Elections

‘Rigged’ Florida election? Trump shouldn’t bet on it

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks in Youngstown, Ohio, Monday, Aug. 15, 2016.
Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks in Youngstown, Ohio, Monday, Aug. 15, 2016. AP

A “rigged” election?

Donald Trump is warning that the fix is in: The 2016 election could be stolen by Hillary Clinton and the Democrats.

“I hope the Republicans are watching closely, or it’s going to be taken away from us,” Trump said in Ohio.

He pounded the theme in Pennsylvania, and his website now invites people in Florida and elsewhere to sign up as “election observers.”

It looks like another Trump tactic to rev up his base, and more than a few people are sure to take him up on his offer.

But it simply doesn’t hold up to scrutiny, especially in Florida, the state with the most experience on this subject, thanks to the 2000 Bush-Gore election.

First of all, Florida, unlike Pennsylvania, has required voters to show proof of ID for nearly two decades. (A judge struck down Pennsylvania’s voter ID law as a barrier to minority voters not supported by fears of fraud, and the state did not appeal.)

Second, the people who run elections in Florida are elected by the voters in every county but Miami-Dade, and while they work to be scrupulously nonpartisan, a majority of them happen to be Republican. (They want to run without party labels like judges do, but the Legislature won’t let them.)

So assuming Trump’s fear-mongering had any merit, and people wanted to rig the election, wouldn’t they rig it in favor of their own party?

Third, Florida’s ballot system has a built-in paper trail — the ballots.

After the hanging-chad fiasco of 2000, Florida switched to electronic touch-screen machines for the 2004 election.

But that produced a whole new set of problems, most notably 18,000 mysterious under-votes in a close race for Congress in Sarasota.

In 2007, former Gov. Charlie Crist ordered touch screens replaced with the system in use across the state today: paper ballots filled out by hand and fed to scanning machines.

The change cost $33 million, but it restored faith in Florida voting.

As Trump’s talk of a rigged election gained media traction, Florida elections officials pushed back with an open letter last week to the state’s 12.4 million registered voters, most of whom will be casting ballots in November.

“We are a paper ballot state,” wrote Clay County Supervisor of Elections Chris Chambless. “Should any disruption or corruption in the transmission of vote totals occur, we can always refer to the original paper ballot.”

After the election is over and the winners declared, Chambless wrote, officials conduct a precinct-by-precinct review of tapes showing the results, then compare those tapes to the unofficial election night totals.

“Rest assured,” Chambless told voters. “[We] will remain ever vigilant.”

And by the way, those “election observers” that Trump is recruiting are nothing new to Florida, either.

They’re called poll watchers.

Every candidate and party can assign a watcher to any early voting site or polling place. Mostly, what they do is watch who’s voting so they can contact those who haven’t voted yet.

Trump can relax. A lot of people are already watching closely in Florida.

Contact Steve Bousquet at bousquet@tampabay.com. Follow @stevebousquet.

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