Of all the controversies that have cropped up during Donald Trump’s presidential campaign, his assertion that the general election could be “rigged” inspired one of the swiftest rebuttals. A fundamental part of any election is widespread acceptance of the validity of the results, and if Trump were to lose and claim fraud without evidence, political scientists and others argued, he would undermine the electoral process. Trump, increasingly losing ground in polls, told supporters at a rally this month that he’s afraid the election results won’t reflect voters’ intent. He threw his support behind voter ID rules while campaigning in Wilmington, N.C., this week, saying they help protect against fraud. But an appeals court ruled last month that the state’s voter ID law was enacted “with discriminatory intent” against black voters. Some state legislatures have promoted voter ID laws as a way to prevent election fraud, while critics contend that the regulations target and disenfranchise minority voters, who tend to vote for Democrats. Some of Trump’s supporters share his concern. According to a poll released by Public Policy Polling this week, 69% of Trump backers in North Carolina think a Hillary Clinton win would be the result of a rigged election. But an examination of how votes are cast and tallied in the U.S. shows that it would be extremely difficult for anyone to commit voter fraud at a scale that would tip an election or for election officials to rig balloting. This is how the voting process works: There is no national system or code that dictates how election votes should be tabulated.
The Election Assistance Commission, a government board established after the close 2000 presidential election that went to the Supreme Court, notes that “votes are aggregated and counted by local election officials as prescribed by state law” in the country’s roughly 13,000 election jurisdictions.
State election officials are responsible for certifying election results for races that cross jurisdictions, such as gubernatorial and senatorial races. State authorities also must certify election results for the presidency and vice presidency. The federal government’s involvement comes when votes for president and vice president are certified by Congress. The losing candidate in a contested U.S. House or Senate race can appeal to Congress as well.
The process helps minimize errors and instances of fraud, the commission says. “Decentralization limits the opportunities for fraud or corruption, by making it extremely difficult to accomplish on a scale grand enough to be decisive without being detected,” according to the commission.