In reality, there are extremely few cases of voter fraud in the United States. One has to look abroad to find examples where rigged elections pose a real threat to the democratic process. In many countries, political activists or lawyers face intimidation, threats or even torture. Three political activists told us what they think of when they hear talk about “rigged elections”:
Jean Ping: ‘In my country, manipulation is the rule’
Trump’s comments on Wednesday evening might have reminded Jean Ping of what he says was a “stolen election” in Gabon last summer. Contacted on the phone Wednesday, the Gabonese opposition leader said that he was effectively under house arrest at the moment, with soldiers guarding his home.
“They say I'm free to go, but it’s not true,” Ping said. His assistants refer to him as “the president.” He nearly would have been.
In August, Ping lost the presidential election to incumbent Ali Bongo. Ping lacked about 6,000 votes and continues to dispute the result. Although Bongo acknowledged that there had been “irregularities,” judges refused to invalidate the election. The opposition has claimed that dozens have been killed in clashes with police forces since then and that hundreds of activists have gone missing. The Bongo family has effectively ruled Gabon for decades and keeps a tight grip on the security apparatus.
Human rights organizations paint a bleak picture of the country. The 2016 World Press Freedom Index alleges that “journalists who try to practice their profession in an even-handed manner are often targeted by the government, political parties or businessmen.” Amnesty International has urged Bongo’s government to stop using “excessive force” and has called previous elections “hotly disputed.” Describing the country as a “centralized, autocratic presidential bureaucracy where power is distributed largely through patronage,” Amnesty has few doubts of who is fully in charge in the West African nation.
When he was asked about Trump's claims of the U.S. elections being rigged, Ping's voice turned angry. “There is no way to compare this,” he said. Ping acknowledged that there might be singular incidents of voter fraud in the United States, “but in my country, manipulation is the rule rather than the exception.”
The opposition leader is concerned that the election dispute in Gabon could lead to a civil war. “The intrusions continue. The torture has not stopped. They still arrest us,” Ping said. “I'm used to being terrorized, but the people of Gabon are not.”
Francisco Márquez: ‘I had been visiting a lot of political prisoners. But when I became one myself, it turned out to be worse than I thought.’
Francisco Márquez has had no time recently to follow the U.S. presidential election. “Literally 48 hours ago, I was still in prison,” said the 30-year-old Venezuelan civil servant. Márquez, who is a Venezuelan and American citizen, is now in the United States.
About four months ago, Márquez was arrested by Venezuelan authorities. He was later charged with money laundering and public instigation. He and a colleague were arrested because they had the equivalent of $3,000 and political leaflets in their car. Márquez denied the accusations, and a court later ruled in his favor. Despite that, he was not freed.
“They kept me for another 2 ½ months in the prison. Sadly, that is becoming increasingly common among political prisoners in Venezuela,” Márquez said in a telephone interview Thursday. The account of Márquez reflects data collected by human rights organizations, who have repeatedly slammed Venezuela for its treatment of political prisoners. The Organization of American States, for instance, recently said there could be up to 100 political prisoners in the country. Other estimates are higher.
Márquez was 15 years old when he started to become politically active. He participated in marches against then-President Hugo Chávez and turned into a full-time opposition activist in 2006.
“I was 13 when Chávez came to power. All I ever experienced was his authoritarian system,” Márquez said. “Along the way, many friends went to jail, our phones were tapped, and when we went to a rally we were tear-gassed. After a while, TV channels started to censor themselves in order to keep their licenses.”
For Márquez, his fight escalated earlier this year when he was tasked with overseeing efforts to petition for a recall election in Venezuela. At that time, he was already the chief of staff for David Smolansky, the mayor of El Hatillo.
“I had been visiting a lot of political prisoners. But when I became one myself, it turned out to be worse than I thought it would be,” Márquez said.
When he was finally allowed to leave prison, officers made it clear that he should leave the country, Márquez said. “They didn't give me my freedom but rather forced me into exile,” he said.
He is now reunited with his parents in the United States. “Worse than what political imprisonment does to you,” he said, “is what it does to your family, to your mother.”
Ahmed Elenany: ‘There are ballot boxes, but the essence of democracy is missing’
When 27-year-old Egyptian Ahmed Elenany read Trump’s remarks on Thursday morning, he felt anger. Trump has no idea what life is like “in a country where everything is rigged — not only the elections,” Elenany said. “Guys like Trump in the White House will make the whole world the same as the Middle East.”
Elenany feels strongly about voter fraud and rigged elections; he says he witnessed it himself in Egypt. In 2014, he worked as an adviser for Egyptian presidential candidate Hamdeen Sabahi.
Sabahi's opponent, former Egyptian defense minister Abdel Fatah al-Sissi, won with over 95 percent of the vote. International observers called the outcome “hugely troubling” at that time.
“Egypt’s repressive political environment made a genuinely democratic presidential election impossible,” a representative for the election-monitoring organization Democracy International was quoted as saying. European Union observers agreed with that assessment.
“After that, most of my friends who were politically active moved abroad. Out of 20 people, I could not name a single person who is still inside the country,” said Elenany, who moved to London last year and is pursuing a master’s degree there.
The first signs of election fraud emerged early on, he recalled: “We had to collect 30,000 signatures in order for our candidate to be allowed to run for president. But when our supporters tried to sign, they were often turned away and told that the computer systems were down at the moment, for instance.”
Donors were intimidated and lost government contracts, Elenany said. On the polling days, some Egyptians were given money or pressured into voting for Sissi, Elenany alleged. That latter accusation is controversial: E.U. observers called the polling process “free but not always very fair,” for instance, although they did criticize a pro-Sissi bias in funding and media coverage.
Elenany thinks that he will be able to go back to Egypt soon without having to fear intimidation.
“It’s the country where I belong, and one day we will hopefully have unbiased elections,” he said.