National ‘rigged’ election rhetoric riles up Delaware voters

DOVER — Donald Trump’s Oct. 15 tweet: “Hillary Clinton should have been prosecuted and should be in jail. Instead she is running for president in what looks like a rigged election.”

It is one of many unsubstantiated claims he’s made over the past few months about election “rigging.” Further than campaign grandstanding, it’s been widely reported that Mr. Trump’s rhetoric appears to be eroding voter confidence.

According to an Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research poll in October, only about one-third of Republicans said they have a great deal or quite a bit of confidence that votes on Election Day will be counted fairly.

Suspicion has been mounting among voters, despite lack of compelling evidence or even historical precedent. In fact, a study by Loyola Law School found that out of 1 billion votes cast in all American elections between 2000 and 2014, there were only 31 known cases of impersonation fraud.

vote-logo-2016The trend is worrisome on a national scale and Delaware has not been spared the anxiety. Elaine Manlove, who’s been state election commissioner for nine years, said she’s seen nothing like it.

“This has been the most, bizarre I guess is the word, election I’ve ever been a part of,” said Ms. Manlove.

She notes that while the daily headlines regarding the race itself are strange enough, what’s made it particularly odd for the Department of Elections has been the large amount of calls and emails from citizens concerned about “securing the election.” The bulk of the calls seem to be just generalized concern.

“If they have something specific, I wish they’d tell me so I could look into it or explain it to them,” she said.

A perennial, perhaps default, election season concern is centered around recently deceased citizens who may still be on the registry being used to vote for a candidate. Ms. Manlove said that at any given time there may be recently deceased people on the registry, but it is monitored, updated and adjusted on a daily basis.

With the assistance of an organization called the Electronic Registration Information Center (ERIC), Ms. Manlove said that both the voter registration database and DMV database are compared every month and cross-referenced with other states so the Department of Elections can be aware of citizens who die in another state or have moved. They also check routinely with the Office of Vital Statistics and consult the obituaries daily to keep their registry updated, she said. Occasionally, even family members will alert them to the death of a citizen.

“Sometimes a wife will come in and say ‘oh, I see my husband’s name on the list, but he recently passed away’ — she can sign a form right at the polling place and have him removed right away,” Ms. Manlove said.

Although willing to admit that the process of keeping the registry clear of dead voters isn’t “perfect,” she said it’s a responsibility that the Department of Elections takes seriously and pursues daily.

“I won’t tell you it’s perfect, but we do a lot of work to keep our list clean,” she said. “From time to time, there might be a month lag before we catch something, but it’s not like we have tens of thousands of dead people on our lists. Keeping the list clean is just an ongoing everyday process; that’s the only way to do it.”

The only complaint she’s received with some measure of specificity was a barrage of about 100 emails several days ago. They all read the same, so she suspects they were a product of some coordinated chain-letter style effort.

The emails claimed that billionaire investor and political activist George Soros owned a portion of a voting machine company and was tainting the election.

“They said we should get rid of our voting machines because Soros owned this company and also donated to the Clinton Foundation,” Ms. Manlove said.

That particular conspiracy theory, which enjoyed some national limelight in late October, was thoroughly debunked by Snopes, The Washington Post and Politifact. To this point, Ms. Manlove said that none of the emails offered any sort of proof or evidence to support the claim, just a broad accusation.

“I ask people, ‘where did you hear that’ or ‘can you give me an example?’, and they just say they read it Online,” she said. “Besides, what do people think? I can just go to the store and pick up another 1,000 voting machines?”

On the face of it, Ms. Manlove said the very idea of widespread election rigging is flawed because its complexity would make it nearly impossible.

“In Delaware, the Department of Elections works for the state, but if you go to New Jersey, Florida or most states, their staff are working for the counties,” she said. “Some places in New England even have staff that works directly for the municipality. Just imagine trying to have some kind of coordination between all these different entities that don’t even have the same structure, voting equipment or even the same laws.”

Personally worried about the trend, Ms. Manlove said that the election rigging claims undermine democracy, and are irresponsible and borderline insulting.

“I’m starting to take it as an insult to people like me that work really hard on elections across the country — we have to maintain equipment, keep up on training, and monitor the registry,” she said.

“It’s irresponsible to just throw accusations out there without have specific things to point to. It’s an awful thing to do to the voting public. It makes them distrust democracy.”

Reach staff writer Ian Gronau at igronau@newszap.com

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