I Was a Vote Rigger

(Disclosure: I usually write on mental illness, but many people asked me to make this story public)

Is Donald right? Are elections rigged? Do we need people to watch the polling places to defend against illegal voting? The answers are not as black and white as you may imagine. I know something about this because in 2008, I volunteered for six weeks on the Obama campaign in Philadelphia.

What did we do for six weeks? The entire six weeks was spent correcting voter registration records. The voter registration records are public and both campaigns access them. That is our starting point. Then we try to figure out who on those records will vote for our candidate so we can make sure they get to the polls on election day. We call every single person on the list. Multiple times. Then we go door to door to find them. Multiple times. We ask neighbors about them. We research them. We send out canvassers every weekend.

After dealing with the records so intensely over such a long period, you do learn that the voting registration records contain thousands of ineligible voters!!!

But it is not fraud. They are people who moved, died, divorced, changed names, etc. We know because we scrub these lists day after day. These ineligible voters do not vote. They don't exist anymore at the address and very few people erase their names when they move. So there you have it. The lists do have tens of thousands of ineligible voters on them, but they are not people who vote.

What about Trump's call to "guard the polls" on election day. Is that needed? Yes, and both camps do it. Both camps have a big "get out the vote" effort that calls everyone who is believed to support your candidate and sees that they vote. We have volunteer drivers to take them to the polls if needed. And yes, we have poll watchers. I was one. I wore a white windbreaker because we weren't allowed to wear Obama identification while near the polling place. I was the eyes and ears of a battery of lawyers who would drive to our polling place if needed. Watching the polls, to make sure your supporters get to vote is standard operating procedure and these poll watchers can help advocate for the right to vote if it is denied.

Was there fraud? No. Were their dirty tricks? Yes. In my election district, we hung signs on every supporters door the night before the election telling them where the local polling place was. In the morning, many had been removed, and many were replaced with signs that led to different inaccurate polling places. In addition, many voters received text messages that said the polls were going to be open for two days instead of one to handle the expected large turnout. Obviously, it was not true. They wanted Obama supporters to think they could vote on Wednesday so they would miss the real voting date.

Someone also sent emails, Facebook posts, and text messages everywhere that said police were going to be monitoring polling sites so they could arrest those who were behind on alimony, didn't pay a parking ticket, had a warrant, missed a court appearance, owed money, or was otherwise of interest to law enforcement. The purpose was to keep the vote down. I doubt the people who did these were formally associated with any campaign, but that I don't know.

And finally, what about the claims that the vote was rigged? I think (by memory) there were only six votes for McCain in my particular polling place. I know the count was accurate because we asked every voter who was leaving who they voted for and of those willing to tell us, all voted for Obama. It wasn't a sign of 'rigging' it was a sign of an electorate that wanted Obama to win. The election district I worked in was virtually 100% African American. Obama had virtually unanimous support.

So that's my two cents: The voter rolls contain thousands of false names. But they don't vote. There is not massive voter fraud. There are dirty tricks.

DJ Jaffe is Executive Director of Mental Illness Policy Org., which is non-partisan and in fact has worked closely with Republicans to improve care for people with serious mental illness.