Trump's Call For Voters To Watch For Fraud Stokes Fears Of Vote Suppression Donald Trump is calling on Pennsylvania voters to also monitor polling places for fraud. The effort has prompted fears for the integrity of the electoral process.
NPR logo

Can Pro-Trump Poll Watchers Disrupt Voting In Pennsylvania?

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/497195812/497256747" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
Can Pro-Trump Poll Watchers Disrupt Voting In Pennsylvania?

Can Pro-Trump Poll Watchers Disrupt Voting In Pennsylvania?

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/497195812/497256747" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

If Donald Trump doesn't win the presidential election, it could be for a variety of reasons. The Republican nominee himself has implied the vote could be stolen from him, and his focus has been on Pennsylvania. From member station WHYY, Dave Davies reports.

DAVE DAVIES, BYLINE: Trump began sounding the alarm in August, saying he could only lose Pennsylvania if there's cheating. At a rally last weekend, he returned to the theme.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

DONALD TRUMP: And you've got to get everybody you know and you've got to watch your polling booths because I hear too many stories about Pennsylvania, certain areas.

DAVIES: By which he and other Republicans mean heavily Democratic parts of the state such as Philadelphia. Trump's website invites supporters to sign up as Election Day observers. That and his rhetoric about a rigged system has fueled fears Republican poll watchers will intimidate Democratic voters and drive down turnout. The state election code does make it easy to challenge voters.

AL SCHMIDT: An election board worker or a poll watcher can challenge an individual's right to vote based on identity and saying this is not that person.

DAVIES: That's Al Schmidt, who co-chairs the Philadelphia Election Board. If challenged, voters must sign affidavits attesting to their identity. And there's more.

SCHMIDT: And the voter has to produce a witness from the precinct or from the division to also sign an affidavit saying that this person is who they claim to be.

DAVIES: That's right, the burden is on voters to find a witness to vouch for them. The Brennan Center for Justice says this provision is unusual and troubling. State election officials say in practice, voters from the neighborhood are usually known to the election board and can easily get a witness on the spot. If they can't, they can vote by provisional ballot. Howard Cain was a Democratic field operative for 25 years. He says mass challenges aren't really about disqualifying voters.

HOWARD CAIN: You don't have to be successful in these challenges. You just have to create enough confusion and temporary chaos at a polling place so that people go, I'm not going to stay here and put up with this nonsense. I'm out of here. That's what the real goal is.

DAVIES: But do mass voter challenges really happen? Cain says Democrats in Pennsylvania were expecting one in the 2004 presidential election, and he organized teams in 53 polling places to respond quickly.

CAIN: And it never came to pass.

DAVIES: There were reports of mass challenges at one Pittsburgh polling place that year, but mostly it was pretty quiet. Will this year be different? For years, Philadelphia Republican Party director Joe DeFelice has recruited poll watchers to get into places where Democrats dominate.

JOE DEFELICE: It's just fair elections. You know people, like to say there's nothing going on. I mean, I can cite instances. You know, in the 18th Ward in 2014, we had an entire election board adding votes to the machine at the end of the night.

DAVIES: He's right. In that case, a Republican poll watcher reported what he saw and four election workers faced criminal charges. Election board co-chair Al Schmidt says there have been several proven cases of voter tampering in recent years, but they typically involve just a few votes to influence a down-ballot race.

SCHMIDT: I have not seen any examples of really widespread, coordinated voter fraud.

DAVIES: Whether there's widespread fraud or not, mass challenges in Democratic areas could create Election Day problems. Is there such a plan? Joe DeFelice, the GOP director, says...

DEFELICE: No. Look, anything that comes through Philadelphia is going to be run through me. And look, if there's a valid reason to challenge a voter, by all means we'll do it. Is there an open plan to challenge voters? No, there's not.

DAVIES: Training and deploying hundreds of poll watchers to challenge Democrats would be a formidable logistical task. And so far, the Trump campaign has struggled to build an extensive organization in Pennsylvania. For NPR News, I'm Dave Davies in Philadelphia.

Copyright © 2016 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.