Fox News host Sean Hannity won’t let go of the number 59. In 2012, there were 59 divisions in Philadelphia where not a single vote for Mitt Romney was registered in the general election. After CNN’s Brian Stelter slammed him and Bill O’Reilly for not questioning Donald Trump’s predictions that the election will be rigged, Hannity responded to Stelter on Twitter Sunday: “Hey Brian check Philly enquirer (sic) after 2012. How many districts not a single Romney vote. Check Cleveland. Do u prep?”
Ryan Godfrey, an elections inspector who lives in Cedar Park, has heard enough of all that.
“I see people retweeting [these claims] on Twitter and saying this is a clear sign of election fraud, and it could happen again,” Godfrey tells Billy Penn. “As an elected official, I felt responsible to set the record straight a little bit.”
He’s served as a minority inspector since 2013. He was briefly a registered Republican (he wanted to vote in the last primary), but has been independent “most of my voting life,” he says. “I wasn’t an inspector in 2012, but the system is the same.”
The 59 divisions may appear remarkable if you think of them as “districts,” what Hannity calls them. Divisions, rather, are subzones of wards; the city has 1,686 divisions in all. Godfrey notes that his division encompasses eight square blocks.
“We have always had these dense urban corridors that are extremely Democratic,” Stanford political science professor Jonathan Rodden explained to the Philadelphia Inquirer in 2012. “It’s kind of an urban fact, and you are looking at the extreme end of it in Philadelphia.”
The divisions that went purely Obama were primarily in overwhelmingly black sections of West and North Philadelphia. The Philadelphia Inquirer visited divisions in question and sought out the small number of registered Republicans. Several had moved or told the paper they didn’t realize they were still in the party.
Republican City Commissioner Al Schmidt authored a report on voter irregularities in 2012. They exist, but often have innocent explanations, like clerical errors (someone who voted didn’t sign in) and confusion that arises when two divisions vote in the same building. He tells Billy Penn, as Godfrey did on Twitter, that there have been several instances of voter fraud recently, but not cases that reflect what Hannity is alluding to— earlier this year, three election officials who pleaded guilty to fraud had each voted with or in the place of relatives.
Philly’s voting machines cannot remove votes once they’re cast. Local elections officials must match up the number of sign-ins with the votes registered, so someone attempting to rig the system would have to add votes, but not enough to raise suspicion of wrongdoing. Schmidt explains that Hannity’s claims would mean “hundreds of people engaging in a conspiracy, and no one finding out about it, which is what would be required to steal votes in 59 divisions.”
Anyone caught in a conspiracy of that nature would face federal charges. Prison time for just a few votes? Nah, says Godfrey. “It would be so hard to fake that. And so little return of your investment for such risk,” he says. The scenario “seems absurd and borderline impossible to me to even imagine.”
Urban precincts where no one votes for a Republican presidential candidate are not unusual. Five divisions saw zero votes for Bush in 2004. That Obama claimed more divisions than Kerry did has been attributed to his place in history as the first black president. In 2008, there were 57 divisions where no one voted for McCain.