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Trump allies defend allegations of ‘rigged’ election – but say it won’t happen here

Arizona Republican Party Chairman Robert Graham

Arizona Republican Party Chairman Robert Graham

Top allies of Donald Trump in Arizona said they don’t believe the 2016 presidential election will be rigged, but defended the GOP nominee over a slew of remarks that have drawn condemnation from Republicans across the country, including some supporters.

Trump has made repeated allegations in recent days that the election will be rigged against him. While many of his fusillades are directed at the media, which he accuses of running false and negative stories about him as part of a concerted effort to tilt the election to Hillary Clinton, he has also claimed that 2016 will be rife with election fraud as well.

In an October 16 tweet, Trump said the election is “absolutely being rigged by the dishonest and distorted media – but also at many polling places.” Later that day, Trump warned a crowd of supporters at a rally in Green Bay, Wisconsin, “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.” One day later, Trump wrote on Twitter, “Of course there is large scale voter fraud happening on and before Election Day. Why do Republican leaders deny what is going on? So naïve!”

Among the Republicans who have pushed back on Trump’s narrative of a rigged election are U.S. House Speaker Paul Ryan and Florida U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, a Trump rival in the GOP primaries. U.S. Sen. Jeff Flake, a longtime Trump critic who is not backing him in the election, took to Twitter to refute the nominee’s claims. “States, backed by tens of thousands of GOP and DEM volunteers, ensure integrity of electoral process. Elections are not rigged,” the Republican senator wrote on Monday. Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted, a Trump ally, said the businessman’s comments were “irresponsible.”

That’s not a sentiment shared by some of Trump’s surrogates and allies in Arizona.

Arizona Republican Party Chairman Robert Graham said doesn’t think Trump’s comments are irresponsible. He said he’s not concerned that Arizona will have such problems, saying he’s engaged with most of the state’s county recorders and that Arizona has never had a “material issue” with “bad actors.” But he emphasized that his experience with election matters is limited to Arizona, while Trump has a national perspective.

And Graham said it’s possible that there will be voter fraud in other states.

“I don’t think anybody would be shocked by anything at this particular point because the way this election has gone with both of these candidates and comments that have been made, but outcomes that have been illustrated so far, it wouldn’t surprise me if we did see voter fraud and it wouldn’t surprise me if we did not,” Graham said.

Graham said Trump’s message is resonating with voters because they’ve spent 30 years watching Clinton and her “history of being less than above board on virtually everything she does.” And he said the Arizona Republican Party is reaping the fruits of that message. More than 800 people have signed up to be poll watchers, a welcome change from 2014, when Graham said the party had to “pull teeth” and enlist family members to fill those spots.

Former Gov. Jan Brewer, who served as Arizona’s secretary of state for six years, said she doesn’t believe there will be election rigging at the polling places. She also said she believes Trump’s remarks were primarily directed at the media, which she said is biased against the candidate.

“I believe that we have to have faith in our election system. And after the election, maybe issues will be brought up. I don’t know. I hope not, for the sake of our country. But I believe our elections are in order,” she said.

But Brewer, too, didn’t view Trump’s comments as irresponsible.

“He’s certainly entitled to his opinion,” the former governor said. “Does he have different information than what I have? I don’t know. I’m telling you what I feel.”

State Treasurer Jeff DeWit, who serves as the national chief operations officer for Trump’s campaign, said the nominee’s comment were meant to call attention to the possibility of fraud in order to ensure that the election is fair. He said such concerns are warranted based on allegations of improprieties during the 2012 presidential race.

“I think it’s the fact that he very much wants to make sure everybody’s on top of it, attention is called to it, and that the election’s fair. That’s one of the main things about our country and our democracy is that we have to have fair elections,” DeWit said. “Sometimes you have to summarize on Twitter to get it down to 140 characters. I think just making sure we have an honest election.”

Any concerns that the election will be rigged in Arizona are unfounded, said Maricopa County Recorder Helen Purcell, a Republican. She said she hopes people understand that some candidates are “going to possibly say some things that, at least in our world, are not factual.”

“I don’t like the idea that he’s said these things, that he’s put the doubts out there, because the public should be secure in thinking about their election system and how it’s going to be handled and whether or not their vote will be handled properly. And I believe we do that here. We give them every confidence that their vote’s going to be properly counted if it should be counted,” Purcell said.

Purcell said there are a number of measures in place to block election and voter fraud in Arizona. People must provide proof of citizenship when they register and must show identification at the polls. Those who vote by mail must sign their envelopes, and those signatures are verified by election officials. The Secretary of State’s Office conducts logic and accuracy tests on the vote-counting machines. And election officials conduct partial hand counts of ballots after the election.

“I don’t know what he’s talking about with rigged. And with our voter registration system, we have lots of checks and balances there. We have to verify someone’s citizenship if they are a new registrant,” Purcell said.

Robyn Stallworth Pouquette, the Yuma County recorder, said the system that’s in place is very effective at weeding out any problems in the registration process or at polling places. She said there are always some ineligible people who attempt to register, and that she’s seen a substantial increase this year in “unique efforts to submit inaccurate or false registrations.” But those are quickly detected and shut down due to the verification process that elections officials use, she said.

Secretary of State Michele Reagan also expressed confidence in the safeguards in place for Arizona elections.

“Signature verification, proper identification at the polls and multiple layers of system safeguards make manipulating the outcome of an election exceedingly difficult. County election officials test their equipment before each election and state law requires it remain secure and under constant surveillance. Combined with audits and full paper trail after each election Secretary Reagan is confident in our election systems, but remains vigilant,” the Secretary of State’s Office said in an emailed statement.

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