How voter fraud and voter suppression shaped the nation

Election Day
Election Day at Martin Luther King Recreation Center in St. Paul on Nov. 8, 2016.
Caroline Yang for MPR News

Federal investigations of possible voter fraud are underway.

In this episode of Truth, Politics and Power, former NPR host Neal Conan explores the history of voting rights, voter fraud and the current investigations.

Concerns about voter fraud are nothing new in U.S. history, but its counterpart, voter suppression, is much more easily documented.

For a long time, voting was restricted to white male land owners, and they didn't necessarily have to be U.S. citizens.

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"It was used as a means to help settle the West and the South, to encourage immigrants to move out to settle the West," said Ron Hayduk, an associate professor of Political Science at San Francisco State University.

In the war of 1812, when the White House was sacked and burned, fear of foreign enemies was renewed and laws allowing immigrants to vote were repealed.

America's treatment of voting rights has changed significantly over the years, with far more groups being allowed to vote, but far more regulations put in place when identifying those voters.

Many Republican officials say those regulations are in place to prevent voter fraud, but critics say they act as a way to suppress minorities from voting, and that voting fraud is not a widespread problem.

"It's really quite a fantastic claim, in part just because of the demographics," said political commentator Linda Chavez on Trump's claims that there was widespread voter fraud in the last election. "There are only about 10 million illegal immigrants in the United States who are age 18 or older."

That means, under Trump's claims, half of all those people voted in the last election, which would be a higher turnout rate than Hispanic citizens, she said.

But what happens if the investigation finds there was voter fraud last year?

It's highly unlikely the American people would get a do-over on the election, said Julia Azari is associate professor of political science at Marquette University.

"To a large degree the law around presidential elections, and the norms that developed around that, are that the election is legitimate after the Electoral College meets," Azari said.

To listen to the program, click the audio player above.

More on voter fraud

• NewsCut: Despite lack of evidence, voter fraud allegations persist

• Discussion: Here's what you need to know about election fraud

• Russia meddling: 4 ways the U.S. could fight future election interference