One of the flaws of a push to root out voter fraud is that there’s not much to root out.
One thing that struck me at the time was the caveat that Trump supporters applied to the upcoming contest. Trump would win, they said — unless there was widespread fraud. The Democrats would try to steal the election, I was told, and Trump supporters were worried about it.
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It’s nothing new for people in Pennsylvania to worry about alleged voter fraud, sure, but the uniformity of that response was unsurprising at the time simply because of how often Trump himself even raised her. The election would be stolen, he said, over and over again – and, when he lost, he said it was.
But he and his team had tried to do something about it. The expiration of a degree of consent prohibiting the Republican Party from monitoring election sites (after an early 1980s effort by the party to intimidate black voters) led Trump and his campaign to encourage people to register to monitor nearby polling places to prevent fraud.
In Scranton, I met a group of people who told me they were planning to do just that. One was Larry Stange, then 61 years old. He didn’t vote in 2016, but was happy enough with Trump’s presidency to prioritize both voting and trying to root out fraud in 2020.
Often people describe volunteer projects that never materialize. But Stange was a man of his word: On Tuesday, he showed up at a polling place near Scranton and kept an eye out for fraud. he later spoke with a journalist from the Scranton Times-Tribune about the experience.
“As of 7 p.m., the Moscow Republican had not observed anything he considered suspicious or inappropriate while voters in Scranton Ward 3 Precinct 1 were voting,” reporter Jeff Horvath wrote of Stange. He quoted Stange praising election workers and the operation of the polling station.
In other words, no fraud was detected.
There are many reasons for this, of course. Most importantly, in-person voter fraud is so rare as to be essentially non-existent. Trying to keep an eye out for fraud at a polling place is a lot like trying to keep an eye out for alien abductions. Studies have shown that mail-order fraud is more common – but still very, very rare. Being stationed at a polling station on Election Day, however, Stange was not going to see any kind of mail-in ballot fraud anyway.
While I certainly can’t say I know for sure that Stange’s assessment of the likelihood of fraud was sincere, it certainly seemed to be. The president he strongly supported said he was worried about the threat of fraud and called on people to help fight it, and Stange enlisted in the fight. Then, with his eyes open on Election Day, he told a reporter he hadn’t actually seen any fraud.
Trump allies continued to push for election monitoring efforts in the wake of the 2020 vote. The New York Times reported over the weekend that a lawyer named Cleta Mitchell was pushing for a nationwide effort to inspect the broader election, from polling stations to poll workers. Mitchell was very close to Trump’s efforts to undo his 2020 defeat, including participating in his infamous early January 2021 call in which he encouraged the Georgian secretary of state to “find” just enough votes to give him the vote. ‘State.
According to the Times, the program advocated by Mitchell would go further than simply monitoring polling places. In Virginia last year, activists in heavily Democratic counties lobbied election officials on details of the process, an effort Mitchell championed. Although he strained resources and frustrated election officials, there is no evidence that he actually rooted out all fraud.
As one Republican official told the newspaper, the effort would likely boil down to “if [volunteers] are genuinely interested in knowing the truth about the elections or they are interested in spreading propaganda. This is important: how many election cycles will the volunteers be willing to spend hours trying to spot frauds that never show up? There is a legitimate concern about voter intimidation and aggravation of public servants, sure, but organizing people to volunteer time is a lot harder than it looks. This is especially true when people think their time is not well spent.
It helps to take a step back and recognize that I’m just removing a silver lining from this huge storm cloud. This tremendous energy is focused on doing everything possible to uncover non-existent fraud is a problem broadly in that it undermines confidence in elections for no good reason and is a problem specifically because it adds to the work already difficult for election administrators. Even if bona fide actors are interested in making sure no one cheats – after unfortunately being convinced that a lot of people are cheating – there are downsides. There are also certainly people who approach the issue simply hoping to make victory for their side more likely.
Out of curiosity, I checked Stange’s Facebook page to see how he responded to Trump’s (and Mitchell’s) documented efforts to steal the 2020 election by nullifying results in swing states. On Nov. 30, Stange said the 2020 contest was “the least transparent election in U.S. history, the biggest cover-up ever.” He cited refuted charges and insisted that Republican poll watchers in places like Philadelphia were being “bullied” and “harassed.”
Not in Scranton’s Ward 3, Precinct 1, however, where Stange was stationed and saw nothing untoward. Like the crime and like incompetent members of Congress, bad things always seem to happen elsewhere. But rest assured that they happen.