Donald Trump accused the American establishment of trying to rig the presidential election in favor of Hillary Clinton:

"Remember, we are competing in a rigged election," Trump said at a Wisconsin rally Monday night. "They even want to try and rig the election at the polling booths, where so many cities are corrupt and voter fraud is all too common."

Meanwhile, Hillary Clinton accused the Russian establishment of trying to rig the election in favor of Donald Trump:

“It’s almost unthinkable,” Mrs. Clinton said on Monday, referring to what she called recent “credible reports about Russian interference in our elections” and citing a hacking of the Democratic National Committee’s emails in July.

This raises the question: is it even possible to rig the elections? Could the American or Russian establishment skew the actual election results if whoever is picked is not favored by them? And if yes, how?

  • @John Slegers see:voter fraud is a big problem in the US.... – user 1 Nov 3 '16 at 9:46
  • 9
    This seems to be an issue over the meaning of the word "rig". Prior to this election, "rigging an election" usually meant interfering with the vote itself, for example stuffing ballot boxes, miscounting votes, obstructing voter registration, that kind of thing. Of course it's possible for a well-funded or well-positioned group to do that, to some extent. But Trump is now using it to mean (among other things) news reporting he considers biassed against him, and Clinton to mean the use of espionage to generate events embarrassing to her. This is "interfering", not "rigging". – Steve Jessop Nov 3 '16 at 10:34
  • And prior to this election, I don't think any candidate accused biassed media (whether that be Fox News or the Washington Post) of "rigging" an election. They were sometimes said to be "participating" in the campaign on behalf of their preferred candidate. – Steve Jessop Nov 3 '16 at 10:35
  • 3
    @JohnSlegers: Come to think of it, the media (in particular NBC) were accused of improperly calling Florida too soon. This might fall at the soft end of election-rigging, except that they called it for Gore first, then withdrew that, then called it for Bush (this time, Fox was first). Then all media reported a Bush win on the basis of the initial count, and it's not clear whether or not this belief in a "de facto" result might have influenced both Florida courts and SCOTUS not to change the "accepted" winner. – Steve Jessop Nov 3 '16 at 10:50
  • 2
    Define rigging. You have a system where it's hard to vote if you are poor (and/or black) and where most votes don't count because of the electoral college. It's still the best democracy money can buy. – Martin Schröder Nov 3 '16 at 14:52

Is it possible to rig elections?

There are plenty of criminal offences in relation to rigging elections: voter impersonation or intimidation, interfering with ballot boxes or voting machines, vote-buying, abuse of public offices. From time to time, people have been convicted of these offences. It seems reasonable to suppose that from time to time, people have got away with them. There's no undisputed example of unlawful tampering with the electoral process actually changing the result of a Presidential election, in the sense of a criminal conviction where the crime committed changed the result. You can't precisely accuse George W. Bush of rigging Florida in 2000 by winning a court case, although some do accuse him of "stealing" the election, since they don't agree with all the various courts' decisions in respect of the recount.

Some people accuse Jeb Bush of rigging Florida 2000 by purging voter rolls of innocent voters on the pretext of them being convicted felons from out-of-state, when in fact they were not. But this is hardly undisputed. He did use lists of out-of-state convicted felons to remove names. Many of the people he removed co-incidentally shared names with convicted felons. But he didn't even completely block them from voting: merely made it harder for them to vote than it was for people who didn't share one of those names. Whatever someone thinks his intent might have been in terms of disproportionately affecting Democrat voters, there were no grounds for a prosecution, so as far as the indisputables go, he was playing the game by the rules. However it was in that case near-certainly possible for a state Governor to improperly affect the outcome of a Presidential election. Whether Jeb Bush actually did so is irrelevant: the situation merely illustrates that there are mechanisms by which a Governor could act improperly and have some chance of getting away with it.

Is it possible for the American establishment and the Russian government to do the things Trump and Clinton accuse them of?

For the most part yes, it is possible for the American establisment to present a consistently biassed view against Trump, and it is possible for the Russian government to sponsor hackers to retrieve Clinton's emails or other sensitive information from wherever it might lie.

Can the things they're accused of affect the election outcome?

Depends how close it is. If it's really close then anything can affect the outcome, so it's possible. In a close count, both sides will have observers disputing the interpretation of particular ballots on a case-by-case basis, because even a (literal) handful of votes could swing the result. In a situation like that, even a small amount of electoral fraud, or a small number of people whose vote was swayed by a negative story about a candidate, could be enough.

Does the establishment of either the US or Russia get to decide the result of the election?

