Eyebrows rose unnaturally high early February at the idea that a coin toss could decide the Iowa Caucuses. Despite the confusion, those were the official rules, and anyone who has spent hours shuffling from one side of the room to the other in that archaic process knows that attention spans give way to fatigue, and a coin toss feels like sweet relief. Besides, the Iowa caucus has bigger issues that couldn’t be explained away by six flips of a coin. The next morning, the results of the caucuses were meant to be final, but the Iowa Democratic Party woke up to find that the vote tallies from 90 precincts had gone missing.
From there on out, every Clinton victory seemed to come with cries of voter fraud. Reddit rage was in full swing from Massachusetts, where Bill Clinton was accused of illegally campaigning just outside of a polling place, to Arizona, where voters experienced ballot shortages and were forced to wait in line for as long as five hours on a work day. In some cases, voting went on as late as midnight, with hundreds still waiting in line hours after major news networks had declared Clinton and Trump winners.
In Kentucky, WKYT radio reported that voting machines “erased all votes from Pike County” and eventually restored the results with numbers that pushed Clinton ahead of Bernie Sanders. Thirty-one counties reported similar problems across the state, where Clinton was declared the winner by less than a percentage point.
So what’s all this about electoral fraud? The near-riot in Nevada a few weeks ago has become a well-documented case of outright shenanigans, but what about all the other claims of voter suppression and rigging?
Looking into the Reddit cases alone would take us well into November and past election day, but it’s also hard to shrug it all off when you’re weighed down by thousands of voters who are screaming foul.
“Claims of electoral fraud happen in any high-stakes or very close-run election,” says Geoffrey Skelley, an associate editor for Sabato’s Crystal Ball, an election-tracking website out of the University of Virginia, “but the evidence is often pretty thin and usually has elements of “sore loser” in the complaints.”
True enough, launching into a fit in the wake of every Sanders loss reeks of “unsportsmanlike” behavior. Social media is filled with Bernie supporters who have bowed their heads in shame for failing to register as Democrats in time for the vote, but it’s also swarmed with voters who jumped through all the proper hoops and still found that their names had disappeared from the list on election day.
One Arizona Reddit user shared his experience saying, “Almost every person I know that is a Sanders supporter was given a provisional ballot, including myself. I’m not a sore loser, I’m just pissed that my state is either inept or intentionally doing this. I’m pissed that my vote won’t count.”
His anger is entirely understandable. The Arizona primary was widely recognized as a disaster. Somehow, voter registration records across the state had been changed without their knowledge, leaving many unable to obtain a proper ballot on Election Day. Instead, they were given provisional ballots, which are only counted once the registration issue is resolved.
“This was something that I know happens, and I know it happened to people in this room.” Arizona Secretary of State, Michele Reagan told reporters. “It’s not hearsay. It happened to someone in my own office.”
But is any of this really enough to call this year’s election a fraud? After all, the whole thing could come down to the simplest explanation: a glitch in the system. “To believe someone could systematically alter party registration and know who was and wasn’t a Sanders supporter takes quite a conspiracy-theory-driven mind,” says Skelley. His point is reasoned, but a month later, the same thing happened to voters in New York:
“We were seeing an alarming number of voter affiliations changed without people’s knowledge or consent, people who were registered listed as not registered,” Shyla Nelson, a spokeswoman for Election Justice USA, told WNYC radio.
Though he remains skeptical, Skelley says that he’s never seen such a large-scale mess before. “That’s ridiculous and there should be a full investigation of why and how that occurred,” he says, however he maintains that, “unless this happened to many thousands of people in both states and everyone who was affected was a would-be Sanders voter, this problem wouldn’t have altered the results much.”
In each state, before every vote, Sanders has been heard saying, “If there is a high voter turnout, we will win,” and while the evidence of this is unclear at best, there’s no doubt that thousands of voters in New York were affected.
After looking into voter enrollment statistics in the state of New York, WNYC radio revealed that in Brooklyn, “the number of active registered Democrats dropped there by 63,558 voters between November 2015 and April 2016.”
That is a suspicious lack of political activity from a borough that is both the hometown of Bernie Sanders and holds the Clinton Campaign’s HQ. According to local reports, by election day that number rose to more than 125,000 with some voters showing up to the polls to find that entire sections of the voter list were missing.
When asked to explain this colossal gap in the registration lists, Michael Ryan, New York City Board of Elections (BOE) Executive Director told WNYC that, “New York City is a very transient place to live. People move all the time,” while those on the list who hadn’t moved could be explained just as easily: “People die every day and they come off the list,” Ryan said.
However ridiculous, Ryan’s theory is entirely plausible. In fact, with the latest polls showing that Trump and Clinton are the least popular presidential candidates in over 30 years, a pattern of election themed obituaries has begun to emerge, with statements like: “Faced with the prospect of voting for either Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton, Mary Anne Noland of Richmond chose, instead, to pass into the eternal love of God.”
But for thousands of New York voters who showed up to the polls alive, Ryan’s suggestions don’t help to explain why they weren’t on the list.
As for voters who were properly registered, the Gothamist reported that around 60,000 of them received notices in the mail giving the incorrect date for the primary, saying:
“You have recently received an Approval Notice. The date on the notice for the Primary Election was incorrect. The correct date is September 13, 2016. Polls will be open from 6 AM to 9 PM. We apologize for any inconvenience.”
Though there is a primary scheduled for local elections on September 13th, voting for the Presidential primary in New York took place on April 19th, and the notice did not specify the election it was referring to.
“There is no need for a correction,” Ryan told the Gothamist, when asked about the mailer. “We sent out the proper notice as required by law” he added, noting that the New York Board of Elections is not responsible for notifying voters about presidential elections, even though they are in charge of overseeing the voting process.
“[S]ince I’ve been associated with the Board of Elections,” he went on to say, “there has never been one scintilla of evidence that there are people attempting to put their thumb on the scale one way or the other.”
And perhaps that’s true. With investigations and lawsuits still underway, there’s no reason to believe that the New York BOE or any other state officials are lying.
Fraud claims may even come down to voter confusion over the maze of rules and regulations that each state sets in its own way. The entire process is far more complicated than it has to be and goes well beyond the simple task of casting a ballot for the candidate of your choice.
Voting in a democracy should be easy. Like HBO’s John Oliver said, “Any competition should have clear rules, you don’t get to the end of a football game and say, ‘OK, who found the most eggs?”
So when voters are given misleading information or have to spend entire days in line or they are given vague and unapologetic explanations for massive problems, or are forced to vote for delegates who vote for delegates who might vote for their candidate, they can’t be blamed for raising a few eyebrows.
State and party officials in New York and Arizona did not respond to a request for comment.