WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama broke out the term “fake news” in reference to concerns about voter fraud on Wednesday, making the case that voting should be easier, not more difficult.
Obama was asked in his final news conference as President about race relations in the US, saying that “inequality” was what concerns him most.
“I worry about inequality because I think if we are not investing in making sure everybody plays a role in this economy, the economy will not grow as fast, and I think it will also lead to further and further separation between us as Americans,” Obama said. “Not just along racial lines — here are a whole lot of folks who voted for (President-elect Donald) Trump because they feel left behind. … You don’t want to have an America in which a very small sliver of people is doing very well and everybody else is fighting for scraps, because that’s oftentimes when racial divisions get magnified.”
He mentioned in particular access to voting as a key concern of his — nothing that the oft-cited explanation for restrictive voting laws of widespread fraud is inaccurate.
“This is something that has constantly been disproved,” Obama said. “This is fake news.”
Obama also said the premise that millions of Americans were trying to vote but ineligible was the opposite of reality.
“We have a whole country of people who are eligible to vote who don’t vote,” Obama said. “And so the whole idea that we put in place a bunch of barriers to people voting doesn’t make sense.”
He added that limits to voting rights “traces directly back to Jim Crow and the legacy of slavery.”
The outgoing President is expected to take an active interest in issues of voting as he leaves office. His former attorney general, Eric Holder, is chairing a new Democratic organization aimed to engage in the next redistricting cycle to combat another issue Obama mentioned Wednesday — gerrymandering.
Obama said earlier in the news conference that he views a difference between normal political back-and-forth and issues where “our core values may be at stake,” saying the latter may prompt him to speak out.
“I’d put in that category: if I saw systematic discrimination being ratified in some fashion,” Obama said. “I’d put in that category explicit or functional obstacles to people being able to vote, to exercise their franchise. I’d put in that category institutional efforts to silence dissent or the press. And for me, at least, I would put in that category efforts to round up kids who have grown up here and for all practical purposes are American kids and send them someplace else.”
The term “fake news” began as a way to identify inaccurate propaganda that rose during the election that purported to be legitimate media. It has also since been used by both sides of the political spectrum to malign the other or to express disagreement.
The expert analysis on voting has found that actual instances of voter fraud are extremely low, a small handful among millions of votes cast in an election. Supporters of measures designed to combat voting fraud have cited studies that found the potential for fraud is much greater.