An analysis of voter fraud and Trump’s ‘rigged’ election claims

The entrance to the Alachua County Supervisor of Elections Office in downtown Gainesville last month at the beginning of early voting. Residents in many Florida counties have until Nov. 5 to vote early. (Ramsey Touchberry/WUFT News)

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump has been using a new campaign strategy.

“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!” Trump tweeted on Oct. 17. Just the day before, he also tweeted, “The election is absolutely being rigged by the dishonest and distorted media pushing Crooked Hillary – but also at many polling places – SAD.”

With footage of Trump claiming the election is going to be rigged dating back to the summer, he’s sparked a new debate. But are his claims supported by evidence?

Voter Fraud

Many studies have been done to determine whether voter fraud is real and if it could change the outcome of an election. PolitiFact examined Trump’s claim of “large scale voter fraud” and gave it a “Pants on Fire” rating. Meaning, the claim was blatantly false.

Loyola Law School professor Justin Levitt, who’s now the deputy assistant attorney general for the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division, did a comprehensive study of voter fraud. He examined all of the general, primary, special and municipal elections from 2000 to 2014. Out of the more than 1 billion votes cast in those elections, Levitt found only 31 cases in which in-person voter fraud occurred. PolitiFact notes that with those numbers, you’re more likely to be struck by lightning or attacked by a shark than commit voter fraud.

These types of various messages touted by Trump throughout the campaign have serious ramifications, despite them almost always being debunked.

A September Washington Post/ABC News poll found that 69 percent of Trump voters and 46 percent of all voters believed voter fraud occurred “very or somewhat often.”

Rigging the election

What about the ‘rigging’ of an election? Is it possible to hack into the voting machines and change ballots?

Many election experts say rigging an election in the U.S. would be nearly impossible due to the way our elections are run. Each county runs their own elections and there are more than 9,000 voting districts across the country.

If the voting site using machines, they’re not connected to the internet and most have a paper record as a backup. This prevents the possibility of hacking into the machines remotely. The machines are publicly tested before and after each day of voting and are locked and sealed.

Polling places are located in open, public spaces and most states have “poll observers” that were trained by both parties and monitor election officials. After all votes are cast, party and candidate representatives watch election officials count the votes.

In order for an election to be rigged, Democratic and Republican representatives, as well as election officials, would have to conspire to work together at every level.

“We have 67 counties in this state, each of which conduct their own elections. I promise you there is not a 67-county conspiracy to rig this election,” said Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), who’s up for reelection against Rep. Patrick Murphy (D-Fla.). He emphasized that Republicans control much of the monitoring and ballot oversight process. “There is no evidence behind any of this … He should stop saying that.”

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