Election officials counter Trump’s claims the process is ‘rigged’

Republican and Democratic election officials dispute Donald Trump's claims that voter fraud could cost him the November election. Is it time to pull back the curtain?

Gerald Herbert/AP
In this Aug.18, 2016 file photo, Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks in Charlotte, N.C. Months ahead of the election, Trump has claimed multiple times that ballot systems could be "rigged" against him.

Among Donald Trump’s many campaign buzzwords, one has stood out in recent months: “rigged.”

At campaign stops across the country, the Republican presidential candidate has suggested that the race may be fixed against him. Though there’s little evidence to support those allegations, Mr. Trump’s political rhetoric has left some voters skeptical about the electoral system.

Election officials from both major political parties are now disputing Trump's claims. US election procedures protect against conspiratorial voter fraud, they say. But many voters simply don’t know how elections operate beyond the ballot. Is it time to pull back the voting booth curtain?

Trump has prepared his supporters for a messy election outcome – if he loses in November, he has suggested, it will be due to an electoral conspiracy, rather than an honest defeat. In a poll of North Carolina voters by the Democratic-leaning Public Policy Polling, some 69 percent of Trump supporters held this view. A Bloomberg Politics poll found that 34 percent of all likely voters believed the results would be rigged.

But there’s just one problem – there’s been very little evidence of voter fraud in the US. A recent investigation found only 31 credible incidents of voter impersonation out of 1 billion votes cast between 2000 and 2014, reports The Washington Post. 

Federal law gives states a great deal of freedom in running elections. As a result, voting systems can be remarkably different between states. Between in-person voting locations and absentee ballots, it would take a massive effort to rig the results of a national election.

"The kind of cheating Trump envisions on a mass scale is virtually impossible to pull off – including in states that don’t require the showing of a photo ID," The Christian Science Monitor reported last month. "Even in such states, to vote 10 or 15 times, one would have to go to 10 or 15 different polling places and provide the names and addresses of people who live in those precincts and had not yet voted."

That’s why many election officials, both Democrat and Republican, have emerged to contest Trump’s allegations. Georgia Secretary of State Brian Kemp, for example, is doubtful of Election Day fraud, although in favor of voter-ID laws.

"I'd tell Donald Trump or anyone else, that we're not going to stand for a rigged system in Georgia," Mr. Kemp, a Republican, told the Associated Press.

Officials expect skeptical voters this year. Indiana Secretary of State Connie Lawson said her office will coach election officials and prepare for any attempted fraud.

"I hate the fact that people are questioning whether the outcome of an election could be rigged," Mrs. Lawson told the AP.

That skepticism, some experts say, comes from a lack of understanding about the voting process.

According to Whitney May of the Center for Technology and Civic Life (CTCL), a nonpartisan nonprofit organization, officials should start a dialogue with the public long before Election Day. CTCL suggests that agencies use social media and public events to promote more election transparency.

"There is a lack of knowledge generally about how elections work," Connecticut Secretary of State Denise Merrill, a Democrat, said. "People know the basics but no one has really pulled the curtain back."

This report contains material from the Associated Press.

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