As Donald Trump’s accusations of a rigged election intensify, local officials disputed that voter fraud has been — or will be — an issue at the polls.
With Election Day just three weeks out, the Republican presidential nominee spent much of the past week telling supporters at his rallies that he believes the election is being fixed by Hillary Clinton’s campaign, the media and through voter fraud.
“Of course there is large-scale voter fraud happening on and before Election Day. Why do Republican leaders deny what is going on? So naive!” Trump tweeted Monday morning.
Local election commissioners said they haven’t seen any instances of voter fraud in their time on the job, adding that there are several measures in place to prevent illegitimate voting. Polling is administered and overseen by local election boards, which officials said are mandated by state law.
“We do the same thing every time with maximum security,” said John Marcellus, a deputy commissioner with the Saratoga County Board of Elections.
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On a national scale, voter fraud is extremely rare. Out of 1 billion votes cast between 2000 and 2014, a study found only 31 credible instances of voter fraud, according to a 2014 study published by The Washington Post.
While the state can’t ask for identification from voters, Marcellus said a signature is still required, and every ballot is tracked to ensure the number of ballots going out to a polling site is the same as the number coming back for counting.
Election Day polling operations should be conducted the same way in every county across the state, Marcellus said. Each polling place should be staffed with four workers who volunteer for the job, undergo a few hours of training and then are paid for their time.
That means in Saratoga County, which has 196 districts, about 800 staffers are tasked with monitoring the process and enforcing the rules, he said.
Those rules include numerous measures to prevent voter fraud, said Amy Hild and Darlene Harris, commissioners of the Schenectady County Board of Elections.
For example, voting machines aren’t hooked up to the internet, they said. That means results can’t be hacked or altered remotely.
“When the state shifted to new voting machines, they went to great lengths to ensure that couldn’t happen,” Hild said. New York state began using the current machines in 2009.
Harris and Hild added that there are checks and balances in place to prevent a voter from appearing multiple times in the same county or in different counties. Each county in the state links up to a database against which voter information can be checked, they said.
If an individual attempted to impersonate someone and vote in their place, Hild said, they’d have to be able to forge a convincing signature and appear to be the same age as the registered voter, among other checks.
“In the event that any of those things don’t match up, the voter could be challenged, and would be committing a crime,” she said.
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A few instances of voter fraud have happened nationally when deceased individuals cast ballots. To prevent this from happening locally, Harris and Hild said they frequently check obituaries and use records from the state Department of Health to purge their system of voters who have died.
In an effort to combat the alleged election rigging, Trump has called on supporters at rallies to monitor polling sites, saying they have to make sure the election isn’t stolen.
The law does allow for poll watchers, Hild said. But their role is limited to more of an information-gathering function, and they must present a certificate stating who they are and which candidates they’re representing.
For example, if a campaign has focused on a certain district, they might send poll watchers to that area to see if expected voters have turned out. The watchers can also observe the opening and closing of voting machines, Harris added.
The line is drawn at electioneering, which is banned statewide.
“They are not allowed to interact with voters or to push their candidate; they can’t wear a pin or button,” Harris said.
State law prohibits such campaigning within 100 feet of a polling place. If someone were to campaign or attempt to influence voters at the site, they would be removed by election officials, said Marcellus, the Saratoga County election board’s deputy commissioner. If the problem persisted, they would reach out to the county, which would have a sheriff’s deputy respond, if needed.
Marcellus said he’s never seen electioneering or voter intimidation in his six years on the job and added that he’s only dealt with one instance of supposed fraud, which turned out to just be a misunderstanding.
“The only time we had anything was when a father signed the book where his son should have, which was more of a mistake than intent to defraud,” he said.
Harris and Hild echoed that, saying they hadn’t witnessed voter fraud in their 11 and 8 years, respectively, on the job.
“We’ve heard people speak of it, but there’s always an answer. There’s always an explanation,” they said. “There are lots of checks and points to get through [to commit fraud.] We haven’t seen one instance.”
Reach Gazette reporter Brett Samuels at 395-3113, [email protected] or @Brett_Samuels27 on Twitter.