Tennessee secretary of state denies Trump's claims of 'rigged' election

The Associated Press / While GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump claims the Nov. 8 national election is "rigged" against him, Tennessee Republican Secretary of State Tre Hargett says he sees no evidence of that here in the Volunteer State.

NASHVILLE - While GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump claims the Nov. 8 national election is "rigged" against him, Tennessee Republican Secretary of State Tre Hargett says he sees no evidence of that here in the Volunteer State.

With early voting set to begin Wednesday in Tennessee's 95 counties, Hargett and his election coordinator, Mark Goins, said Monday they see no signs of looming fraud here and vowed to be quick to pounce if such problems develop.

photo Tre Hargett(CQ), Tennessee Secretary of State, speaks during a meeting with the Chattanooga Times Free Press editorial board Thursday.

"I keep hearing about this rigged election," Hargett told reporters in a news conference. "[But] nobody is calling our office and saying, 'Oh gosh, you've got to stop this,' or 'We're concerned about this.'"

Asked about Trump's assertions that his national contest with Democrat Hillary Clinton is "fixed" or "rigged," Hargett said, "I hesitate to call somebody irresponsible. But, what I will say is that anything that causes people to have less confidence in being able to go vote, I frown upon regardless of what party that comes from."

Hargett said the only ones asking him questions about potential fraud have been news reporters following up on Trump's assertions. That resulted in Monday's news conference, he said.

Recent polls show Trump trailing Clinton nationally and in some battleground states. Trump has alarmed many by charging the election is "rigged." Over the weekend, Trump's running mate, Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, sought to walk back the charge, saying it didn't apply so much to the actual voting process but to news coverage and the like.

But on Monday morning, Trump was doubling down in one of his characteristic tweets.

"Of course there is large scale voter fraud happening on and before election day," Trump wrote. "Why do Republican leaders deny what is going on? So naive!"

Hargett and Goins told reporters that while cyber security is a concern, neither Tennessee's election system nor the counties' systems are online.

In late August, the FBI issued alerts to state election officials across the U.S. warning of attempted hacks. CBS News reported two states, Arizona and Illinois, were involved. Yahoo News at the time also reported that federal officials believed foreign hackers were responsible.

Hargett said there was no indication of a problem here in Tennessee and he didn't think there would be, given the fact that systems here are not online. Elections are administered by the 95 county election commissions. Because Republicans are dominant in the General Assembly, all the five-member commissions have a 3-2 GOP majority.

Different types of voting machines must be approved by the state election commission, Hargett noted. Machines are tested in advance to ensure they're in good working order.

The state will have between 13,000 and 15,000 volunteer poll workers out on Nov. 8, Hargett and Goins said.

In addition, candidates and political parties can ask to send poll watchers to voting sites to monitor operations. Some certified nonprofit groups like the League of Women Voters are also able to send monitors. But Hargett said that to be certified, poll watchers must have been approved two working days before the election.

If you're not credentialed, Hargett said, don't bother to show up at a poll unless you're a voter.

Hargett recalled a state Senate race in Memphis being challenged in the mid-2000s based on fraud - Republican senators denied the Democratic victor her seat but she ultimately prevailed in another election. Three poll workers were indicted but the candidate herself was not implicated or charged.

"But by and large, here in Tennessee, based on what I know, elections have been run in a very fair, honest and transparent fashion and in a very bipartisan way, frankly," Hargett said.

Meanwhile, independent polls by Vanderbilt University and Middle Tennessee State University have Trump beating Clinton here by 11 to 12 percentage points.

While Pence has downplayed the idea of voter fraud nationally, Trump has - without offering any evidence - warned the outcome is "fixed" against him.

Some observers have questioned whether Trump is making advance excuses should he lose the contest and worry about the impact his assertions will have on the credibility of the American election process.

Hargett, meanwhile, said, "I believe Secretary Clinton and Gov. Pence both talked about, we're going to accept the results of the election. And in this country, we have a transfer of power that, in my mind, works better than any other country in the world."

Hargett added, "I have confidence that's what's going to happen at the end of the day. All we can do is run the best election we know how to, work with all 95 counties to assure that they have what they need to run the best elections that they can, and if people choose not to accept the results for whatever reasons they have, I can't control that. All I can do is try and make sure we call balls and strikes."

He also is encouraging Tennesseans who see problems at their polling sites to call the statewide voter fraud hotline. The number is 1-877-850-4959.

Early voting begins Wednesday and continues through Nov. 3.

During the April 1 presidential primary, a record 1.24 million Tennesseans voted. Some 1.4 million Tennesseans voted in the 2012 general election.

Contact Andy Sher at 615-255-0550 or asher@timesfreepress.com.