Off Mic Blog: Unpacking the Voter Fraud, Rigged Election Conflation

Oct 21, 2016

Editor’s note: Off Mic is a blog about things you might have missed in Maine politics. It’s a place for those news tidbits that aren’t quite a story, or that were part of story but were hacked out by a thoughtless editor.

Credit Mal Leary / MPBN/file

Leftovers from the notebook while assailing the rigged hiring process that landed me this job ...

Gov. Paul LePage made headlines again this week when he suggested the 2016 election isn’t legitimate because of the potential for voter fraud. The governor’s remark partially echoed more inflammatory comments by Republican presidential hopeful Donald Trump, who has assailed the entire election process as rigged.

 

LePage's comments were controversial because he essentially criticized the integrity of a voting system that has twice yielded him victories. He also questioned Maine’s system because the state doesn’t require a photo ID to vote. LePage’s support for voter ID is part of a larger, national debate, so the fact that he highlighted its absence here as a strike against the integrity of the voting system isn’t that far off from what some Republicans have been saying for years.

But on Thursday the governor threw everyone for a loop when he criticized Trump for suggesting during Wednesday's presidential debate that he won’t accept the election results if he loses.

Here’s what LePage said:

"Not accepting the results, I think is just ... it's a stupid comment. I mean, come on, get over yourself."

Hear him say it:

LePage then proceeded to agree with Trump that the election is rigged. He laid the blame on the media, which he said, has given Hillary Clinton a free pass while ganging up on Trump. He also suggested that the political system is no longer a democracy. 

Having some difficulty reconciling all of these statements?  

via GIPHY

Let's take a closer look. 

It seems like Trump and LePage are packing a lot assertions into the word "rigged."But there are differences between voter fraud, election shenanigans and the purported influence of the media on outcomes.

First, voter fraud is defined as the illegal act of interfering in voting, such as voter impersonation or ballot stuffing. Instances of voter fraud are rare. A study by a professor at Loyola Law School found 31 credible incidents of voter fraud out of the one billion votes cast between the 2000 and 2014 elections. 

That's different than the "rigging" or disenfranchisement that can have sliding effects on outcomes and public opinion or voter turnout, such as polling place intimidation, poll taxes or dishonest tactics that don't cross the illegality threshold. 

Trump and LePage don't appear to be suggesting that the latter is occurring, but they have raised the issue of voter fraud. They've also suggested the media is somehow rigging the election for Clinton. There's an array of studies exploring the effect the press has on elections. And the press spends a lot of time worrying and navel gazing about its influence at a time when the public trust in the profession isn't exactly soaring.

For example, did all of Trump's free media during the Republican primary result in his rise in the polls, or did he garner the free media because of his rise in the polls? Did the Washington Post torpedo Trump's chances when it published the 11-year-old tape of him talking about groping women and using his celebrity to force himself on them? The Post's own recent poll suggests no

All of that is a long way of illustrating that media bias, real or imagined, is neither synonymous with rigging an election, nor voter fraud. And if the documented incidents are correct, it would be pretty tough to rig an election with something as rare as voter fraud.

Mystery donors

Earlier this year Maine Public took an extensive look at the individuals and political action committees funding the effort to legalize marijuana. It took some effort because one of the leading PACs files donor disclosure with the IRS, not the Federal Elections Commission or the Maine Ethics Commission. 

But it's discoverable. 

The same can't be said of the group Alliance for Healthy Marijuana Policy. That's the leading donor to Mainers Protecting Our Youth and Communities, the primary opposition PAC to Question 1. The group is a non-profit, which means it doesn't have to reveal its donors. In comparison to the more than $2 million funneled so far to the legalization PAC, the Alliance for Healthy Marijuana Policy PAC hasn't given a lot of money to the effort to fight Question 1 - about $60,000. 

Nonetheless, questions remain about the interests of its donors. For example, in other states, marijuana legalization has been fought by the pharmaceutical industry, the alcohol industry and a few wealthy donors like gambling developer Sheldon Adelson. The Virginia-based group appears to be headquartered in an office building, but there's no phone listing or web presence.

Maine Public finally reached Kevin Sabet, a longtime opponent of legalizing marijuana. In an email, Sabet wrote that he is the president of the Alliance. 

He wrote: "We are based in Alexandria, Virginia, and we finance campaigns and education programs to promote healthy marijuana policies. We are recently incorporated with the IRS. Our donors and board members are people who have been affected by the harms of marijuana; we do not accept donations from PhARMA, alcohol, Tobacco or other similar industries."

Sabet did not identify the group's donors.

So you like me, you really like me

 

A recently released tracking poll by The University of New Hampshire Survey Center and WMUR asked New Hampshire voters to describe the two leading presidential candidates in one word. 

 

The results were ... well, they weren't very nice. For Clinton, the top three responses were as follows: 22 percent described her as dishonest/liar, 8 percent said experience and 7 percent said corrupt/crooked. Trump's top three: 12 percent used a word that Maine Public cannot, 7 percent said businessman, 5 percent said arrogant.

 

Keep in mind that this was an open response question, not multiple choice. 

 

Page 4 of the poll has a handy word cloud, if you're interested and not easily offended.