AUSTIN, Texas — Election fraud is a dangerously real possibility in the United States, but Donald Trump is wrong about how elections could be rigged under the current system.
The Republican nominee has warned his supporters that the election could be rigged against him, and there have already been reports of Trump supporters with guns at polling places intimidating voters.
Word is-early voting in FL is very dishonest. Little Marco, his State Chairman, & their minions are working overtime-trying to rig the vote.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 12, 2016
Crazy – Election officials saying that there is nothing stopping illegal immigrants from voting. This is very bad (unfair) for Republicans!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 31, 2014
However, Mark Crispin Miller, a self-described “election integrity activist,” dismissed Trump’s claims.
“It’s basically impossible to vote ten times or fifteen times,” said the professor of media studies at New York University who has spent more than a decade studying election results.
“Under current electronic voting systems, it’s no longer really possible … to get a bunch of immigrants out there to stuff the ballot box. With a computerized system, it’s extremely difficult for many people to vote even one time, much less ten or fifteen.”
Only a couple of incidents of voter fraud or vote tampering have been found during this election, including the case of an Iowa woman who was arrested after she tried to vote multiple times for Trump, but they were quickly noticed by authorities.
“Republicans commit that crime as often as Democrats, as it happens,” Miller said. He explained that this type of voter fraud happens so rarely, and is ultimately so ineffective, that it’s almost a myth. Numerous studies have found that voter fraud, as Trump imagines it, is essentially nonexistent.
However, as Miller noted, that doesn’t mean American democracy is secure and that voters’ ballots are being properly counted.
‘The attack on democracy has become much more sophisticated’
Most voters use electronic voting machines to cast their ballots, though, in a few smaller districts, they may cast paper ballots that are then counted with computerized devices. But electronic voting machines lack a paper trail that could be used to verify that votes are being counted properly, and even the optical scanners used to count paper ballots can be tampered with, Miller warned.
Miller said he believes that rigged electronic voting machines may already have been used to steal elections.
“I’ve been concerned about the vulnerability of our elections since 2000 because of the rising use of computerized voting and vote counting machinery,” Miller explained.
In 2005, he published “Fooled Again,” which documented evidence that the Republicans had used rigged electronic voting machines to tilt the 2004 election in favor of George W. Bush, and against Democratic nominee John Kerry.
In 2008, he edited “Loser Take All,” a follow-up volume containing further evidence of election rigging through electronic voting which was submitted by other electoral integrity activists and scholars. Miller summarized his findings to MintPress:
The use of electronic voting machines and optical scanners to count votes is every bit as threatening to electoral democracy for all as the old poll taxes and literacy tests. The attack on democracy has become much more sophisticated. It’s a stealth attack, very often.”
Key evidence often comes in the form of comparing exit polls with official election day results. Without a paper trail, this is the only way activists like Miller can compare voters’ stated choices to the final tally. However, some experts have warned that exit polls themselves could be flawed, limiting activists’ ability to definitively prove that fraud has occurred.
While the United States is often considered an exemplar of democracy to which other countries should or do aspire, a 2016 study by the Electoral Integrity Project found the United States trailing behind other Western countries in multiple measurements of the vitality of a democracy. Carried out by researchers from the University of Sydney and Harvard University, the study examined 180 elections held between July 2012 to December 2015 in 139 countries, and found that U.S. elections were vulnerable in multiple ways, from the influence of money in politics to frequent and worrying voting irregularities on Election Day.
“Americans often express pride in their democracy, yet the results indicate that domestic and international experts rate the U.S. elections as the worst among all Western democracies,” Pippa Morris noted in a March analysis for The Conversation.
Watch | “Could the 2016 Election Be Stolen with Help from Electronic Voting Machines?”
Harvey Wasserman, an Ohio-based electoral integrity activist, has also sounded the alarm about the vulnerability of electoral voting machines in a pair of books, “What Happened in Ohio: A Documentary Record of Theft and Fraud in the 2004 Election” and “The Strip & Flip Selection of 2016: Five Jim Crows & Electronic Election Theft.”
In February, Wasserman told Democracy Now!’s Amy Goodman that the election is vulnerable to tampering, especially in swing states where results will be close. He explained:
About 80 percent of the vote nationally will be cast on electronic voting machines. There is no verifiability. In six key swing states—Florida, North Carolina, Ohio, Michigan, Iowa and Arizona—you have Republican governors and Republican secretaries of state, and no method of verifying the electronic vote count. At midnight or whenever it is on election night, those two guys can go in there with an IT person and flip the outcome of an electronically counted vote within about 60 seconds.”
Miller agreed that elections are most vulnerable in tight races. He suggested that’s why the GOP has been so passionate about passing voter ID laws and other forms of legal voter suppression.
“That’s one of the purposes of vote suppression, is to shrink the pool of eligible voters so the race is as close as possible, because if it’s a close election, the cheaters are going to win,” he said.
But he also stressed there’s evidence that Democrats have also fallen victim to electronic voter fraud. Ultimately, though, it’s impossible to know who is responsible for vote tampering. Among other examples, Miller cited a July report from Election Justice USA, which suggested that Bernie Sanders fell victim to electronic voter fraud during the primaries. The report’s authors wrote:
Available evidence from Arizona, New York, and California suggests more than 500,000 registrations were tampered with or improperly handled. … hundreds of thousands of voters were denied the right to vote or were forced to vote provisionally. A quarter million or more provisional or affidavit Democratic ballots were not counted. Available evidence also suggests that the vast majority of suppressed voters would have voted or tried to vote for Senator Bernie Sanders.”
‘We have to spread the word about this’
Miller said his work suffers from an almost total blackout in the mainstream media, and even independent media often refuse to report on the risks of electronic voter fraud.
“The strength of the taboo on this subject is really mind-boggling. The press has always been exceedingly hostile to any discussion of this problem, especially if it entails a focus on electronic fraud,” he said.
“It’s probably going to have to take some kind of near revolutionary movement to force [the government] to make this a real functioning electoral democracy.”
Hope for reform isn’t totally lost, though. Rep. Hank Johnson, a Democrat from Georgia, introduced a bill in September that would prohibit the government from purchasing internet-connected voting machines or machines which lack a paper trail. The legislation was inspired in part by lobbying from activists like Miller, working in concert with the National Election Defense Coalition, which Miller highlighted as one of the few NGOS effectively targeting the issue of election fraud.
Meanwhile, social media allows Miller reach new audiences beyond the confines of mainstream media. A video he published on Friday about the risks of a rigged election had been viewed nearly 10,000 times by Monday night, and he hopes it will soon be seen by many more voters as it spreads through social media shares and word of mouth.
“We have to talk about it, we have to spread the word about this,” he urged. “Because only once people know the scale of the problem will there be any pressure on the parties to fix this system.”
Feature photo | Voters use electronic voting machines at the Schiller Recreation Center polling station on election day, Tuesday, Nov. 3, 2015, in Columbus, Ohio.