Trump’s Warnings About a ‘Rigged’ U.S. Election: QuickTake Q&A

Ocean's Election: Rigging the System Vegas-Style

Donald Trump, a man who prizes winning above all, shows no interest in being an agreeable loser, should it come to that. The Republican U.S. presidential nominee complains about a "rigged" system favoring Democrat Hillary Clinton and says he will lose in Pennsylvania, a battleground state, only "if cheating goes on." He declined to say, during the final presidential debate, whether he’ll honor the results of the Nov. 8 election if he’s not declared the victor. (He later said he "would accept a clear election result" but might challenge "a questionable result.") Though the U.S. supplies advisers and observers to monitor democratic elections around the globe, Trump is far from the first politician to question the integrity and fairness of America’s own voting. He may, however, be the first presidential candidate to suggest before Election Day that the results would be dishonest.

1. Who does Trump say is rigging the election?

His answer has changed over time. Most recently he’s said that the election "is being rigged by corrupt media pushing false allegations and outright lies," and that the U.S. is "in fact controlled by a small handful of global special interests rigging the system." For months he’s been urging his supporters in Pennsylvania and other states to monitor polling stations to "make sure other people don’t come in and vote five times." Clinton’s significant lead in polls of Pennsylvania voters has done nothing to squelch talks of a fixed election, since Trump and many of his supporters suggest that pre-election polls, too, are rigged against him.


2. Do other Republicans agree with him?

Trump’s running mate, Indiana Governor Mike Pence, said Trump’s "sense of a rigged election" has been created by "the obvious bias in the national media." Rudy Giuliani, the former mayor of New York City, said Trump means both that "that 80 percent to 85 percent of the media is against him," and that "there are a few places" like Philadelphia and Chicago "notorious for stealing votes," by counting ballots of dead people, for instance. But other high-profile Republicans part with Trump on the topic. House Speaker Paul Ryan "is fully confident the states will carry out this election with integrity," his spokesman said. The Republican official in charge of elections in Ohio said he "can reassure Donald Trump" that voting is "not going to be rigged, I’ll make sure of that."

3. What do the polls show?

A Politico/Morning Consult poll released on Oct. 17 showed 66 percent of registered voters are very confident or somewhat confident that votes will be counted accurately. Forty-one percent agree strongly or somewhat that this election could be stolen from Trump due to widespread fraud.

4. How big a problem is voter fraud?

It’s far from impossible to cast an illegal vote but a great deal more difficult to do so on a scale that decides an election. For every study suggesting widespread voting by ineligible non-citizens, felons or dead people, there are multiple studies or investigations painting voter fraud as rare and inconsequential. An oft-cited 2007 study by the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law concluded that "many of the claims of voter fraud amount to a great deal of smoke without much fire."

5. If fraud is unlikely, why worry about U.S. elections?

From hanging chads to broken-down machines, the highly decentralized, volunteer-dependent U.S. voting system produces gripes and laments every election. Whether electronic vote-counting machinery can be compromised, by foreign hackers or anyone else, is probably the most commonly cited concern this time as well. There are discussions in Washington on whether to designate elections as national critical infrastructure, which could bring federal money and technological support to protect state voting systems.

6. Haven’t Democrats complained in the past as well?

They have. A decade ago, following back-to-back wins by George W. Bush, Democrats questioned the reliability and integrity of electronic voting machines that leave no paper trail for recounts or audits. Republicans also point out that Democrat Al Gore didn’t automatically accept the results of the razor-thin 2000 election, which eventually went all the way to the Supreme Court. But Gore wasn’t challenging a consensus victory for Bush -- he withdrew his election night concession only after Bush’s lead in Florida, the decisive state, had narrowed to the point where it became apparent there would be an automatic recount. Weeks later, after the U.S. Supreme Court blocked a manual recount ordered by Florida courts, Gore conceded for good.

7. Why does Trump single out Pennsylvania?

There’s some history. Conspiracy theories shared on the Internet held that fraud had cost Republican Mitt Romney votes in sections of Philadelphia in the 2012 election. (Those theories were debunked.) On Election Day in 2008, two members of the New Black Panther Party, wearing military gear, stood outside a Philadelphia polling place, prompting a federal voter-intimidation lawsuit against the men and their black nationalist organization. Republicans howled when the Justice Department dismissed most of the case. Plus, Pennsylvania is one of 17 states that won’t require voters to show some form of identification. It passed a photo-ID requirement, but a state judge struck it down in 2014, writing that it would "disenfranchise hundreds of thousands of valid voters." 

The Reference Shelf

  • A story on Trump’s complaints that the election is "rigged" by the media.
  • Trump has cried "rigging" lots of times.
  • A QuickTake explainer on U.S. voter-rights fights.
  • Bloomberg View columnist Stephen L. Carter on America’s long history of disputed presidential elections.
  • Hillary Clinton also speaks of a "rigged system."
  • A Bloomberg View column by Francis Wilkinson on why Trump shows the system isn’t rigged.
  • A state-by-state rundown of voter ID laws by the National Conference of State Legislatures.
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