WashU Expert: Rigged election claim ‘horrible and pernicious’

No basis in fact to 'rigged election' talk, Magarian says

Donald Trump speaking
Donald Trump speaking at the 2013 Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in National Harbor, Maryland. (Credit: Gage Skidmore/Flickr/Creative Commons)

There is no basis in logic or fact to the claims by Donald Trump and some of his surrogates that this year’s presidential election is rigged against Trump, says an election law expert at Washington University in St. Louis.

Trump’s argument focuses on three concerns, said Greg Magarian, professor of law: “Those are in-person voter fraud, cheating by local election officials and conspiratorial adverse press coverage. The absurdity of all three claims exposes Trump’s ‘rigged election’ argument as dangerous demagoguery.”


Over the past decade, Republicans have promoted a myth that in-person voter fraud is a serious problem, Magarian said.

“They’ve used this myth to pass onerous voter-identification laws designed to prevent Democratic constituencies from voting,” Magarian said. “Trump has picked up on his party’s strategy to suggest that massive in-person voter fraud will happen in November.

“In-person voter fraud almost never happens,” he added. “To show up at a polling place and claim to be someone else is risky, especially for the undocumented immigrants who Trump seems to believe will cast fraudulent votes. For any candidate to coordinate many people for an in-person voting fraud operation would take far more time and money than simply getting the candidate’s supporters to the polls.”

Trump’s complaints about cheating by local election officials, repeated by former New York mayor Rudolph Giuliani, are baseless and racist, Magarian said.

“Giuliani warns of cheating in ‘the inner cities,’ which is the shrillest of dog whistles for cheating by African-Americans,” Magarian said. “Is cheating possible? Of course. But it’s just as possible in the white areas that revere Giuliani as in the African-American precincts he’s smearing. We should monitor state election officials everywhere vigilantly, and we should presume they’re acting with integrity until and unless we have evidence that they aren’t.”

Trump argues that media has  conspired to attack him, leading to his dip in  national polls.

This argument makes no sense, Magarian said.

“Journalists don’t conspire; they compete,” he said. “In addition, Trump arguably owes more of his success to ‘free media’ than any other politician in our country’s history. The most important thing about Trump’s ‘press conspiracy’ claim is its illustration of Trump’s contempt for a free press and the First Amendment. Trump says he should be able to sue journalists for criticizing him. Media advocates have rightly called his candidacy a serious threat to First Amendment rights.”

The irony, Magarian said, is that we have many good reasons to question the structural health of our electoral system, including undue influence by moneyed interests, election laws that suppress competition and other election laws that suppress voting.

“These serious problems demand attention by serious people,” Magarian said. “Trump’s ‘rigged election’ ravings aren’t horrible and pernicious because our electoral system is perfect. They’re horrible and pernicious because our electoral system has real failings, and Trump’s noise is drowning out the conversation we should be having about those failings.”

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