While Donald Trump’s repeated claims of a rigged election may seem unprecedented for the nominee of a major political party running for president, it appears such claims are essential to Republican election strategy.
A recent report in Political Science Quarterly argued that concerns of voter fraud, which is strongly associated with membership in the Republican Party, are “a partisan strategy to constrict the electorate.”
A study by the Economics Dept. of the University of Missouri-St. Louis found that despite minimal evidence of fraud cases and non-existent effects on election outcomes, some Americans “continue to believe voter fraud is rampant.”
A Loyola Law School Professor found just 31 credible allegations of fraud among some 1 billion ballots cast in the U.S. between 2000 and 2014.
Other researchers have suggested that calls for stricter voter ID laws are pushed by conservative party operatives to place fraud on the political agenda in order to “motivate their voting base.”
In September The New York Times reported that, “Behind closed doors, some Republicans freely admit that stoking false fears of electoral fraud is part of their political strategy.”
And in the recently leaked emails first reported on by The Guardian regarding shady Wisconsin Republican fundraising, a Republican lobbyist wrote to colleagues about the very close April 2011 state Supreme Court election, “Do we need to start messaging ‘widespread reports of election fraud’ so we are positively set up for the recount regardless of the final number? I obviously think we should.”
But the Trump Team takes the rigged election strategy to another level. For example, at the second Trump rally in Green Bay on Oct. 17, Milwaukee County Sheriff Dave Clarke reiterated that he was serious about his weekend Tweet that “pitchforks and torches” should follow the results of a rigged election that does not put Trump in the White House.
Trump used a similar argument the night of the 2012 election, before final results were even in, when he Tweeted that the “election is a total sham” and that “revolution” is needed. “We should march on Washington and stop this travesty,” he said.
So, just more of the same from The Donald as he makes his unlikely run to become leader of the free world.
But his message is being embraced by his followers in Wisconsin, as in this email that popped up recently in my personal inbox from Trump Team Wisconsin, with a subject line that reads: “Don’t let Hillary Steal it on Election Day!” and goes on to say, “The Trump Campaign is seeking volunteers to serve as election day observers. We need you!”
While it is impossible to discover who these Trump Team Wisconsin people are without signing up to become one of them, it seemed time to check in with William Berglund, chair of the Republican Party of Door County, who attended Trump’s Oct. 17 campaign rally and continues to stand by his party’s nominee (“I have great confidence this will be a great surprise to a lot of people. I think the man can win,” Berglund said of Trump). He views Trump talk of election fraud to be nothing more than campaign rhetoric.
“I don’t listen to a lot of things like that. I’ve been around too long,” Berglund said. “When it’s election time, you’ve got to look at real substance and not all the rhetoric. Everybody says stuff every election. You’ve got to filter through. I’ve been around too long to get jaded by a few words.”
But Andrea Kaminski, executive director of the League of Women Voters of Wisconsin, recognizes the power of words and knows just the suggestion of Trump poll watchers could intimidate some voters.
“Having a major candidate calling on his followers to become poll observers because he says there will be cheating is likely to be intimidating for many voters and may keep them away from the polls,” she said. “That hurts the election and keeps people from going to the polls. I have heard people saying I just don’t want to deal with that.”
But she adds that “Wisconsin has dealt with this in the past and has maintained an orderly voting process which protects voters through training of local election officials.”
She said that is a result of concern about observers in the 2012 recall election.
“Observers showed up in the statewide recall election in June of 2012,” Kaminski said. “There were some problems, but then the Government Accountability Board did this intensive back to basics training, helping local officials know what behavior crossed the line and also know what a chief inspector’s authority is. The chief inspector can tell a person that behavior’s not acceptable and if they don’t leave, they can call law enforcement. It was mostly a matter of educating local officials and also the groups who send observers. I guess I feel as though it’s good to have people at the polls. I don’t like the idea of somebody going to the polls with the express purpose of challenging voters and trying to keep them from voting.”
The League of Women Voters has had poll watchers since 2010.
“We will have people in the polls statewide this year,” Kaminski said. “They are going to be trained and we’ll spend a good amount of time looking at the new laws and what voters should be able to expect at the polls so everyone is treated fairly around the state.
“We also need observers,” she said. “People are encouraged to go to our website and sign up there. We’ll give them a one-hour training online. They have to take the training and behave themselves at the polls and give us a report at the end, which we will use. What we found is that we get a lot of people after the election saying it was a very good experience. They usually say they are so impressed with local election officials on how hard they work to help people vote, and how hard it is to cheat in Wisconsin.”
The State of Wisconsin permits individuals to observe voting and the election administration process at polling places on Election Day. It also permits observers to view the absentee voting process in the municipal clerk’s office, and voting in residential care facilities and nursing homes.
However, there are certain things election observers may not do:
- Engage in electioneering.
- Video and still cameras are not allowed.
- Handle election documents.
- Have conversations about candidates, parties or ballot questions.
- Make calls/use cell phones for voice calls inside the polling area (texting or other silent usage is acceptable if it is not disruptive).
- Wear clothing or buttons related to candidates, parties or referenda that is intended to influence the election.
- Interact with voters, except when requested.
- View confidential information on the poll list, or take photos or make photocopies of the poll list.
- Enter vehicles of curbside voters.
Source: Wisconsin Elections Commission