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EDITORIAL: Still no voter fraud
In 2013, as Gov. Tom Corbett’s administration attempted to defend the Republicans’ new voter ID law, the attorney for the state abandoned the imaginary problem it was supposed to fix.
No, he stipulated, he was “not aware of any incidents of in-person voter fraud” in Pennsylvania.
It was interesting, considering that was the only type of fraud the voter ID law, the strictest in the country at the time, would prevent.
Opponents had long argued the law was nothing but a cynical attempt to suppress voting by minorities, students and other groups that typically vote Democratic. Groups ranging from the NAACP and the Pennsylvania League of Women Voters to AARP and labor unions opposed the mandate.
While the problem of impersonating registered voters was nonexistent, the risk of disenfranchising hundreds of thousands of legal Pennsylvania voters was very real and was the reason a Commonwealth Court judge struck down the law in 2014.
Corbett didn’t even bother to appeal the ruling, and the law was a distant, somewhat painful memory by this summer, when other states’ voter ID laws met similar fates.
In July, for example, the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled North Carolina’s voter ID law unconstitutional, noting it targeted “African-Americans with almost surgical precision” and imposed “cures for problems that did not exist.”
That’s about as damning as it gets, and it still didn’t stop Donald Trump from fanning the flames of phantom voter fraud.
“Voter ID. What’s with that? What’s with voter ID? Why aren’t we having voter ID,” the GOP presidential nominee goaded at North Carolina rally a month after the appeals court ruling. “… You won’t vote 15 times, but people will. They’ll vote many times, and how that could have happened is unbelievable.”
It’s unbelievable because it never happened.
Days later, Trump again pitched his conspiracy theory, this time in Altoona, Pennsylvania, but again without any facts to back up the allegations.
"We're going to watch Pennsylvania. Go down to certain areas and watch and study and make sure other people don't come in and vote five times," he said. "If you do that, we're not going to lose. The only way we can lose, in my opinion — I really mean this, Pennsylvania — is if cheating goes on."
Anyone who has heard and watched this candidate knows why he’s losing, and it has nothing to do with voting irregularities.
That’s all you, Mr. Trump.
Yet, he not only sowed seeds of doubt about our elections, he also issued an ominous call to action.
"We have to call up law enforcement, and we have to have the sheriffs and the police chiefs and everybody watching,” he warned the Altoona crowd.
The next day, sure enough, the campaign’s website featured a page where people could register to become “Trump election observers.”
We’re not sure what sort of live action role players are signing up to act out this particular fantasy, but we can only imagine it’s folks who share his warped world view — and that worries us.
Trump has created a conspiracy and charged his loyal followers with stopping it. Who knows what these “observers” will do if they actually show up at polling places in November?
The potential for violence is certainly there — emotions are particularly high this election, and with his ominous words,Trump threw a lit match.
Even if these people do nothing more than “observe,” in high-enough numbers they could conceivably intimidate legal voters and prevent them from exercising their rights.
The fact is, Pennsylvania already has a system in place to allow candidate’s surrogates to observe election activities.
In each county, a candidate is allowed to appoint two certified poll watchers, and political parties are allowed to appoint three more. Candidates and parties are only allowed to have one poll watcher at a time in any one polling place, according to Nikki Suchanic, director of York County Elections and Voter Registration.
"It's nothing new," she said. "We've had poll watchers every election as far as I can remember."
And, according to the chairs of the parties’ two local committees, none of their watchers have ever reported voter fraud.
We're confident they won't spot any this year either — but we're not so sure there won't be trouble of another sort if Trump continues stoking electoral paranoia.