PHILADELPHIA – Donald Trump continued to declare Monday – without evidence and as fellow Republicans distance themselves from the claim – that “large-scale voter fraud” is happening in the Nov. 8 general election for president.
A group of elected officials from Philadelphia gathered in City Hall on Monday to rebut the Republican presidential nominee’s claim, made most recently in a morning tweet.
“The real threat to the integrity of elections in Philadelphia isn’t voter fraud, though it does rarely occur,” said Al Schmidt, vice chairman of the City Commissioners and the three-member board’s lone Republican. “And it isn’t even Russian hackers, though they may certainly exist. The real threat to the integrity of elections is irresponsible accusations that undermine confidence in the electoral process.”
City Council President Darrell Clarke, a Democrat, put an even finer point on the notion, dismissing Trump as “the guy in the funny hat.”
Trump often appears at outdoor rallies wearing his signature baseball hat emblazoned with the phrase “Make America Great Again.” At rallies in Pennsylvania, Trump has suggested he could lose the state through voter fraud and encouraged supporters to travel to Philadelphia and other places to observe voting there.
“This is a clear attempt to stoke the biases of individuals across the country,” Clarke said. “If you look at the locations where (Trump) has gone in Pennsylvania they are extremely, predominantly white-majority municipalities, to talk about what could happen in places like Philadelphia.”
And while Clarke later said Trump was playing to racism, he also predicted that it would not work.
“The simple reality is the citizens of Pennsylvania are good people,” Clarke said. “They’re not going to rise to that.”
U.S. Rep. Bob Brady, chairman of the Democratic City Committee, said he was happy to hear Trump’s vice presidential candidate, Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, say over the weekend “there will be a fair and honest election in the city of Philadelphia.”
Pence, speaking on NBC’s “Meet The Press Sunday,” said Trump’s rhetoric about a “rigged election” references biased national media outlets that favor Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton but that he and Trump will accept the outcome of the election.
Trump seemed to counter his own running mate in a tweet not long after that interview, saying, “The election is absolutely being rigged by the dishonest and distorted media pushing Crooked Hillary – but also at many polling places – SAD.”
Several speakers at the nonpartisan “Voter Confidence” event raised the issue of election observers who turned up at Philadelphia polling places during the 2003 general election for mayor, claiming to be lawyers and attempting to interview voters.
“They tried to disrupt the process,” said state Sen. Vincent Hughes, a Democrat. “They tried to walk into polling places, which they’re not allowed to do. They tried to question people standing in line.”
City Councilman Curtis Jones Jr., also a Democrat, described that as voter suppression, noting the so-called “voting integrity officers” circulated fliers in neighborhoods before the election claiming they would be searching for voters with outstanding warrants or tickets.
“The real reason that happened was to keep inner-city African-American and Latino voting down,” Jones said.
The state Election Code regulates poll watchers, who must be registered to vote in the county where they observe voting. The speakers were also dismissive of legislation pending in the state House that would allow poll watchers from other counties to travel around the state to observe voting.
David Thornburgh, CEO of the Committee of 70, a good-government watchdog group that is active on Election Day, said that legislation “doesn’t seem to be moving and that’s just as well.”
Schmidt said he has heard the arguments for and against the bill.
“I don’t think there is any added amount of integrity to the process that can be brought by some knucklehead from Altoona coming to Philadelphia on Election Day,” he said.
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