The lies Trump told this week: voter fraud and the 'rigged' election

The Republican presidential nominee used a Pew study and news reports to talk about how the election is ‘rigged’ against him, but he omitted a lot of context

‘Rigged election’

“The election is absolutely being rigged by the dishonest and distorted media pushing Crooked Hillary – but also at many polling places – SAD.” 16 October, Twitter

“Of course there is large scale voter fraud happening on and before election day. Why do Republican leaders deny what is going on? So naive!” 17 October, Twitter

“So many cities are corrupt and voter fraud is very, very common.” 17 October, Green Bay, Wisconsin

The election is absolutely being rigged by the dishonest and distorted media pushing Crooked Hillary - but also at many polling places - SAD

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 16, 2016

All available evidence shows that in-person voter fraud is exceedingly rare: you are more likely to be struck by lightning in the next year (a one in 1,042,000 chance, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) than to find a case of voter fraud by impersonation (31 in more than a billion ballots cast from 2000 to 2014, according to a study by Loyola law school).

Voter fraud would have to happen on an enormous scale to sway elections, because the electoral college system decentralizes elections: each of the 50 states has its own rules and local officials, not federal ones, that run the polls and count ballots. This complexity makes the notion of a “rigged” national election, at least in the US, logistically intimidating to the point of impossibility. Thirty-one states have Republican governors, including the swing states of Florida, North Carolina, Iowa, Nevada and Ohio; Pennsylvania only elected a Democratic governor in 2015. Polls show Trump losing even in some states where governors have strongly supported him. In Maine, for instance, the Real Clear Politics average shows him down five points.

About 75% of the ballots cast in federal elections have paper backups, and most electronic voting machines are not connected to the internet – though they have other flaws and may be vulnerable to tampering. But voter fraud to swing a major election – whether by tampering, buying votes or official wrongdoing – would quickly attract attention by its necessarily large scale.

Trump and his allies have repeatedly suggested that voter fraud took place in cities such as Philadelphia and Chicago in 2012, citing as evidence the fact that Mitt Romney failed to win a single vote in 59 almost wholly black precincts of Philadelphia’s 1,687 total. But with the right demographics, it’s not unusual for a presidential candidate to be shut out of whole precincts or districts – and Philadelphia’s Republican party and an investigation by the Philadelphia Inquirer rejected claims of fraud or wrongdoing.

Presidential debate highlights: Clinton and Trump’s final face-off – video

In 2012 after Obama won 93% of black voters nationwide, 85% of Philadelphia and 52% of Pennsylvania. But he couldn’t win a single vote in whole counties of deeply conservative Utah that year. Similarly, John McCain failed to win votes in Chicago and Atlanta precincts in 2008. Both Democrats and Republicans, including Trump supporters Paul Ryan and Marco Rubio, have rejected his doubts about the electoral system.

If Trump loses the presidential election, it will be because American voters do not want him in the White House, not because of a conspiracy involving Republicans and Democrats alike at state and city levels around the nation – a conspiracy for which Trump has provided no evidence.

“The following information comes straight from Pew Research, quote: ‘approximately 24 million people, one of every eight, voter registrations in the United States are no longer valid or significantly inaccurate.’” 17 October, Green Bay, Wisconsin

Trump is quoting a study about voter registration, not about actual voting practice, as he misleadingly suggests. The Pew study points out that inefficiencies among state registrars are mostly the cause of innocent, if unfortunate, circumstances: one in eight Americans moved between 2008 and 2010, many pushed by the financial crisis, which also strained local budgets, and 51 million more Americans were not registered anywhere to vote at the time of the study.

“More than 1.8 million deceased individuals right now are listed as voters. Oh, that’s wonderful. Well, if they’re gonna vote for me we’ll think about it, right? But I have a feeling they’re not gonna vote for me. Of the 1.8 million, 1.8 million is voting for somebody else. Approximately 2.75 million people have registrations in more than one state.” 17 October, Green Bay, Wisconsin

Again, Trump is misreading the Pew report to suggest sinister results. The report nowhere suggests that 1.8 million dead people have cast any votes, only that registrars have failed to catch up with deaths. Nor does it suggest that people who registered in more than one state have actually voted in more than one state. The report also highlights problems with registering in the first place: in 2008, 2.2m votes “were lost because of registration problems”, and another 5.7 million people “faced a registration problem that needed to be resolved before voting”.

“The following comes from a 2014 report from the Washington Post, [titled] ‘Could non-citizens decide the November election?’ … More than 14% of non-citizens in both 2008 and 2012 samples indicated that they were registered to vote.” 17 October, Green Bay, Wisconsin

Trump omits important context for the article in question, which was written by two academics on the Washington Post’s Monkey Cage blog about their own study. The authors admitted their report was “fraught with substantial uncertainty” and relied on a small sample size of self-reporters: 339 non-citizens respondents in 2008 and 489 non-citizen respondents in 2010, about 1% of survey respondents overall. Other academics also noted that there is a high error rate in self-responding among non-citizens, and that the report’s conclusions relied on large assumptions about the national population.

“President Obama has commuted the sentences of record numbers of high-level drug traffickers. Can you believe this? Many of them kingpins and violent armed traffickers with extensive criminal histories and records. I mean, the whole thing is – honestly, the whole thing is unbelievable.”15 October, Portsmouth, New Hampshire

Barack Obama has commuted the sentences of 774 people, most of whom were serving long sentences for nonviolent drug offenses – and could not be described as “kingpins” or “high-level drug traffickers”. In August the president broke a record for commutations in a single month by reducing the sentences of 325 inmates.

The commutations are meant to combat the strict mandatory minimum sentences for drug crimes – symbolically, at least – an area where Republicans and Democrats both support reform. Legislation seemed near completion earlier this year, until election acrimony put it on hold.

“Remember when in Massachusetts I got almost 50% of the vote with 11 people? I got 49.7% of the vote.” 15 October, Portsmouth, New Hampshire

Trump won 49.3% of the vote against four candidates, not 11: John Kasich (18%), Marco Rubio (17.9%), Ted Cruz (9.6%) and Ben Carson (2.6%).


Alan Yuhas in San Francisco

The GuardianTramp

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