Election 2016: The voter fraud myth
Without offering specifics, GOP Presidential nominee Donald Trump has repeatedly insisted that the Nov. 8 election “is going to be rigged.” On the campaign trail, he has said the only way he can lose Pennsylvania is if there is “cheating,” so “[w]e have to call up law enforcement. And we have to have the sheriffs and the police chiefs and everybody watching.”
He has singled out Philadelphia as one city where voter fraud might occur, and has refused to state whether he will accept the election results if the vote goes against him. And guess what? Most Republicans – 73 percent , according to a recent Politico/Morning Consult poll – agree that the election could be stolen from Trump as a result of massive voter fraud. But despite these repeated assertions, there simply is no evidence of any kind of systematic vote-rigging in Pennsylvania. As Philadelphia City Commissioner Al Schmidt, himself a Republican, recently said, “The real threat to the integrity of elections ... isn’t voter fraud, though it does rarely occur. The real threat to the integrity of elections is irresponsible accusations that undermine confidence in the electoral process.”
Remote Hacking Impossible in Pa.
Twenty different electronic voting systems are approved for use in the Keystone State’s 67 counties. We read daily stories that banks, major businesses and even the Democratic National Committee are being hacked. On Friday, a major cyber attack paralyzed Internet use along much of the East coast. So wouldn’t it be possible to remotely hack into electronic voting machines and either alter results or cause systems to crash?
Not in Pennsylvania.
At a recent news conference, Secretary of State Pedro A. Cortés explained why. These are all stand alone systems. They have no connection to the Internet, or for that matter, to each other. They have no blue tooth that would permit someone to access them from outside the polling place.
Cortés’ remarks have been confirmed by elections officials in Northampton, Lehigh and Dauphin County as well as Philadelphia. Northampton County uses the Sequoia Advantage while Lehigh County uses Premier AccuVote TSX. Philadelphia and Dauphin both use the Danaher ELECTronic 1242. Assuming that remote access were even possible, the hacker would have to penetrate 20 different systems statewide.
“I could take this voting machine, drop it off in the middle of Red Square in Moscow, and the Russians couldn’t hack into it,” Dauphin County Voting Registrar Gerald Feaser told NPR.
Safeguards Protect Against Internal Hacking
So remote hacking into an electronic voting machine is impossible, but what about internal hacking? That’s physically possible, but improbable.
First, assuming someone is sophisticated enough to access 20 different voting systems, that person would have to break into every one of them at over 9,100 polling precincts statewide. Philadelphia alone has 4,000 machines, observes Deputy City Commissioner Donald Garecht. Northampton County has at least two machines at each of its 149 polling districts.
Second, before every election, after voting machines are successfully tested for logic and accuracy, they are locked and sealed. A person who wanted to tamper with that machine would have to break a numbered seal and attempt to reseal. Given the thousands of machines statewide, this mischief would likely be detected.
Third, assuming that someone could break into each machine, add votes for one of the candidates and then reseal the machine without detection, it would still be impossible to rig an election without inside collusion. You see, each polling place maintains a numbered list of voters. Ideally, that numbered list should match the number of votes cast on the machines throughout the day. But if someone added 500 Clinton or Trump votes on the voting machine, there would be a major discrepancy with what appears on that numbered list. It would be immediately noticed and reported, unless there was widespread collusion.
Each polling precinct has five or more elections workers, and they’d have to be in on it. To be statistically significant, there would need to be a widespread conspiracy among elections workers in numerous polling places. This would require thousands of dishonest elections workers engaging in forgery. Human nature being what it is, do you think that many people would stay silent for long?
Philly and Voter Fraud
Some of you will point to the 2012 Presidential election, in which President Obama received 100 percent of the votes in 59 Philadelphia area “divisions.” That is damning evidence of voter fraud, argue some. But is it?
The Philadelphia Inquirer took a close look and discovered that these divisions were almost exclusively black and Democrat. Since President Obama received 93 percent of the black vote nationwide in 2012, is there really anything odd or unusual about him getting 100 percent of the vote in a black and Democratic district?
Reporters were unable to find more than a few of the Republicans registered in these divisions. Most had moved. When they did, they learned that these were Republicans who thought they were Democrats and who voted for Obama.
Incidentally, there are 1,700 divisions in Philadelphia, each with a little over 600 voters. So if you still want to call this voter fraud, it is limited to 3.5 percent of Philadelphia’s voting total.
But ironically, it is the much maligned voting machine that disproves voter fraud in Philadelphia. Once someone votes on a machine, it is impossible to subtract that vote. So if anyone had really voted for Mitt Romney, President Obama’s opponent, the vote would be on the machine.
Republicans Sue to Flood Philly With Out-of-County Poll Watchers
Donald Trump has continued to insist that this election will be “rigged” and has called on supporters to watch in places like Philadelphia. But there’s little for his supporters to see. Aside from the voters and elections workers, few are allowed inside a polling place. Trump may have called on police chiefs to be present, but state law requires law enforcement to stay at least 100’ away because of a concern that their presence will intimidate voters.
So how can a candidate concerned about a rigged election protect himself?
The answer is poll watchers, who serve as watchdogs for candidates and parties. Each party can designate up to three watchers at each precinct. In addition, each candidate may name two watchers per precinct, but only one watcher per party and one watcher per candidate are allowed inside the room at any one time. They must reside in the County they watch. Watchers are entitled to be present from the moment election workers arrive to set up until they leave.
Though a poll watcher is barred from any direct interaction with the voters, he may challenge a voter with the election judge, either because that voter is not who he says he is or does not reside within the district. If a voter is challenged, he must sign an affidavit confirming his identity and must produce another voter from inside the district to vouch for him before being allowed to vote. He may still cast what is known as a provisional ballot, which will be reviewed by elections officials.
According to Northampton County Voting Registrar Dee Rumsey, she’s received no requests for poll watcher certificates from anyone. But she expects to be flooded with requests right before the election.
Lehigh County Voting Registrar Timothy Benyo has only received requests for poll watcher certificates from Congressman Charlie Dent. He said that requests for poll watcher certificates after October 25 will only be produced as time permits.
How about Philadelphia and its 700,000 voters? According to Deputy City Commissioner Donald Garecht, the City usually receives requests for poll watcher certificates for every party committee member. But his office has seen no deluge of requests.
On Friday, the Pennsylvania GOP filed a federal lawsuit demanding that out-of-county poll watchers be permitted in cities like Philadelphia. The lawsuit maintains that open elections are crucial to a democracy and that citizens have a “fundamental right to a fair and honest election process.”
According to the Electoral Integrity Project, the United States ranks 47th worldwide in election integrity, but not because dead people are voting. The poor rating is blamed on the unfettered influence of money and gerrymandering, not voter fraud.