WASHINGTON ―Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump repeatedly warned of widespread election fraud in the weeks ahead of Election Day. He claimed that “the election is absolutely being rigged ... at many polling places,” and that “voter fraud is very, very common.” But as America voted and the results began coming in Tuesday night, there was no evidence that Trump had any idea what he was talking about.
It’s extremely hard to rig an election. The Trump campaign on Tuesday did not respond to HuffPost’s request for evidence supporting the vote-rigging claim. If systematic fraud existed, it’s likely that voter protection groups would be hearing about it ― and they weren’t. Although there were scattered reports of voter intimidation, they don’t look as bad as Trump — or Democrats — had predicted.
“We are noticing a slight uptick in the reports of intimidating behavior,” said Adam Gitlin, counsel for the Brennan Center for Justice Democracy Program. But “it’s simply not as widespread, or as of great of magnitude, that some people feared going into the election.” He noted that local election officials have been gearing up for potential problems ― even issuing special guidance relating to voter intimidation in some cases. “We may be seeing the fruits of those efforts,” he added.
“It’s a pretty normal election,” said Charles Stewart III, a political science professor at MIT. While there have been some “one-off problems,” Stewart said he hadn’t seen anything “systematic and widespread.”
HuffPost collected a handful of reports of Election Day voter intimidation —incidents that included women in hijabs being pulled out of line, voters blocked from entering their polling place, and poll workers demanding to see unnecessary identification. A video surfaced of a woman spouting racial slurs outside of a Michigan polling place.
But Trump-style chaos doesn’t appear to have materialized across the country.
Voter-suppression efforts led by lawmakers took place long before voters went to the polls on Tuesday. The 2013 gutting of the Voting Rights Act in particular had a substantial impact, according to Kristen Clarke, president and executive director of the national Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, who was monitoring complaints Tuesday as part of the Election Protection Coalition.
By 2 p.m., the coalition reported getting 20,000 calls from voters with complaints ranging from intimidation outside polling places, confusion over provisional ballots, and last-minute changes to their polling place location. By 8:30 p.m., the group had received more than 35,000 calls. The tally by 2 p.m. included more than 2,600 from New York, 2,300 from North Carolina, 2,000 from Texas, and 1,200 from Georgia. Pennsylvania and Florida each had more than 2,000 calls.
The vast majority of callers came from minority communities, according to the group. Clarke said the reason is simple. “This is a moment where we are seeing the impact of living in a world without the full protections of the Voting Rights Act.”
Still, the number of complaints was far below that of the 2012 presidential election. That year, the coalition fielded more than 80,000 calls to its hotline, according to The Associated Press. While the number of 2016 complaints will climb before all the polls close, it’s clear that the problems this year are more acute and are occurring more in certain states.
Lawmakers have enacted onerous voter ID laws and drastically reduced the number of polling places. Some of the most draconian laws have been overturned. But those court battles have served to confuse both voters and elections officials. For example, Clarke said that during early voting, many counties in Texas were not complying with the latest court ruling.
Other complaints couldn’t be attributed to confusion.
A Donald Trump supporter was allegedly stationed outside of a polling station in Seven Fields, Pennsylvania, making inappropriate comments.
“He had a bucket full of Trump buttons and put them in my face,” Debbie Laurune told The Huffington Post. “I looked at him and said, ‘I’d rather put a bullet in my head than vote for Trump.’ He said, ‘I can arrange that.’”
She said it took her a while to calm down, but voted without further issue. When she went back outside, however, she said the man berated her while she took a picture of the Trump signs outside the polling station. The man yelled at her for not having permission to take his photo and told her, “Go burn your house down lady,” she recalled.
In East Lansing, Michigan, a voter watched as a man pulled two women in hijabs out of the line to examine their voter registration cards and then attempted to direct them to another polling place, Ingham County Clerk Barb Byrum said. Local officials contacted law enforcement.
Byrum called this an act of voter intimidation. “A week or two ago, I sent out information to all municipal clerks indicating zero tolerance for intimidation or harassment of voters,” she said.
In Orange County, Florida, voters reported police parked in front of three polling places, which could be seen as intimidating. When Florida Atlantic University students showed up at their polling spot in Palm Beach County, they were told their dorm was considered a hotel and not a real address, according to the Election Protection Coalition. They were allegedly only able to vote by provisional ballot. A university spokesperson told HuffPost the issue was eventually resolved.
In one county in Ohio, Somali immigrants were told they needed to vote with provisional ballots. But elections officials had no such ballots, the coalition reported.
A shooting in suburban Los Angeles “impacted” two nearby polling stations, according to the LA County Registrar. One shooting victim reportedly was headed to a polling place, the Los Angeles Times reported, but it was unclear whether the crime had anything to do with the election.
Some social media reports about voter intimidation at some polling places were debunked.
With a series of tweets, one man reported that friends in Chesapeake, Virginia, “who are black & live in Chesapeake are having to be escorted by the police into the voting place [because] Trump supporters are blocking the doors and calling them racial slurs. This isn’t a third party “telephone game” rumor.”
A Chesapeake official refuted the man’s account. “There has been no requests for escorts. Police have not had any calls,” said Heath Covey, public information coordinator for the city of Chesapeake. Covey said he checked both with the police and with election officials.
And back in Philadelphia, the man running the Trump campaign’s election protection effort claimed Tuesday that a Trump poll watcher was “threatened with a belt” at a polling place and feared an “imminent” attack.
The poll watcher was actually the one causing trouble by interfering with voters and trying to film inside of the polling place, according to election judge Candido Silva.
American Civil Liberties Union’s Pennsylvania associate director Sara Mullen noted that the group received “scattered complaints across the state” about voters being asked for ID when they shouldn’t. (Only Pennsylvania voters casting ballots for the first time need to show ID, and it doesn’t have to be a photo ID.) However, Mullen said “we have not had anyone report to us that they were actually unable to vote because of an ID issue.”
Mullen said she wasn’t sure why some voters were asked for ID, and not others. “Speaking generally, sometimes it’s just a misunderstanding of the law,” she said.
“We have 1,686 polling stations and inevitably somebody’s going to do something wrong,” said Fred Voigt, deputy city commissioner for Philadelphia.
Voigt said the city experienced “normal, run-of-the-mill” voter problems. “It doesn’t appear that we have an inordinate number of problems,” he said.
Rick Hasen, a professor at the University of California, Irvine School of Law and an expert on election law, noted that the Trump campaign has tried to point to places like Nevada as having problems, “likely as part of any post-Election Day contest.”
Trump’s claims of widespread vote-rigging don’t seem to have been substantiated so far. But “that doesn’t mean he won’t claim that,” Hasen added.
People experiencing intimidation at the polls can call the Election Protection hotline led by the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law (866-OUR-VOTE) or contact state or federal officials.