As of October 30, the odds of Donald J. Trump becoming the next president of the United States were, according to FiveThirtyEight, a little more than 20 percent — better than pulling the trigger on a loaded chamber in a game of Russian roulette. But whether you are an ardent supporter of Hillary Clinton or are merely voting for her to stave off the ruin of the republic, the presidential race in New York City (and by extension, the entire state) is essentially over — registered Dems outnumber Republicans nearly seven to one. If Trump’s greasy digits are fingering the red button come January, it will be because he won tight races in the swing states; the votes piling on Clinton’s Empire State landslide will be utterly meaningless.
“I’ve lived in New York City almost nine years, and I’ve voted in Kentucky for nine of those years,” says Henry, who is originally from Louisville. Sometimes he votes absentee; other times he drives all the way back, traveling more than seven hundred miles from his apartment in Lower Manhattan to his polling station near his parents’ house to pull the lever himself. “My vote feels like it matters more in Kentucky; it feels like it has more room for change,” he tells the Voice. “Like a lot of other people, I feel a lot more trepidation about both candidates than in years past. But the fear of Donald Trump being president overrides any sort of other objections, because he’s run a fear-based campaign and to me it shows that the real fear is somebody like him.”
Henry (not his real name) is one of eight voters we spoke to who live in New York City but are registered in their purple states of origin — including Pennsylvania, Virginia, and Florida — and intend to vote for Hillary Clinton. All said the main reason for casting ballots outside of New York was because doing so would likely have a greater impact on the results. Arcane and confusing voting laws also encouraged them to keep their current registrations. (It’s too late for current New York residents to register to vote for the November 8 election, and the deadline to register for New York City’s 2017 Democratic mayoral primary was on October 14, nearly a full year in advance.)
Virtually all of the voters belonged to two of the three groups that the Trump campaign has identified as targets for “major voter suppression operations,” according to a recent report by Businessweek: white liberals and women. Trump’s campaign needs little help suppressing the votes of the third group it identified, African Americans, as states like North Carolina, Ohio, and Georgia have begun restricting or prohibiting practices like early voting and same-day registration.
If voter suppression efforts are common, voting fraud of any kind is extremely scarce.
“It simply could not and does not happen at the rate even approaching that which would be required to ‘rig’ an election,” NYU’s Brennan Center for Justice wrote in a report last month entitled “Debunking the Voter Fraud Myth.”
An exhaustive analysis of election fraud cases nationwide from 2000 to 2012 by News21 and Arizona State University showed that the rate of voter fraud in the United States is “infinitesimal” and that it did not change the outcome of any election where it occurred. Cases of voter impersonation, the kind of elaborate scheme that Republicans have used as justification to institute voter ID laws, affected roughly one out of every 15 million voters.
Unsurprisingly, fraud involving mailed absentee ballots is more common — with 491 cases occurring over that twelve-year period. Yet those instances usually involve campaign or election officials forging signatures and casting dozens of bogus ballots. In 2011 a clerk in Rensselaer County, New York, pleaded guilty to felony second-degree forgery after he was charged with filing false absentee ballot applications for Democrats and Working Families Party candidates in 2007 and 2008.
Determining who is entitled to vote where isn’t a simple science, however, especially for voters themselves, or anyone less acquainted with their local election rules. While twenty states, including Kentucky, Pennsylvania, and Virginia, require voters to provide a reason for filing an absentee ballot, those reasons can be elastic. Kentucky, for example, allows for “snow birds” — voters “who temporarily resid[e] outside of Kentucky and who maintai[n] eligibility to vote in Kentucky” — to vote absentee. And twenty other states, including Florida, where the latest polls show Clinton and Trump in a virtual tie, require no reason to mail in an absentee ballot.
Kathryn is originally from upstate New York, moved to Florida for four years after she graduated college, and has now lived in the city for six years. Her parents still keep a home in the Sunshine State, and she intends to vote absentee there. “I pay tax as a New Yorker,” she says, “but Florida is a swing state. That’s the reason to keep my registration down there. Making sure my vote counts, that’s the number one reason.”
Kathryn says she wasn’t aware that what she is doing is legally dubious, but points to voter suppression efforts and the Electoral College system as evidence that the election itself is “such a ridiculously unethical event overall.”
“I don’t know if I believe the Electoral College is necessary today — I think every person’s vote should count as one vote, not as an Electoral College vote,” she says. “And I can’t even begin to talk about who should be allowed to vote. I always think about the fact that they don’t automatically send everyone who is a citizen and over the age of eighteen an application to register. Why don’t they? I feel like that would make a huge impact.”
Charlie, a self-identified “left-leaning progressive Democrat” who has lived in the city for three years and has already voted absentee for Hillary Clinton in Virginia, echoed several other voters we spoke to when he invoked the out-of-state ID he still carries. “My driver’s license is still in Virginia. It just seems like the best thing to do.” (According to the DMV, those out-of-state driver’s licenses are technically invalid in New York 120 days after you move here.) Virginia’s absentee ballot application requires justification; Charlie says he marked the row for “personal business.”
Still, according to some elections experts, classifying what these swing state voters are doing is pretty cut-and-dried.
“It’s voter fraud,” Kate Belinski, an attorney who practices election law in Washington, D.C., tells the Voice. “Every state has a residency requirement for voter registration, and residency is where you actually live — your physical address.”
Stuart Lichten, an attorney who practices election law in New York, agrees. “You’ve got to vote where you live. I’ve never heard of going to another state and voting — I don’t think they’d appreciate that.”
But before James O’Keefe puts more hidden cameras in his codpiece, it’s important to note that these examples are not proof positive of a grand liberal scheme to steal the election.
Belinski, the election attorney from D.C., says that these votes from New York into the swing states are unlikely to “change the calculus that much,” noting that “it’s more of a personal decision to make them feel better about their vote not being liquidated. At the end of the day, it’s not going to move the needle enough for people to make it a thing.” Besides, Trump may want to think twice about digging into absentee voting fraud allegations: Early voting usually helps Democrats, but absentee ballots tend to favor Republicans. And if this election is “rigged,” it is largely conservative lawmakers and corporate trade groups doing the rigging. According to the ACLU, up to seventeen states are debuting new voting restrictions this year — all but one, Rhode Island, are red or purple.
The stakes are high enough to make a New York City resident risk a felony. “Is it worth it?” wonders Pete, a longtime resident of New York City who is planning on voting for Clinton absentee in Pennsylvania, where his family still lives. “It feels like right now, you’re kind of being coerced into a really shitty position: Either contribute to a situation like that, commit voter fraud, or not vote at all.” Pete says he plans to register in New York — but it’ll have to wait till next year.