By John Fund
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.”