Not in general. Certainly they can't both have the power to just decide the result, but if either of them does then it's the US establishment in best position to somehow manipulate the voting and counting process. It's big-time conspiracy territory to suppose that there's any person who decides whether or not they like the result and flip it if not. Rather, members of the establishment seek to obstruct their opponents, and it would be astonishing if this never extends to improper or illegal interference.

It's generally considered unethical for foreign powers to interfere at all in elections, but to suppose that neither the Russian nor the US government has ever sought to affect the results of a foreign election would be naive. Both states have sponsored armed coups in other countries in the past, never mind under-the-table support for their preferred candidate. The extent to which their intelligence services get involved in campaigning in each others' elections is of course unknown, but I suppose it's safe to say that Russian elections have never been close enough that the US government has ever had any real hope of affecting the outcome. So if either of them has a chance of doing it effectively to the other one, then it's Russia to the US.

Is interfering with an election rightly described as "rigging it".

Not always. The common understanding of "election rigging", I think, is illegal interference in the electoral process itself. Illegal interference in the campaign is not usually described as "rigging", even though it's improper and it could affect the outcome at least in principle. In practice it's incredibly difficult to evaluate hypothetical questions like, "if this bad story about a candidate hadn't come out during the campaign, would they still have lost?", but pollsters can try to establish people's reasons for voting as they did, or for switching their intentions when they did.

  • 4
    There are also attempts at preventing the opposition to vote. Some real-life examples include reducing the number of polling stations and voting machines in some areas. Or not allowing people who have been in jail to vote. Or by making it difficult to register yourself. Or by accepting different types of identification for voting (like accepting gun carry permit, but not student id). – liftarn Nov 3 '16 at 12:33
  • @SVilcans: yes, all of which can be legal at least to a point, so calling it "rigging" usually signifies that the speaker doesn't think it should be legal. Could also include boundary changes in that list: on the face of it they don't affect Presidential elections (other than state boundaries), but they can affect where you have to go to vote. More of an issue for House elections, where they clearly affect outcomes. – Steve Jessop Nov 3 '16 at 12:40
  • 1
    Innocent voters=out of state felons, and that's a pretext? Really? Sounds like whats required legally to me, because it is. – K Dog Nov 3 '16 at 12:52
  • 5
    @K Dog: a lot of people who were not out of state felons had their names removed from the electoral register. It was not legally required to remove everyone with the same name as an out of state felon. There are duties to prevent felons from voting while permitting non-felons to vote, and of course an area of conflict in cases where you aren't sure whether the person is a felon or not. Those who say it was a pretext are saying that Jeb not only erred too far on the side of removing names, but knowingly did so, and AFAIK there's no proof of that. – Steve Jessop Nov 3 '16 at 13:00
  • 7
    @K Dog: but Jeb Bush was not required by federal statute to do it (or rather, to arrange to have it done) in precisely the way he chose to do it. As with many things, Governors make decisions, their job is not merely to mindlessly follow federal procedure. – Steve Jessop Nov 3 '16 at 13:17

I will make an assumption as to the intended definition of "rig" in order to make a valuable answer one of the possible outcomes of this response. For the purpose of this response, "rig" means to intentionally affect the outcome of the election to such a degree as to enable the final outcome to be different than the outcome resulting solely from the 'accurate and official' vote tally.

In the absence of hard numbers, the qualitative, common-sense answer is 'no'. Supporting 'evidence' may be found in the manner in which vote counts are collected, counted, and verified. Voting booths are managed on a local, district level ultimately run and administered by a publically elected county official. Taking into account the sheer number of counties in each state, and considering each county independently performs (is responsible for) both the counting and verification of the final count totals, significant manipulation of the vote tallies would require the cooperation of a large number of public officials and/or the multitudes of persons working the individual district voter locations; a feat overwhelmingly unlikely in any circumstance.

A successful manipulation of a national election in the United States is much, much more likely to occur via one or more very small, but selectively specific segments of the overall vote (i.e. single district locations possibly involving single or small groups of persons) which, due to the specific circumstances of the election, provide a window of opportunity due to the relative importance of the specific district vote totals; a situation not common to all elections in any case.


It's widely reported that the 1960 election was stolen by Democrats in favor of JFK. I don't know that it's widely disputed much anymore.

In a discussion of modern electoral fraud, MSNBC’s Andrea Mitchell on Monday offered a journalistic admission: She conceded that the 1960 presidential election was “obviously” “stolen” from Richard Nixon. Talking about a “constitutional crisis” if Donald Trump does not concede the presidential election, Mitchell blurted, “How have we come to this point? Some of the better moments in American history, the peaceful transfer of power.”

