Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump has been making allegations that the 2016 presidential election is rigged due to large-scale voter fraud in Philadelphia. However, when examining his reasoning, those claims are found to be misleading.
“We have to make sure the people of Philadelphia are protected, that the vote counts are 100 percent,” Trump said in Wilkes-Barre, Pa. on Oct. 10. “Everybody wants that, but I hear these horror shows. I hear these horror shows and we have to make sure that this election is not stolen from us and is not taken away from us. And everybody knows what I’m talking about.”
The Republican nominee is referencing the fact that during the 2012 presidential election in Philadelphia, in 59 of its nearly 1,700 voting precincts, President Barack Obama swept 100 percent of the vote. Then Republican nominee Mitt Romney did not receive a single vote in those divisions.
Associate Professor of Political Science Marc Meredith said that if you look at the demographics of the precincts, they tends to be areas that are almost entirely African American, and nationwide Mitt Romney won only five percent of the African American vote in 2012.
“It is a function of the fact that in heavily African American precincts, there is a possibility that no one will support a Republican candidate,” Meredith said.
Philadelphia has an overwhelmingly Democratic electorate, with about eight Democrats for every Republican.
On the other hand, Meredith would not say that there is no voter fraud in the United States. He notes that about 130 million votes will be cast in a presidential election, and there are bound to be some small fraudulent acts, but voter fraud is not widespread enough to decide the outcome of an election.
“Are there cases where a person casts two votes? Yes. Is there an occasional non-citizen that votes? Probably. Do any of these make up a large percent of votes that are cast in the American election? Almost certainly no,” Meredith added.
One distinct feature of the U.S. voting system that prevents large scale voter fraud is that voting systems are run locally. Instead of having one government agency in charge of running elections, there are over 3000 local units each in charge of running their own jurisdiction.
“In perspective of voter fraud, it creates more opportunities for voter fraud to occur. However, it also means that when voter fraud does occur, it is very localized,” Meredith said. “It would be very challenging to coordinate all of the jurisdictions to conduct fraud in the magnitude one would need to change the outcome of an election. This would also reduce the incentives to be fraudulent in the first place because there isn’t much to gain from being fraudulent.”
On election day there is also a partisan-balance requirement at the polls. Even in Philadelphia where most voters are registered Democrats, some registered Republicans are still needed at the polling place to help run the election.
The Pennsylvania Democratic Party accused Donald Trump’s campaign of threatening and intimidating voters in urban areas in order to discourage turnout among minorities, according to Politico.
The complaint accuses Trump’s campaign, the Republican Party of Pennsylvania and Trump confidant Roger Stone, as well as his Stop the Steal super PAC, of violating the Ku Klux Klan Act and the Voting Rights Act with a “coordinated campaign of vigilante voter intimidation.”
However, Meredith said that he does not believe that Trump’s exhortations will deter people from voting on Nov. 8.
“Campaigns have historically hired poll watchers to ensure that their supporters have shown up,” Meredith noted. “Instead, Trump is asking the poll watchers to see if people who shouldn’t be voting show up and my sense is that the result of this would not be too intimidate people to not vote but it may make people who are running the elections be a little bit more cautious on how they administer them.”
Clarification: This article has been updated to include the number of voting divisions in Philadelphia. In 2012, Barack Obama received 100 percent of the vote in 59 of Philadelphia's voting divisions, but there are nearly 1,700 voting divisions in the city total.