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Trump’s claim of a ‘rigged election’ is hurting Michigan Republicans

“This whole election, it’s being rigged.” That’s the message coming from Republican Presidential candidate Donald Trump. And, there are certainly some Trump supporters who believe it.

But, is there any truth to that claim? Can an election be rigged the way Trump seems to be suggesting?

Before we try and answer that question, we should point out, that Trump and company are actually talking about two different types of “election rigging.”

One is alleged media bias - that Trump says the mainstream media (whatever that even means these days) is in the tank for his opponent.

But, what we are talking about here are the actual mechanics of the election itself. Can a candidate - or party - actually steal enough votes in Michigan to change an election result?

Evidence suggests it’s unlikely.

First of all, Trump’s name is not the only one on the Republican ballot. It appears that many Michigan GOP leaders and bankrollers are betting that maximizing turnout for Trump is still their best hedge against disaster lower on the ballot, whether Trump wins or loses.

In fact, a handful of GOP donors threw more than a million dollars last month into a get-out-the-vote fund. That would benefit Trump at the top of the ballot as well as other Republicans running.

These folks are concerned that Trump’s tanking could mean a lot of otherwise likely Republican voters will simply stay home, dooming candidates for state Representative, Congress, County Commission, etc.

Meantime, it’s not just candidates on the ballot that Trump could be hurting. His claim of a rigged election is actually an indictment of some fellow Republicans who are elections officials - like Michigan Secretary of State Ruth Johnson. Trump is basically saying fellow GOP officials aren’t doing their jobs properly.

But, here is what we know - straight from the state: it would be very, very hard to rig a statewide election in Michigan.

First, local clerks handle the details of balloting and election day. That is many, many people from varying political persuasions.

Second, Michigan is a paper ballot state, where people have to make a mark on their ballot. If there’s a challenge, every ballot can be checked. With no interference from the internet.

And, as Fred Woodhams of the state Bureau of Elections says, Michigan has done a very good job of cleaning up the voter rolls.

“We’ve removed 889,000 voters because they’ve died or they moved out of the state. There’s an incredible amount of redundancy and checks and balances to ensure that the results on election day have integrity, and that they are accurate.”

Nevertheless, Trump is putting Ruth Johnson and other Republicans in the position of having to defend the integrity of the elections they are overseeing.

Johnson, like Governor Rick Snyder, has declined to endorse in this year’s presidential race. But they both have loyalties to candidates lower on the ballot.

And, during all of this, Democrats are trying to capitalize on Trump casting shade on the election results. They’ve called on Republican candidates in roughly a dozen competitive state House seats to promise to respect election results.

But that’s really an effort to tie those candidates to Trump.

In order to rig an election so Trump would lose means Michigan Republican officials would also be turning a blind eye to practices that would cost Republicans in tight state House and congressional races.

Zoe Clark is Michigan Public's Political Director. In this role, Clark guides coverage of the state Capitol, elections, and policy debates.
Rick Pluta is Senior Capitol Correspondent for the Michigan Public Radio Network. He has been covering Michigan’s Capitol, government, and politics since 1987.
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