As Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump continued to ratchet up rhetoric suggesting that the current election is rigged, countless political experts and research have repeatedly shown that voter fraud is virtually nonexistent and the candidate’s claims are baseless.
However, what has existed in American politics are the disenfranchising of black, poor and minority voters who continue to face laws in several states that make it nearly impossible for them to cast a ballot.
“I would say [election rigging] is less a real threat or claim and more a signal to Trump’s base that the establishment is against them, including the moderate wing of the Republican party,” said Ernest McGowan III, an assistant professor of political science at the University of Richmond in Virginia. “If the laws — like voter identification — or opposition to things like felon enfranchisement or early voting are truly done to disenfranchise black voters, or more broadly poor and minority voters who traditional vote for Democrats, then the two things can be compatible.”
A total of 34 states have laws requesting or requiring voters to show some form of identification at the polls. Approximately 18 states use other methods to verify the identity of voters.
Most frequently, other identifying information provided at the polling place, such as a signature, is checked against information on file, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
Earlier this year, the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals struck down key portions of North Carolina’s strict 2013 voting law, unanimously concluding that the law was racially discriminatory.
“In what comes as close to a smoking gun as we are likely to see in modern times, the State’s very justification for a challenged statute hinges explicitly on race — specifically its concern that African-Americans, who had overwhelmingly voted for Democrats, had too much access to the franchise,” wrote Judge Diana Gribbon Motz.
North Carolina’s law, often described as the strictest in the nation, passed shortly after the Supreme Court struck down Section 5 the Voting Rights Act in Shelby County v. Holder.
That section required states with a history of voter discrimination to “preclear” any changes to voting laws with the U.S. Department of Justice.
Freed from that requirement, the General Assembly passed a slate of changes, including the photo-ID requirement.
Both sides effectively agreed that these changes disproportionately affected poor, elderly and black voters, who were less likely to hold the required forms of photo ID, more likely to move frequently and more likely to take advantage of early voting, political website The Atlantic reported.
These voters also vote overwhelmingly Democratic.
“The calls about a rigged election can actually lead to more draconian laws to disenfranchise, or at least make it more difficult to vote, in subsequent elections,” McGowan said.
In its 2016 report, “The Truth About Voter Fraud,” The Brennan Center for Justice at New York University Law School revealed that most allegations of fraud have turned out to be baseless — and that of the few allegations remaining, most reveal election irregularities and other forms of election misconduct.
Justin Levitt, author of the Brennan Center report, wrote he had found 31 allegations since 2000 of someone pretending to be someone else at the polls. Reportedly, more than 1 billion ballots were cast in that period in general and primary elections.
The Carnegie-Knight News21 program — made up of journalism students and graduates — analyzed 2,068 alleged cases in 50 states in the decade before 2012 and could document only 10 instances of in-person voter impersonation. Reportedly, there were 491 cases of absentee ballot fraud and 400 cases of registration fraud —out of 146 million registered voters.
Still, Trump continued his claims even after the third presidential debate in Las Vegas last week.
“They even want to try and rig the election at the polling booths, where so many cities are corrupt, and voter fraud is all too common,” Trump said. “And then they say, oh, there’s no voter fraud in our country, there’s no voter fraud, no, no, there’s no voter fraud. Take a look at St. Louis, take a look at Philadelphia, take a look at Chicago.”
Jim Allen, a Chicago elections spokesman, said in the past 10 years, the city has had 10 referrals of suspicious activity amid 9 million ballots cast.
One of the referrals led to the convictions of two men on misdemeanor charges of manipulating absentee ballots in an alderman’s race in 2007, Allen said.
Sarah Fenske, a journalist with the Riverfront Times in St. Louis, also rebuked claims of election rigging there.
“We’re sure the huge margins that Hillary Clinton will rack up here will have nothing to do with the fact that this is a gay-loving, immigrant-courting, majority black island in the middle of Redneck Country,” Fenske noted.
In Philadelphia, a group of council members also decried Trump’s allegations.
“We will not tolerate any sort of foolishness on Election Day, and it’s even insulting to suggest that Philadelphians would,” said city Councilwoman Cindy Bass (D).
One political science professor even took it a step further, calling Trump’s claims as silly.
“The election is not rigged,” said Michael Frazier, a political science professor at Howard University. “Donald Trump is a child who believes he should have his way on everything. He’s a jerk.”
Lorenzo Morris, who’s also a political science professor at Howard University, said he’s not sure that any substantial number of people outside of Trump’s ideologically biased supporters believe that there is a likelihood of rigging a national election.
Morris, however, worries that such rhetoric could further serve to disenfranchise black and other minority voters.
“I am sure that those who make the claim really want to vindicate themselves and their ethnocentric egos against the groups of people most likely to be targeted by crude barriers to voting,” he said. “Still, the most devoted Trump supporters may be afraid of an imperceptible, if not divine retribution for the apparent Republican legerdemain in the 2000 Florida vote counting.
“More to the point, the call for added fraud prevention, in the total absence of any significant fraud, is equivalent to denying people the right to vote unless they can prove they won’t drop dead in the poll booth,” Morris said. “The claim of fraud is overwhelmingly a rallying cry for those who want to assure that people they know little and trust less will not transform the electorate into one that does not look like the past.”
James Goodnow of Phoenix law firm Fennemore Craig, P.C., a nationally recognized legal and political commentator and Harvard Law School graduate, echoed Morris’ concerns that the rhetoric of a rigged election could cause blacks and others to eschew voting altogether.
“The irony is that, in contrast to the lack of evidence to support the [alleged] large-scale voter fraud that Trump discusses, there is evidence from the FBI and Department of Homeland Security that Russian cyber-rigging efforts are targeting Hillary Clinton and her campaign — not Trump,” Goodnow said. “The FBI and Department of Homeland Security have released information regarding a significant number of attempted cyber hacks on state election systems — including in Illinois and Arizona.
“The possibility that widespread fears about hacking could depress voter turnout or rattle confidence in the system,” Goodnow said. “Our system hinges on voter confidence in the system. If that is rattled, it chips away at the foundation of our democracy.”