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The possibility of voter fraud influencing the 2016 presidential election

A voter fraud sign is seen at Lupica Towers November 4, 2008  in Cleveland, Ohio. A new Gallup poll revealed more than half of Republicans are convinced voter fraud is a serious problem.
A voter fraud sign is seen at Lupica Towers November 4, 2008 in Cleveland, Ohio. A new Gallup poll revealed more than half of Republicans are convinced voter fraud is a serious problem.
J.D. Pooley/Getty Images

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A new Gallup poll revealed more than half of Republicans are convinced voter fraud is a serious problem –but how many of those surveyed were influenced by Donald Trump’s incessant rigged system cautionary speeches?

Numerous sources, including a report from the Government Accountability Office, recognize that voter fraud does exist, but cases are rare. And even after accounting for the negligible amounts of voter ID fraud at the polls, the few fraudulent in-person ballots cast could not  influence the outcome of an election. President Obama said earlier this month that elections cannot be “rigged,” as Trump suggested, because the federal government does not run the election process.

Guest host Patt Morrison is joined by Andrew Gumbel to discuss the legitimacy of voter fraud conspiracy theories.

On the possibility of voter fraud

Gumbel: It’s not possible to go in and change the results on a national level in a way that could go undetectable.  There are a number of areas, however, of concern. One of which is the possibility of some kind of hack attack on electronic systems that are hooked up to the internet.

On in-person voter fraud

Gumbel: Where I think the system breaks down is not on the level of the individual voter, it’s when it comes to political decision-making of setting the rules and the voter ID laws are a quintessential example of that. Republicans have decided that if the voter turnout is lower, they will do better. The evidence mostly supports that, not entirely, and where you see who’s being impacted by these voter ID laws, it’s minority voters, poorer voters, transient voters –the kinds of people who if they vote, will more likely vote for the Democrats. And a number of studies have shown that Republicans can stand to gain a two or 3-percent advantage in any given race where these laws exist.

On voting incompetence

Gumbel: Incompetence plays a role, too. One thing that has been true in this country regrettably, is there’s never been a proper professional class of election managers. The people who get the jobs at county level with glorious exceptions, I must say, tend not to be the brightest bulbs. It’s not generally viewed as prestigious job within the county. It’s open to vagueness; the machines don’t work very well, the people are run the machines are terribly competent, and it means that in the event of a close race, if one party is in the position to control the vote or control the administrative procedures around the counting of the vote, they will do so and press for maximum advantage.

On private companies building voting machines

Gumbel: The biggest problem with electronic voting machines, or any other voting machines, is lack of standards and oversight. You have a crazy system in this country where, instead of having the equivalent of a central electoral commission that decides the standards they impose, and having a proper system of certification and having people answer to congress or to some other official body, you have this piecemeal. Counties can do more or less whatever they want in terms of buying the machines they want. There is a certification process, but it’s deeply problematic; there is a central body that is supposed to oversee this, the central electoral commission. The whole system of checks and balances that should exist simply doesn’t exist in this country and never has. And there’s no political will to create one because there’s this sense that we don’t want the federal government breathing down our necks for the thing we find most precious in our democracy, which is the right to vote.

Which voting system works best?

Gumbel: Having a central electoral commission that would set up standards and say, “Do whatever you want, but make sure you reach this level of acceptability otherwise we’re going to say no, you need to have machines that work. You need to have administrative procedures that are transparent,” so on and so forth.

On California’s voting system

Gumbel: California is doing much better now than it has in the last 10 years; it has somewhat of an ignominious history going back a long way, but it’s been largely cleaning up it’s act. I give a lot of credit to both Republican and Democratic activists that have been busy around the secretary of state’s office the last 15 years. 


Andrew Gumbel, award-winning journalist and author of several books including, “Down for the Count: Dirty Elections and the Rotten History of Democracy in America” (New Press, 2016); he tweets @AndrewGumbel