For the second time this week, some Donald Trump supporters have taken seriously a social media prankster’s has joke about committing wanton election fraud.
The most recent incident is the work of comedian Rob Whisman. It’s a meme, originally tweeted by Whisman and then deleted after it got picked up by Trump’s social media squad, showing the comedian surrounded by supposedly fraudulent drivers licenses boating about his readiness stuff the ballot box.
The image, which use the magic of Photoshop to make Whisman’s one real ID appear to be seven different IDs, was recirculated as authentic proof of fraud by prominent conservative social media accounts.
“Someone do something about this!!!!” insisted one commenter.
“Send it to @PAStatePolice. Also hit up there international directory,” suggested another.
“I hear the FBI is looking to improve their reputation, I reckon busting punks like this ought to help a bit,” wrote a third.
To explain the joke here—because jokes are better (and definitely not ruined) when they’re explained: Someone with the intention of successfully getting away with electoral fraud is unlikely to talk about it beforehand via an online public forum like Twitter. Such an obvious hoax would only be believed by people turned into gullible rubes by a strong desire to prove the existence of the type of election fraud that’s been used as the justification for state voter ID laws—the type that federal courts have struck down as racially-biased voter suppression.
Despite Whisman’s lighthearted intent, when the meme took off, he was hit with a wave of harassment.
“I tweeted it and then took a nap, assuming nobody would take it seriously,” he told the Daily Dot in a private Twitter conversation. “When I woke up, I saw that Trump Twitter caught wind of it and was sending some pretty severe threats my way. A dumb joke wasn’t worth my family getting doxxed, so I deleted it.”
Whisman said he isn’t sure why so many people were so willing to take his tongue-in-cheek tweet at face value. “What I am sure of, though,” he said, “is if you’re going to jokingly admit to committing a class D felony to 50,000 Twitters, make it more clear that you’re joking.”
Whisman’s trolling comes right on the heels of a tweet by weird Twitter mainstay @randygdub that went massively viral on Monday.
i love working at the post office in Columbus, Ohio and ripping up absentee ballots that vote for trump
— raandy (@randygdub) October 16, 2016
That tweet was picked up as evidence of a letter-carrier conspiracy by influential right-wing news aggregation site the Drudge Report, drew in Joanie Loves Chachi actor-turned-Trump pitchman Scott Baio, and became a target of ire for talk radio mainstay Rush Limbaugh, among others.
When Gateway Pundit blogger Jim Hoft realized he had been trolled, he updated his post about the tweet with the message: “So this Twitter user now says his tweet was a joke. Because voter fraud is funny? I’ve seen people get banned from Twitter for less than this.”
Despite widespread fears about voter fraud, actual reported incidents are extremely rare. A 2014 analysis conducted by researchers at Loyola Law School found scoured the records and found only 31 incidents of voter fraud out of over 1 billion votes cast in the United States over the past 14 years.
In a recent blog post, Republican election lawyer Chris Ashby laid out why warnings about massive vote rigging should be treated with high levels of skepticism.
So the election is not rigged. In fact, it’s anti-rigged. To rig an election, you would need (1) technological capabilities that exist only in Mission Impossible movies, plus (2) the cooperation of the Republicans and Democrats who are serving as the polling place’s election officials, plus (3) the blind eyes of the partisan pollwatchers who are standing over their shoulders, plus (4) the cooperation of another set of Republicans and Democrats — the officials at the post-elections canvass, plus (5) the blind eyes of the canvass watchers, too. Then you’d still have to jedi-mind trick lawyers, political operatives and state election administrators, all of whom scrub precinct-level returns for aberrant election results, and scrutinize any polling place result that is not in line with what they would have expected, based on current political dynamics and historical election results.
Trump has regularly stoked the fires of election-fraud fears over much of the 2016 election season—even before the distance by which Trump, the Republican nominee, trailed Democratic rival Hillary Clinton became grew to nearly insurmountable proportions and bookies already started paying out winnings to gamblers who bet Clinton would win the election.
“You see what’s happening?” Trump asked a crowd of enthusiastic supporters at a rally in North Carolina on Friday. “The process is rigged. This whole election is being rigged. It’s one big fix.”
A recent poll showed 41 percent of voters say it is possible the election could be “stolen” from Trump, and even the candidate himself has said he may refuse to accept the election result if it doesn’t fall in his favor.
Of course there is large scale voter fraud happening on and before election day. Why do Republican leaders deny what is going on? So naive!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 17, 2016
In preparation for such an event, the Trump campaign and its surrogates have repeatedly urged its supporters to “monitor” polling stations on election day to prevent voter fraud. However, critics warn that those tactics are likely to translate into deliberate acts of voter intimidation, primarily targeted at polling stations in predominantly non-white areas, when carried out in real life.
“Trump said to watch your precincts. I’m going to go, for sure,” said Steve Webb, a 61-year-old carpenter from Fairfield, Ohio, told the Boston Globe in a recent interview. “I’ll look for… well, it’s called racial profiling. Mexicans. Syrians. People who can’t speak American. I’m going to go right up behind them. I’ll do everything legally. I want to see if they are accountable. I’m not going to do anything illegal. I’m going to make them a little bit nervous.”
The Pulitzer Prize-winning fact-checking organization PolitiFact has rated Trump’s claims of massive voter fraud as “pants on fire.”
“For all of these reasons, when Donald Trump implies that his or her followers need to take the law into their own hands on Election Day, he is horribly manipulating them—inciting them to disrupt the election, and setting them up to break laws and be arrested,” Ashby noted in his post. “Which may be exactly what he wants.”