Over the past few weeks, Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump has stepped up his complaints of a “rigged” election on Twitter and at rallies nationwide.
Trump, a New York businessman making his first run for public office, has sought to raise fears of a flawed election as he has fallen in opinion polls against Democrat Hillary Clinton.
“They even want to try to rig the election at the polling booths and believe me, there’s a lot going on,” Trump recently told supporters at a rally in Wisconsin. “People that have died 10 years ago are still voting. Illegal immigrants are voting,” said. “So many cities are corrupt and voter fraud is very, very common,” said Trump without offering any evidence of his claims.
Trump singled out Pennsylvania, a state crucial to the Republican’s fading chances to win the White House, when he made direct appeals to recruit voters as poll monitors on Election Day. He also pointed specifically at Philadelphia as a city beset by voter fraud.
Hans von Spakovsky, a senior legal fellow at the Heritage Foundation and a former commissioner on the federal election commission, pointed to a U.S. Supreme Court 2008 decision to uphold Indiana’s law to require voters show identification when he said “The place that voter fraud can make a difference is really in close elections.”
He added, “I would be concerned if we have a very close election, if we have some states that are extremely close and are key to victory and if those are states that have a poor record in this area. States like California, which has a terrible, terrible system in voter registration – they do almost nothing to check its accuracy; Other states like Pennsylvania – Philadelphia is an example of one of the worst run election systems in the country; Places like that would concern me if the voters there are key to whoever wins the presidential race.”
The attention to voter fraud compelled Pennsylvania Secretary of State Pedro A. Cortes to hold a news conference on the issue.
“I find that assertions that talk about this rampant systemic, cohesive fraud and discrimination accusing the counties, to be irresponsible and unwarranted,” said Cortes.
He added, “It is disheartening that any candidate or anyone, for that matter, who says that they value our democracy and our way of life, to cast that undeserved, unfounded, distraction or doubt onto our democracy… Especially when you know, or should know, that those assertions are not based on fact.”
But von Spakovsky pointed out several flaws in the voting process.
“One of the biggest problems we have are non citizens who are registering and voting. There have been many cases of that discovered, and yet we have absolutely nothing in place really to prevent non citizens from registering and voting. The other thing that we need are voter ID laws that apply to both in-person voting and absentee voting and we need states to compare their voter registration lists to catch people who are registered in multiple states to prevent multiple voting,” he said.
Independent studies show U.S. voting fraud is exceptionally rare and certainly never on a national scale, but there are official channels to monitor elections.
Pennsylvania has a system that allows campaigns and political parties to designate official poll monitors, who are allowed into the polling places and can register official complaints if they think someone isn’t a valid voter.
David Thornburgh, the president and CEO of a 112-year-old non-partisan political group in Philadelphia called Committee of Seventy, said, “Perpetrating fraud and conspiracy is a complicated, extensive enterprise. The chance that you could pull it off without anybody knowing about it is virtually zero. So, it’s easy to talk about conspiracies, but once you stop and understand how complicated it is to organize a conspiracy, I think a lot of your concern ought to go away.”
As the election draws near, Trump’s claim of voter fraud has resonated with some potential voters and has some support.
“About four years ago, John Fund and I wrote a book on voter fraud cases across the country. We found that the majority of those cases were committed by Democrats. There were Republicans who were also involved in some of those cases. But most of them were Democrats,” said von Spakovsky.
Those opposed to Trump’s message have made their position known. A “Dump Trump” message was displayed in a window in downtown Philadelphia.
Meantime, U.S. intelligence and law enforcement officials are warning that hackers with ties to Russia’s intelligence services could try to undermine the credibility of the presidential election by posting documents online purporting to show evidence of voter fraud.
Committee of Seventy’s Thornburgh, said the election system is antiquated and out of the reach of hackers.
“In Philadelphia, for sure, and most other places, the voting machines are not connected to the internet. There is no way for the now-ubiquitous Russian hacker to go flip a switch or write some code thousands of miles away and all of a sudden turn 10,000 votes from this column to that column. It just can’t happen,” he said.
Many states use systems that would be difficult to hack or defraud, including paper ballots which initially are tallied by machines.
On Nov. 8, votes will be cast in hundreds of thousands of polling stations in 9,000 different jurisdictions, according to the National Association of Secretaries of State.