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Is there large-scale voter fraud in the U.S.? In a word, no.

October 17, 2016 at 6:40 PM EST
Donald Trump continues to speculate that the election is rigged against him, and many supporters agree: Only one-third of Republicans have great confidence that their votes will be counted fairly. Judy Woodruff talks to Republican strategist Al Cardenas and Richard Hasen from the University of California, Irvine about the chances of large-scale voter fraud and the potential for voter intimidation.
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JUDY WOODRUFF: Back to this country now.

As we heard earlier, Donald Trump continues to claim that the presidential election process is rigged against him. That claim seems to be resonating with some voters. Just one-third of Republicans say they have a great deal of confidence that their votes will be counted fairly this election. That’s according to a recent Associated Press poll.

For more on all this, we are joined by Richard Hasen. He’s professor of law at the University of California, Irvine. He’s author of the Election Law Blog. And Al Cardenas is a Republican strategist. He served as chairman of the Republican Party of Florida during the presidential recount in 2000.

And we welcome both of you to the “NewsHour.”

Al Cardenas, to you first.

Donald Trump is stepping up these warnings. He tweeted just a short time ago — and I’m quoting — he said: “Of course there’s large-scale voter fraud happening on and before Election Day.” He asked, he said, “Why do Republican leaders deny what’s going on? It’s so naive.”

Is there large-scale voter fraud happening in this country?

AL CARDENAS, Republican Strategist: Oh, my, there isn’t, hasn’t been. And our country has been spending 200-plus years to get it just right.

The checks and balances in the electoral process is amazing. I know our guest will know more about it than I do. But we have state elected — state officials elected or appointed who are in charge of the overall state process. And every local government, counties or municipalities, have supervisor elections who are elected or appointed.

And then you have local canvassing boards made up oftentimes of judges. And they’re part of this whole processes. Everyone who works in these voting precincts get trained, gets warned about violating the laws, gets warned about the criminal implications of violating the law.

We have a whole process in America. And in 200-some years, we have never, ever had a national election that’s been impacted by fraud, not even close. Even in Florida, where I served as chairman in the famous recount, it — was that an issue.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Richard Hasen, what is your take on this? What is the likelihood that this process could be rigged, as Donald Trump charges?

RICK HASEN, University of California, Irvine: If you’re talking about rigging the way that Donald Trump is talking about rigging, I would say the chances are basically none. It’s impossible.

He’s talking about people going into the polling place and voting five or 10 or 15 times. He said this would happen in certain areas of Pennsylvania. It seems to be, from what his surrogate Rudy Giuliani said, in minority areas, that Democrats are going to steal the votes by impersonating other people.

That’s just now how — in the rare times when voter fraud occur, that’s just not how elections are stolen in this country, and not on the kind of scale that could affect a presidential election, which would the cooperation of tens of thousands of people to try to commit voter fraud under the noses of election officials and party officials who are watching the whole process.

JUDY WOODRUFF: But, Richard Hasen, you say — I hear you saying it’s possible to do this on a small scale. Is that right?

RICHARD HASEN: Well, the kind of fraud that we do occasionally see in this country is absentee ballot fraud.

That occurs because voting takes place outside the presence of election officials. Usually, it involves buying votes or stealing ballots out of people’s mailboxes, and then voting them in a particular way.

But we haven’t seen that on the kind of scale that could affect a presidential election. And that’s not the kind of fraud Donald Trump has been talking about. He was talking about the lack of voter I.D., strict voter I.D. law in Pennsylvania and that would allow someone to go into the polling place, and he literally said, vote five or 10 or 15 times.

That just doesn’t happen. For a study I did, I looked from the 1980s on to find a single election anywhere in the United States where it could have been called into question because of that kind of fraud, and I can’t find a single instance anywhere in the country.

That kind of fraud would be a stupid way to steal the election, and it just doesn’t happen.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Al Cardenas, what makes you so confident that this couldn’t happen?

AL CARDENAS: Well, I lived it in 2000. I was party chairman in Florida. We had over 250 lawyers involved and volunteering in the state.

We had over 40 lawsuits. We had election supervisors. We had judges in every single county recounting every vote, tabulating, retabulating the votes, determining whether votes were fairly cast or not. There were challenges being made by lawyers from both parties as to votes that had not been accepted.

The whole process took 37 days, thousands of people, thousands of hours. And not once, not once did we find intent to defraud the process electorally. The press spent millions of dollars after that and went through its own process.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Yes, they did.

AL CARDENAS: And we didn’t find fraud in the process.

Let me tell you, Judy, what really bothers me here is that America is a beacon of light for people all throughout the world who want their democracies to work our way. We are the idols of most countries. We are asked to oversee elections in other countries.

We in this country know that transparency works. We appreciate and frankly adore the right to have the free, peaceful transfer of power from the president to at the eventual winner. We in America have always celebrated the way we have elections.

To tarnish it with unproven facts, tarnish it with accusations, to me, it is just a shame. It shouldn’t be done.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And, Richard Hasen, we also hear Donald Trump saying to his supporters from time to time, you need to go out and you need to watch people voting to make sure everything is being done on the up and up, words to that effect.

How would that work, for people to take it upon themselves to watch the voting process?

RICHARD HASEN: Well, you know, there are ways to watch the voting process. There are ways to be election observers.

And, in most places, you have Democrats and Republicans and nonpartisan groups like the League of Women Voters watching the vote count. And those people are trained. And they know what to do. And they know not to interfere with voters.

I’m very concerned that it looks like Trump is telling people to take matters into their own hands. He said, after you vote in your own place, go to those other areas and see what’s going on there.

I’m worried especially in states where there is an open-carry law and people could be taking firearms to the polling place. We need to have an election where people are not intimidated, where they feel free to go into the polling place and vote their conscience.

And I think what he is doing is dangerous. It’s dangerous both on after Election Day and after Election Day, where, if he claims the vote count was rigged, who knows if people might take into their own hands to be violent?

I mean, we really — we take our peaceful transitions for granted. And I think we can’t this time around.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Just quickly, Al Cardenas, how would that work? I mean, if voters in your home state of Florida decided they were going to watch other polling places, what would that mean for the election?

AL CARDENAS: Well, we have a ballot integrity initiative every election cycle, where lawyers and others volunteer. They man these phones.

If there is a voter that feels they have been intimidated, harassed or worse, they can call a number. These lawyers are activated. They go to local elected officials, and the matter is immediately investigated.

I can tell you, election after election — I have been chairman of the party for a long time — these instances are rare. Now, if somebody is going to be enticed to go and intimidate voters, well, that’s a whole different story, as Richard just mentioned. That cannot be tolerated, and law enforcement needs to step in.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, we’re going to be continuing, of course, to follow this between now and Election Day three weeks from tomorrow.

Al Cardenas, Richard Hasen, we thank you both.

RICHARD HASEN: Thank you.

AL CARDENAS: Thank you.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Online, read how the Clinton campaign is ramping up spending in a swing state media blitz. You can find that on our Web site, PBS.org/NewsHour.

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