Could this election be stolen?
Have no fear. Despite all the noise, officials say integrity of election here in S.C., at least, is all but assured
When you go to the polls Tuesday, do not be afraid.
The integrity of your vote, and the election itself, is in good hands.
That’s the word from local elections officials and the federal government, as voters get set to head to the polls Tuesday here in the Midlands and across the country.
The admonishment not to fear the polls and the outcome of the election comes amid, arguably, the craziest presidential election in modern memory and repeated talk – much of it precipitated by presidential candidate Donald Trump – of a “rigged election,” as well as fears about voter fraud, intimidation, and suppression.
“Oh, it has been weird,” said Dean Crepes, director of the Lexington County Commission of Registration and Elections.
“But don’t believe everything you see on TV,” he said. “Some people say it was on TV (about a rigged election), so ‘oh my God I’ve got to believe it.’ But, you know, Star Trek was on TV, too.”
Lexington County, and every county in South Carolina for that matter, is guided by a clear set of rules and practices to ensure elections are not stolen, and that people can vote freely without fear of intimidation.
Crepes, a no-nonsense 20-year veteran of both the U.S. Marines and Navy who runs a tight ship from his West Main Street headquarters, said not once in his 13 years at the helm has there ever been an instance of voter fraud in the county.
He said there have been instances where someone has voted absentee and then died, so it appeared there had been a fraudulent deceased voter, “but they were very much alive when they voted.” And in those cases, those votes still count, Crepes noted.
As for voter suppression, which does in fact exist and always has, there has been no evidence of that in these parts this election cycle. In fact, people locally have been voting in record numbers.
Since 2012, the county’s voter rolls have increased from 157,000 to 179,000, Crepes said. And while the state does not have early voting, it does allow absentee-in-person voting for several weeks leading up the election. By the time such voting closes at 5 p.m. Monday, Crepes fully expects 30,000 or more ballots to be cast – versus 18,765 in 2012.
And, Crepes said, he wouldn’t be surprised if total voter turnout also doesn’t exceed 2012, when 72 percent of county voters went to the polls. He said this year it’s entirely possible that turnout could hit 75 percent.
In terms of voter fraud, Crepes said the system is set up to ensure integrity.
Most voters in the county will cast their ballots on electronic iVotronic machines, which are widely used throughout the country. Those machines have experienced serious problems and vulnerabilities in the past, but Crepes maintained they are safe and reliable machines today.
“There is nothing connected,” Crepes said. “The only connection they have to the outside world is electricity…. Security experts have told me you’d have to stand there 8 to 15 minutes to hack into the machines, but you’d have to plug into them first.”
However, Crepes added, poll workers are trained to keep an eye on polling booths, which are not enclosed, and any voters who are taking an inordinately long time to cast their votes.
“No one has to worry about the machines,” he said. “They are 100 percent safe. I’ve got 700 machines here, and I’ve had one machine with a problem in 13 years,” which was quickly resolved.
“Also, in my training I tell people to be aware of what’s going on around the place, where your observers are, where your watchers are,” Crepes said. “Also be aware of the place you’re at. Be familiar with the place, because you might be at a big place where someone can sneak in. If you see something, say something.
“I also give them a local number where they can the sheriff’s dispatch,” he added. “I also tell them that if something goes way sideways, just dial 911. Calling that dispatch number, one (patrol) car shows up. Call 911, they all show up like a bat out of hell.
“I spend a lot of time on that in training, because I want that level of awareness to be way up,” Crepes continued. “It’s kind of like overkill, basically, but I want it to be like that so everyone can feel that when they go (vote), their precincts are safe.”
What about hacking machines before they’re used? Crepes said the machines are coded by the state, and the machines are further coded to the local precinct level and checked before each election. Plus, when they are not being used, they are secured at the county’s election headquarters.
“They’re all stand-alone machines, and what basically happens is we have precinct counts and voter counts, and all that has to match up,” Crepes said. “There’s about three or four different things we have to check on election night to make sure everything is as it should be.”
As for voter intimidation, Crepes said those contingencies are covered as well.
Candidates, their representatives, and others can be either “watchers” or “observers” at the polls, but must adhere to a rigid set of guidelines. Such people can challenge votes or voters. But, in no case, is anyone in either role allowed to harass, intimidate, or coerce any voters. Such practices also are liable to merit a visit by a sheriff’s deputy, Crepes said.
Any voter with concerns is encouraged to contact Crepes. “If anybody has any questions, I always try to explain it to them,” he said.
While Crepes and other local elections officials are on the alert to ensure the election’s integrity, so are federal officials.
Recently, South Carolina’s U.S. Attorney Beth Drake, and the Department of Justice, announced it also planned to have agents and lawyers on call election night to ensure a fair and safe election as part of the government’s nationwide “Election Day Program.”
Drake said two of her assistant U.S. Attorneys will be on duty while the polls are open, and can be reached at (803) 929-3052 and (803) 929-3092. Further, the FBI will have special agents available in each field office and resident agency offices throughout the country to receive allegations of election fraud and other election abuses on election day, she said. The Columbia FBI field office can be reached by the public at (803) 551-4200.
“Ensuring free and fair elections depends in large part on the cooperation of the American electorate,” Drake said. It is imperative that those who have specific information about discrimination or election fraud make that information available immediately to my Office, the FBI, or the Civil Rights Division.”
Federal law protects against such crimes as intimidating or bribing voters, buying and selling votes, impersonating voters, altering vote tallies, stuffing ballot boxes, and marking ballots for voters against their wishes or without their input.
It also contains special protections for the rights of voters and provides that they can vote free from acts that intimidate or harass them. For example, actions of persons designed to interrupt or intimidate voters at polling places by questioning or challenging them, or by photographing or videotaping them, under the pretext that these are actions to uncover illegal voting may violate federal voting rights law, Drake said.
Further, federal law protects the right of voters to make their own ballot or to be assisted by a person of their choice.
“Every citizen must be able to vote without interference or discrimination and to have that vote counted without it being stolen because of fraud,” said Drake. “The Department of Justice will act promptly and aggressively to protect the integrity of the election process.”