She continued, providing this example: “Richard Nixon not challenging... that Kennedy had stolen the election in 1960, which obviously had been stolen in 1960.” It’s rare for liberal journalists to admit the electoral fraud of the dead voting for Kennedy in Illinois. (Voter fraud also occurred in Lyndon Johnson’s Texas.) JFK’s popular vote margin was just over 100,000 votes out of 70 million cast. Newsbusters.org

So how was it done? This account is from Wikipedia:

Many people believed that Kennedy benefited from vote fraud, especially in Texas, where his running mate Lyndon B. Johnson was Senator, and Illinois, home of Mayor Richard Daley's powerful Chicago political machine.[43] These two states were important because if Nixon had carried both, he would have earned 270 electoral votes, one more than the 269 needed to win the majority in the Electoral College and the presidency. Republican Senators such as Everett Dirksen and Barry Goldwater also thought that vote fraud "played a role in the election",[42] and that Nixon actually won the national popular vote. Republicans tried and failed to overturn the results in both Illinois and Texas at the time—as well as in nine other states.[48] Some journalists also later claimed that mobster Sam Giancana and his Chicago crime syndicate "played a role" in Kennedy's victory in Illinois.[48]

Nixon's campaign staff urged him to pursue recounts and challenge the validity of Kennedy's victory in several states, especially in Illinois, Missouri, and New Jersey, where large majorities in Catholic precincts handed Kennedy the election.[42] However, Nixon gave a speech three days after the election stating that he would not contest the election.[42] The Republican National Chairman, Senator Thruston Ballard Morton of Kentucky, visited Key Biscayne, Florida, where Nixon had taken his family for a vacation, and pushed for a recount.[42] Morton did challenge the results in 11 states,[43] keeping challenges in the courts into the summer of 1961; however, the only result of these challenges was the loss of Hawaii to Kennedy on a recount.

Kennedy won Illinois by less than 9,000 votes out of 4.75 million cast, or a margin of 0.2%.[43] However, Nixon carried 92 of the state's 101 counties, and Kennedy's victory in Illinois came from the city of Chicago, where Mayor Richard J. Daley held back much of Chicago's vote until the late morning hours of November 9. The efforts of Daley and the powerful Chicago Democratic organization gave Kennedy an extraordinary Cook County victory margin of 450,000 votes—more than 10% of Chicago's 1960 population of 3.55 million,[49] although Cook County also includes many suburbs outside of Chicago's borders—thus barely overcoming the heavy Republican vote in the rest of Illinois. Earl Mazo, a reporter for the pro-Nixon New York Herald Tribune, investigated the voting in Chicago and "claimed to have discovered sufficient evidence of vote fraud to prove that the state was stolen for Kennedy."[43]

In Texas, Kennedy defeated Nixon by a narrow 51 to 49% margin, or 46,000 votes.[43] Some Republicans argued that Johnson's formidable political machine had stolen enough votes in counties along the Mexican border to give Kennedy the victory. Kennedy's defenders, such as his speechwriter and special assistant Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr., have argued that Kennedy's margin in Texas (46,000 votes) was simply too large for vote fraud to have been a decisive factor. Russell D. Renka, a former political science professor at Southeastern Missouri State University,[50] acknowledged that it was more than likely that Johnson's political machine in the state's lower Rio Grande Valley counties, including the notorious Duval County, could have "managed to produce a significant number of forged votes" for Kennedy.[51] However, Renka also acknowledged that Kennedy's margin in the state's initial tally "made it far too difficult to prove that voter fraud had determined who won Texas" and that "any recount would also have been hard to conduct."[51]

Cases of voter fraud were discovered in Texas. For example, Fannin County had only 4,895 registered voters, yet 6,138 votes were cast in that county, three-quarters for Kennedy.[42] In an Angelina County precinct, Kennedy received 187 votes to Nixon's 24, though there were only a total of 86 registered voters in the precinct.[42] When Republicans demanded a statewide recount, they learned that the state Board of Elections, whose members were all Democrats, had already "certified" Kennedy as the official winner in Texas.[42]

