The New Black Panther Party was there, on cue. Standing outside of the 4th precinct in Philadelphia’s 14th ward, there was Jerry Jackson, a member of the leather-loving fringe group who’d signed up to be a poll watcher for the Nov. 6 election. Fox News was there, too. In 2008, the network spent hours playing and replaying a video of two Panthers glaring at a conservative poll-watcher as he filmed them. This year the network sent its own reporter, who tried to interview Jackson. “Have you been around a lot today? What’s your purpose of being here?” He said nothing. The network switched to video of the 35th ward, where people waiting in a school to vote were walking past a mural of the president, even after Republicans sued to get it covered up. “This remained untouched for hours as people voted!” said reporter Eric Shawn.
Hours later, the network called Pennsylvania for Barack Obama. Days later, the network is still combing for evidence that Philadelphia—and by extension, the whole state—was stolen through Democratic chicanery. It was “mathematically impossible,” according to Sean Hannity, that 59 Philadelphia precincts had registered no votes for Mitt Romney. “There is cheating going on in our elections!” The story and the sentiment spread beyond Fox. Defeated Alaska U.S. Senate candidate Joe Miller tweeted about the precinct story, and grumbled that it “sounds like western Alaska, circa 2010.”
None of this comes as a surprise to me. Four years ago, when Barack Obama won the largest electoral mandate in a generation, I watched the embryonic “birther” movement try to overturn the results in court. It was easy to find Republicans who thought ACORN-led fraud rigged the election for Obama—52 percent of them, according to a Public Policy Polling survey.
The 59 Precincts Theory is a natural, paranoid extension of this. In Wisconsin, Mitt Romney’s state co-chair asserts that voter ID could have changed the result, stoking fears of “all sorts of different precincts and all sorts of same-day registrations.” In Ohio, conservative bloggers are raising questions about Cleveland precincts that cast no Romney votes. In Pennsylvania, when Republican House Leader Mike Turzai said voter ID would “allow Mitt Romney to win the state of Pennsylvania,” he was implying that fraudulent votes had made up the old Democratic margins.
There is a common thread: a total lack of evidence that any fraud occurred. Let’s start in Cleveland, where bloggers have been writing about more than 100 precincts where Obama won at least 99 percent of the vote and 16 precincts where Mitt Romney won no votes at all. “How in the world did this happen?” asked an anonymous author at YoloHub. “Third world dictators don’t even get 99 percent of the vote.”