Don’t tell Donald Trump, but Chicago’s infamous “cemetery vote” just ain’t what it used to be.
Trump has openly questioned the integrity of the upcoming presidential vote, pointedly citing Chicago as a city with a very checkered electoral past.
“Voter fraud is all too common,” he told a crowd earlier this month in Colorado. “Take a look at Chicago, take a look at St. Louis. Take a look at some of these cities, where you see things happening that are horrendous.”
But is Chicago merely paying for the sins of the past, rather than present day chicanery?
“In the last ten years we’ve had 9 million votes cast,” says the Chicago Election Board’s James Allen. “We’ve had ten instances that we’ve had to refer to the state’s attorney’s office, but we’ve been through exhaustive recounts and we’ve never seen any votes reversed as a result of any kind of mishap or fraud.”
Indeed, just as the one-time might of Chicago’s Democratic machine is largely a relic of the history books, good old fashioned vote-stealing in Chicago has not been documented for decades.
“I had to fight the old machine of Chicago--I knew the kind of things they could do,” said County Clerk David Orr, who as an independent alderman in the seventies and eighties, was a constant thorn in the flesh of hard line machine stalwarts. “Part of my job is I want to prove that whether you’re a Democrat or Republican, we want to do the right thing.”
For weeks, workers at both the Chicago and Cook County election boards have been preparing machines and software for the upcoming votes. At a warehouse on Pershing Road, NBC 5 Investigates watched as Chicago technicians tested the city’s machines and prepared them for shipment. Each machine was checked to make certain that screens worked, scanners scanned, and paper magazines were loaded and ready.
And that no votes were pre-stored in memory. To make certain of that, memory packs are secured inside the machines behind doors with numbered seals. And each machine produces what is called a “zero tape” when it is switched on election morning, to demonstrate that no candidates have any votes when the day begins. That same tape backup rolls off a copy every time someone votes.
“We have a paper trail for every ballot cast in the City of Chicago,” Allen says. “So we feel reasonably safe about our system.”
Orr noted that one of the greatest safeguards against allegations of Democratic tampering, is the vigilance of the opposition.
“Everything we’re trying to do is transparent,” he said. “We have thousands of Republican judges--- they set up the equipment. They’re there. And they don’t buy all that stuff."
And those dead voters who made Chicago so famous? It’s not confined to Chicago. The Pew Charitable Trust estimated earlier this year that nearly two million dead voters are still listed on the rolls nationwide.
Chicago election board officials insist they are doing everything they can to maintain rosters with only living, breathing voters.
“A statewide death-record database helps us cancel more than 500 registrations every month in Chicago alone,” Allen said. “We also send an annual canvass notice to each voter. The postal service and the recipients may mark ‘deceased’ and drop it in the mail.”
“Whenever we receive information (on deaths), we check the Illinois Vital Records System and cancel if we can find confirmation.”
Officials insist that when someone does slip through the cracks, it usually isn’t because of real fraud. In some cases, experts note, widows sometimes vote recently deceased husbands’ absentee ballots, suggesting “that’s what he would have wanted”. Not with ill intent, but without knowing it’s not allowed.
Orr noted that there have also been documented cases of citizens taking part in the early voting process, then dying before election day.
“We don’t claim perfection,” Allen said. “But we’re getting closer to it every day.”