In Illinois, Schlesinger and others have pointed out that, even if Nixon had carried Illinois, the state alone would not have given him the victory, as Kennedy would still have won 276 electoral votes to Nixon's 246 (with 269 needed to win). More to the point, Illinois was the site of the most extensive challenge process, which fell short despite repeated efforts spearheaded by Cook County state's attorney, Benjamin Adamowski, a Republican, who also lost his re-election bid. Despite demonstrating net errors favoring both Nixon and Adamowski (some precincts—40% in Nixon's case—showed errors favoring them, a factor suggesting error, rather than fraud), the totals found fell short of reversing the results for either candidate. While a Daley-connected circuit judge, Thomas Kluczynski (who would later be appointed a federal judge by Kennedy, at Daley's recommendation), threw out a federal lawsuit "filed to contend" the voting totals,[42] the Republican-dominated State Board of Elections unanimously rejected the challenge to the results. Furthermore, there were signs of possible irregularities in downstate areas controlled by Republicans, which Democrats never seriously pressed, since the Republican challenges went nowhere.[52] More than a month after the election, the Republican National Committee abandoned its Illinois voter fraud claims.[43]

However, a special prosecutor assigned to the case brought charges against 650 people, which did not result in convictions.[42] Three Chicago election workers were convicted of voter fraud in 1962 and served short terms in jail.[42] Mazo, the Herald-Tribune reporter, later said that he "found names of the dead who had voted in Chicago, along with 56 people from one house."[42] He found cases of Republican voter fraud in southern Illinois, but said that the totals "did not match the Chicago fraud he found."[42] After Mazo had published four parts of an intended 12-part voter fraud series documenting his findings which was re-published nationally, he said, "Nixon requested his publisher stop the rest of the series so as to prevent a constitutional crisis."[42] Nevertheless, the Chicago Tribune (which routinely endorsed GOP presidential candidates, including Nixon in 1960, 1968 and 1972) wrote that "the election of November 8 was characterized by such gross and palpable fraud as to justify the conclusion that [Nixon] was deprived of victory."[42] Had Nixon won both states, he would have ended up with exactly 270 electoral votes and the presidency, with or without a victory in the popular vote.

Anecdotally, campaign pollsters I've talked to on both sides of the aisle say that any GOP lead needs to be above the margin for error (about 3-5%) for them to be confident of a win, as that is about the amount of fraud committed in any given election.

  • 12
    Your anecdote contending that every election is fraudulent is baseless without any references. – jalynn2 Nov 3 '16 at 15:31
  • 11
    Worse than that, it assumes that all fraud is one-sided, and conflates error with fraud. – Chris H Nov 3 '16 at 15:31
  • 9
    "Anecdotally..." indeed. – user1530 Nov 3 '16 at 15:51
  • 2
    Also, you should list out the proper citation rather than just "link". That first citation comes from a right-wing media site. Which is fine, but don't hide it under a non-descript link, please. – user1530 Nov 3 '16 at 15:54
  • 2
    Your longer quote from Wikipedia doesn't actually support your Newsbusters-based claim. So -1. – Fizz Aug 23 '18 at 5:27

"Rigged" is not a very precise term.

How about "Influenced", that's obviously true--advertisements and speeches influence elections.

Perhaps "Improperly Influenced"--this year we've had examples of sending people to voting places to "Monitor" them which will have the (un?)intended effect of scaring some voters away. I also heard on the way in that people are posting images telling people they can vote by just texting #Hillary and saving themselves that nasty trip to the polls.

Or maybe "Illegally Influenced"--We currently have at least one state being investigated for removing blacks from the voter registration lists.

Or how about manipulation through fear tactics? Not at all illegal, but when you frighten a certain group with a subject such as "Abortion" or "Guns" you are influencing voters where whichever person is elected they will probably have minimal effect on those areas compared to all the decisions they will make. No Democrat OR republican has had a significant impact in either of these areas in quite a while--yet both sides use them as hot-button topics.


Is it possible? Of course, the elections are rigged! Not so much in the realm of miscounting, tampering with, or tossing out ballots. Although all of those injustices occur more or less depending on the polling place.

Where the real voter fraud happens is long before the first vote is cast. A duopoly of private corporations, called the Democratic and Republican parties, hold sway over not only the Presidential election, but every other election of consequence. The only true votes cast and the true voters who cast them are those who are on the Democratic National Committee and the Republican National Committee. These two privately owned "kingmaker" committees decide who their respective parties will endorse.

So pervasive is this system of voter fraud that no one even questions it. The assume that the Constitution establishes the "two party system" or at least "political parties" to organize the candidates. In truth, the Constitution is silent on political parties. The Constitution does not authorize parties to select candidates, fund them, or take any part in our Republic's elections.

Yet, there they are, urging us to vote for "their" candidate because the other candidate is Satan. Perhaps the other candidate is Satan. Their candidate is Beelzebub. Given those two choices of what value is your vote? I tell you, you were defrauded of your vote long before you cast it into the dark realms of the Abyss.

You must log in to answer this question.