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Is this proof of voter fraud or election rigging?: A user guide

Supporters of Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump cheer during a campaign rally, Friday, Oct. 28, 2016, in Manchester, N.H. (AP Photo/ Evan Vucci)
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Mr. Donald Trump of Manhattan has spent a decent amount of time implying or explicitly stating that the election is rigged and that voter fraud exists and threatens the results of the election. He and his allies have encouraged supporters to be on the lookout for in-person voter fraud, with the Republican Party going so far in Pennsylvania as to sue the state to allow poll-watchers to cross county lines so that Trump supporters in Altoona can drive to Dem-friendly Philadelphia and keep an eye on things.

But since in-person voter fraud is incredibly rare (see this interactive for details) and since the national vote is, in fact, not being rigged, the amateur sleuths dispatching themselves across the country may not know what they're looking for. Nor, for that matter, may the online sleuths who've already been so effective at ferreting out wrong-doing in this election cycle. We don't often know the signs of in-person voter fraud or vote rigging because we see the real thing so infrequently, like sailors on vessels in the 1700s who confused manatees with mermaids. To continue the analogy, we're in a position now where those sailors have returned to land and now think every heavy-set gentleman with a mustache is one of the deep blue sea's enticing sirens.

With that in mind, we've put together this guide to what is and isn't in-person voter fraud, using recent examples from the news. May it serve you well as you navigate through the last 10 days of this nonsense.


A voting machine flipping votes to a Democrat.
Is this vote-rigging? No.
Is this in-person voter fraud? No.

This video made the rounds earlier this week as evidence of how They™ are trying to throw the election to Hillary Clinton. Notice that the names involved are not "Clinton" and "Trump," but instead "Gillespie" and "Warner" -- giving away that this was not a 2016 election but a 2014 vote in Virginia.

I pointed out earlier this week that this is also not an example of vote-rigging for the simple reason that it's an awfully stupid way to do vote-rigging. If you are going to program a machine to count the wrong votes in an election, you would also presumably not program it to show the vote being changed. It's like a guy stealing diamonds from a jeweler by drilling into the vault then sending a videotape of himself doing it to the police. If you're smart enough to rig an election, you're smart enough to do basic user interface design.

What this is is a poorly calibrated voting machine.

Reports from various states indicate that people voted a straight-ticket Republican ballot, then discovering that Hillary Clinton's name was checked.
Is this vote-rigging? No.
Is this in-person voter fraud? No.

There have been a few reports along these lines, most notably in Texas. People vote straight-ticket on a voting machine and then, when given the chance to review their ballots, note that Clinton's name is checked. NPR wrote about it.

The response here is the same as above. That the voters were able to review the ballot and then spot the mistake is exactly how it's supposed to work: There's a failsafe built into the system to catch mistakes. It's not ideal that the machine didn't work properly, and some places in Texas took machines offline to ensure that they were working properly. Software is buggy. But, again, if you're trying to rig the vote by switching people's votes, you don't then advertise that you're doing so.

Also, you probably do it somewhere other than a state that is run by Republicans in rural counties that vote heavily Republican.

People photographing tombstones prove that they want to register dead people.
Is this vote-rigging? No.
Is this in-person voter fraud? No.

From Ohio:

We don't know why someone was driving around taking photos of tombstones, but there are indeed hobbyists that track such information and allow people to see tombstones online. It's useful for genealogical purposes.

Which raises two points. First, that if you are going to the cemetery to find dead people to use as the basis for filling out phony voter registration forms, that's an awfully clumsy way to do it. You need addresses, too, right? And you certainly don't need photos of the tombstones. Your local newspaper probably runs obituaries from which you could cull the names of dead people if you wanted to, which, again, there's no evidence anyone really does. (It seems awfully inefficient to drive around a cemetery trying to find people who were born less than 100 years ago.)

The "dead people vote" thing is an old shorthand for voter fraud, and there have been instances in which ballots have been returned on behalf of people who have died. But the way Trump talks about dead people voting is different than the example above. He cites research from Pew in which it's estimated that 1.8 million dead people are still registered, because elections officials haven't yet culled them from the rolls. Again, there's no evidence that these people are having votes cast in their name at all, much less on the scale you would need to throw an election.

Also, as I noted above, there are websites filled with photos of tombstones. If you wanted to use them to somehow fill out voter registration forms, there you go.

But there are stories about ballots being cast for dead people!
Is this vote-rigging? No.
Is this in-person voter fraud? Probably not.

Reports out of Philadelphia recently suggested that the voter registrations of a handful of dead people had been used to cast ballots. Voting commissioner Al Schmidt on Friday blasted those reports, noting that the board of elections had already ruled out fraud. What happened in one case was that a poll worker was looking for the name "Paul Bunch" and found it at the bottom of a page in the sign-in book. That Paul Bunch was the deceased Paul Bunch, Sr.; Paul Bunch, Jr., who was voting, was at the top of the page that followed. He signed in the wrong place -- and didn't then come back to vote as "himself."

Most cases of suspicious voter behavior end up being situations like this: A mistake is made somewhere in the process. That's not always the case, so we won't say definitively that any report you see of a dead person allegedly casting a vote is not someone committing fraud. But it's worth remembering that situations like this are caught and ruled out -- so the idea that a slew of examples aren't caught and comprise the thousands of votes needed to swing an election seems unlikely.

Someone was caught altering ballots/registering fake voters.
Is this vote-rigging? No.
Is this in-person voter fraud? No.

There is a news story out of Florida in which two women were arrested for messing with the election. In one case, a temporary employee hired to open absentee ballots was marking the ballots with a pen on behalf of a candidates. In the other, a person hired to register voters was submitting fake registration forms.

In the first case, the woman was opening the ballots in a room full of other people, one of whom saw the ballots being marked and informed a supervisor. That's why the ballot-opening happens in a room with other people. In the second case, the woman had a quota of registration forms she needed to hit in order to keep her job. There's no indication at all that she planned to then cast ballots on behalf of those people; in some cases they were already registered.

Regardless, this is not in-person voter fraud. It's illegal and it's good that the women were caught, but it's not an example of someone heading to the polls to cast a fraudulent ballot. Nor, quite obviously, is it an example of a grand conspiracy to throw the election.

A woman in Iowa cast two early-voting ballots.
Is this vote-rigging? No.
Is this in-person voter fraud? Yes.

Terri Lynn Rote was arrested in Des Moines after having intentionally cast two separate ballots in this year's presidential election. She cast an early vote and then, when passing another voting location, decided to cast another.

Polk County Auditor Jamie Fitzgerald told the Des Moines Register that Rote's arrest was proof that fraud was hard to commit. "I think it shows that our voting system works in Iowa, that we're able to catch it," he said. That's fair. Vote fraud is hard to commit without being caught, and there's been no example this year or in years past that it's happened at any significant scale.

Why did Rote commit the fraud? She's a Trump supporter, and she was convinced that the polls are rigged and that her first vote would be switched to one for Hillary Clinton. She now faces time in prison.

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