, which explains why adding registered voters and inactive voters together could total more than 100 percent.
“They are using bad math and flawed methodology,” Padilla said in a statement, adding that maintaining the inactive voter files complies with federal voting laws to avoid eligible citizens from being administratively disallowed from voting.
There’s nothing to justify Judicial Watch’s injudicious allegations and lawsuit threats. It is, quite literally, fake news.
Dan Walters writes on issues of statewide significance for CALmatters, a public-interest journalism venture. Go to calmatters.org/commentary.