Joe Salcido is convinced that some funny business is going to take place on Election Day.
The 67-year-old resident of Owendale, in Michigan’s Thumb, said he thinks the upcoming election has been manipulated by the media that doesn’t want to see Republican Donald Trump elected president, and rigged by Democrats to ensure a victory for Hillary Clinton.
“I just have a bad feeling, especially in this day and age, on how things could be flipped,” he said. “I have a strong feeling there will be a large number of illegitimate votes on Nov. 8.”
He’s not alone. Trump has been talking about a “rigged election," for weeks and has urged his supporters to go to polling places in certain areas — hinting at voter fraud in urban communities — to ensure that shenanigans don’t tip the scales in favor of Clinton.
"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 last week.
That feeling is rampant among Trump supporters, according to a poll done for the Detroit Free Press/WXYZ-TV and their outstate polling partners by Lansing-based EPIC-MRA. While 62% of the 600 people surveyed said that they’re totally confident the election results will be counted accurately, 36% are not so sure. Among Clinton supporters specifically that confidence level rose to 85% of the people surveyed, while 63% of the Trump supporters have little confidence in the election results and a belief that voter fraud will take place. The survey, conducted Saturday to Monday, has a margin of error of plus or minus 4 percentage points.
Michigan elections officials and election law experts, however, dispute the claims, saying that rigging an election is highly unlikely and voter fraud is rare.
“Whether it’s city or township-based or a county-based system, there’s enough decentralization to make rigging virtually impossible,” said Chris Thomas, director of elections for the state of Michigan. “No portion of the system is connected to the Internet, so it can’t be hacked.”
Buttressing the security of Michigan’s votes is the use of paper ballots, which are available for recounts if a candidate feels something suspicious has happened in casting or counting the votes.
Michigan has charged only a handful of people with some sort of voter fraud in the last several decades, Thomas said. And Loyola Law School professor Justin Levitt has been tracking cases of voter fraud at polling places since 2000, writing in the Washington Post in 2014 that he found only 31 credible cases of voter fraud out of 1 billion votes cast.
“We’ve had just a handful of cases with absentee ballot issues, not in the polling places,” Thomas said. “I haven’t seen any kind of action that you could call an organized rigging operation.”
These type of voter fraud claims have happened in previous elections, said Oakland University political science professor John Klemanski, but the rhetoric this year has elevated the issue to front-burner status.
"Trump has played into the long-standing Republican Party narrative that there’s been all sorts of voter fraud by Democrats," he said. "This is something that has happened before, but this year is different in so many different ways. It's just too much."
More than anything, Klemanski said, the rigged election gives Trump a ready-made explanation of why he could lose on election night. "He can say, 'I lost, but it wasn't a fair fight.' "
Feeding into his claims, Trump has cited a 2012 Pew Center study that reported there are 1.8 million dead people who are still registered voters. But the study didn’t show evidence of those people voting, just that the registration rolls need to be updated.
Since taking office in 2011, Michigan Secretary of State Ruth Johnson, a Republican from Holly, has removed 889,000 people from the qualified voter file. Most of those people have either moved out of state or died, said Fred Woodhams, spokesman for Johnson.
To make sure that voter fraud doesn’t happen, the Michigan Republican Party has recruited hundreds of people to be at polling precincts on Nov. 8.
“We’re significantly ahead of our goal from last election,” said Sarah Anderson, spokeswoman for the state Republican Party. “In 2014, we covered 700 precincts with poll watchers.”
Trump’s calls for people to watch polling precincts has helped fuel the increased number, Anderson said. “But we’re confident that things will remain on the up and up. We’re confident that our secretary of state is doing a fantastic job."
The poll watchers will be concentrated in districts where there are competitive races for the state House of Representatives, the vast majority of which are not in urban areas where Democrats traditionally easily win seats. But there also will be roving poll watchers in places like Detroit, especially in the precincts where absentee ballots will be counted.
The watchers are being instructed not to engage with voters, but to make sure voters either produce valid identification or sign affidavits of identify if they don’t have identification with them.
The state Democratic Party also is recruiting people for its voter protection effort, said party chairman Brandon Dillon. The state party also is preparing to staff hotlines for voter complaints and building a team of lawyers to challenge any problems that might arise in polling places.
“The Clinton campaign and the coordinated campaigns are recruiting people all over the state to counter the Republican tradition of trying to intimidate voters,” he said.
Clerks in Detroit, Pontiac and other communities said they will be on the lookout for any signs of aggressive attention from poll watchers.
“All of our poll workers have been trained, particularly our supervisory staff,” said Daniel Baxter, director of elections for Detroit. “Each one of the challengers has been given a pamphlet spelling out the duties and rights of challengers, and if there’s a violation, the poll workers will explain to them what the violation is and ask them to adhere to policy. If it exceeds our policies, the workers contact us and we’ll deal with it accordingly,” including calling police if necessary.
In 2012, Pontiac City Clerk Sherikia L. Hawkins, had to intercede with one persistent challenger and have the person removed from a polling place in the city.
“But that was one incident out of a 13-hour day,” she said. “I can’t be concerned about the rhetoric this year. If we got all wrapped up into that, we would have no hair. We would be insane. I just have to make sure my workers are properly trained.”
It doesn't matter how well poll workers are trained, Ken Dressel of Ottawa Lake, on Michigan's southern border, said he thinks the corruption that has been exposed about Hillary and Bill Clinton will extend to the election result.
"We know there is corruption in the system," he said. "There's a history of that and there's no reason to think her campaign is above.
(2016 © Detroit Free Press)