With just a few weeks left until voters start casting their ballots, GOP nominee Donald Trump has finally cut a general election TV ad, which will air in Pennsylvania, Ohio, Florida, and North Carolina. One of the very first images in the 30-second ad shows a line of people waiting in line to vote, with a soundtrack of ominous music playing and the words “system rigged” emblazoned across the screen.
In the context of the last few weeks, amid Trump’s warnings of election rigging and potentially illegal exhortations for untrained supporters to help root out voter fraud, the message of the ad is clear. Trump, who is down in the polls (all of them), is encouraging his base to view a Clinton victory as illegitimate.
Trump’s insistence in interviews and campaign speeches that the election could be rigged seems to be resonating with his supporters.
At a town hall in New Hampshire this week, a resident asked Trump’s running mate Mike Pence what the campaign is doing to address election integrity. “Even if we get out and we vote, and the voting machines are rigged,” the voter said. Pence called it a “great question.”
Pence said nothing about the measures proposed by experts that would make the country’s aging voting machines more secure — such as encryption software, audits, and a secure paper trail. Instead, he held up voter ID laws as the solution to Trump supporters’ fears of election rigging, touting the law in his own home state of Indiana. Pence also encouraged the roughly 200 people present to become election day poll watchers, telling them: “You are the greatest vanguard for integrity in voting.”
Voter ID laws disenfranchise many eligible voters — disproportionately low-income people of color. The Indiana voter ID law Pence touted was challenged and taken all the way to the Supreme Court, where one Justice worried that it would impose nontrivial burdens on the voting right of tens of thousands of the State’s citizens.” It was ultimately upheld 6–3.
Such policies also do nothing to address the kind of election machine hacking that both voters and cybersecurity experts genuinely fear. Nothing would prevent a voter with the proper ID from tampering with an electronic voting machine and changing its results. The only type of fraud addressed by voter ID laws is nearly nonexistent: an ineligible voter impersonating an eligible voter at the polling place, which is already a felony crime.
Yet even as federal courts are striking down voter ID laws left and right for unconstitutionally suppressing votes, Trump, Pence and other Republicans are encouraging fear of widespread election fraud to promote the adoption and defense of such laws. With legal battles over such laws still ongoing in key swing states, the talk of rigging is not likely to die down in the coming months.