Donald Trump has taken to saying it over and over again: that the November election is “going to be rigged,” that “crooked Hillary” and her scheming accomplices will somehow manage to steal a victory that should rightfully be his. He has said this in many ways, about the election nationwide and about the election in specific places. As he told his supporters at a recent rally in Altoona, “The only way we can lose . . . is if cheating goes on.” Only Trump himself can know whether he is saying this to pre-explain an anticipated defeat, to cast doubt on his opponent’s integrity, or simply to kick up a cloud that will further arouse the fears of the alienated Americans who have fueled his campaign all year. And he isn’t saying. But more than any of Trump’s other outlandish claims—more than any of his other inaccuracies and falsehoods—this one is dangerous. It’s dangerous because it undermines faith in the integrity of democracy itself.
However you try to slice it, and Trump has sliced it several ways, reputable experts across the political spectrum agree that it would be essentially impossible to deliberately or systemically alter the outcome of a national election. It can’t be done by means of voter fraud (which is virtually non-existent), through buying votes (too tough and legally risky to pull off nationwide), or tampering with voting machines (which are often backed up by paper ballots or other means of auditing). One study by the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law found that a person is more likely to be struck by lightning than to commit in-person voter impersonation, which is one of the means of cheating that Trump has suggested could sway the coming election outcome for Hillary Clinton. A survey by Justin Levitt, a professor at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles, found only 31 credible incidents around the country, between 2000 and 2014, in which someone may have pretended to be someone else at the polls in general, primary, special, and municipal elections. In general and primary elections alone, more than 1 billion ballots were cast during that period.