This column by John Fund was published August 14, 2016 by National Review.
Yes, Donald Trump has muddied the issue of possible voter fraud in the November election with his comment that the only way Hillary Clinton can win Pennsylvania is by way of stolen votes. There doesn’t seem to be an issue that Trump can’t handle without hyperbole and exaggeration.
But the media pile-on that Trump has experienced over his call for election observers to monitor the polls in Pennsylvania is unfair. The Los Angeles Times claimed that his remarks calling for poll monitors in Pennsylvania had “strong racial overtones,” even though he never mentioned race. “The comments raised the specter of confrontations on Election Day in precincts with many minority voters,” the Times reported. Other commentators rebutted Trump by repeating spurious claims that voter fraud is extremely rare.
Savvy Pennsylvania politicos have begged to differ. Chris Matthews, the liberal MSNBC host who comes from Pennsylvania, vehemently opposes requiring ID at polling places. But he agrees that voter fraud is a Philadelphia tradition. In 2011, on his show Hardball, he explained a common scheme:
People call up, see if you voted or you’re not going to vote. Then all of a sudden somebody does come and vote for you. This is an old strategy in big-city politics…. I know all about it in North Philly — it’s what went on, and I believe it still goes on.
Philadelphia has a long reputation of fixing elections as a means of controlling patronage and municipal contracts. Voter intimidation also has occurred. In the 1960s, cops would routinely hassle black voters trying to vote. But intimidation can take many forms. In 2012, two members of the radical New Black Panther Party used nightsticks and racial epithets in an effort to scare white voters away from a Philadelphia polling place. The Obama administration ended up dropping almost all of the charges in the case against the Panthers.
The potential for fraud is also considerable. “People working the polls don’t ask for ID,” says Jimmy Tayoun, a former city councilman who went to prison in the 1990s for corruption. “You can flood a lot of phony names on phony addresses, and there’s no way they’re going to check.” In 1993, a federal judge had to overturn a special state senate election in which Democratic precinct workers had gone door to door with absentee ballot forms and “helped” voters fill them out. Ed Rendell, then Philadelphia’s mayor and later the state’s governor, explained away the irregularities at the time by saying, “I don’t think it’s anything that’s immoral or grievous, but it clearly violates the election code.”
Arlen Specter, who served Pennsylvania for 30 years in the Senate, first as a Republican and then as a Democrat, strongly opposed voter fraud during his career. He openly scoffed at liberal claims that there is no voter fraud. “They don’t see what they don’t want to see,” he told me before this death in 2011. “I’m from Philadelphia. It’s been a way of life here.” He said that even though he was a Democrat he stood by his 2007 vote in favor of requiring photo ID in all federal elections.
Specter, as a former district attorney of Philadelphia, had personal knowledge of voter fraud. I reported in 2012 at NRO:
Specter was appalled at the activities of the far-left group ACORN, after it was discovered they were submitting hundreds of thousands of fake voter registrations around the country. As ranking Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee, he unsuccessfully urged that a hearing be held on the ACORN scandal. He was shot down by, among others, New York Democrat Chuck Schumer, who claimed, “Fraud is not systematic, and it doesn’t occur very much.”
Even after he switched parties in 2009, Specter still voted with a majority of the Senate to end all federal funding of ACORN…. “Every vote stolen cancels out that of someone else and attacks the heart of our democracy,” he told me. “That shouldn’t be a partisan issue but just one of basic integrity.”
The way to avoid disputed elections and political turmoil is to make sure as few problems as possible happen while votes are being cast. It’s almost impossible to detect fraud after secret ballots are thrown into a common pool. Sending properly trained election monitors — both governmental and private — where appropriate is one safeguard. Another is having prosecutors issue a warning right before Election Day that fraudsters will be prosecuted — a threat that the Obama administration has been singularly uninterested in. Giving federal grants to states to help them pay to upgrade and standardize their voting machines would also be a good step.
The laxity of our locally enforced election laws is an invitation to cheat. However unartfully expressed, what Donald Trump was warning against in Pennsylvania is a legitimate concern. Rather than dismiss such concerns out of hand, the media might want to visit Philadelphia and other cities and be educated on what really can happen there on Election Day if the integrity of the voting process is put at risk.