Zero votes in a precinct for a presidential candidate: It happens, and experts say it's not voter fraud

Credit: Jamie Dupree

Credit: Jamie Dupree

After the 2012 election results were final, some claimed that fraud was the only way to explain voting numbers in Philadelphia which showed Mitt Romney getting no votes at all in dozens of precincts in that city. But a review of election returns from all over the country shows that while such a result is rare, it happens more than you might think, and will probably happen again on November 8.

"We see that nearly every election cycle," said Brian Kemp, the Republican Secretary of State in Georgia, who told me he wasn't worried by a precinct that gives zero votes to one of the major candidates for President.

"That's simply a statistical anomaly."

Proving that point, it wasn't hard to find examples in Kemp's own backyard, as Romney received zero votes in six precincts located in Fulton County, Georgia, which is home to much of the city of Atlanta.

The largest spread was 327-0 for Obama in precinct CP083, on the southeast side of College Park, Georgia, an area that is over 80 percent African American, not far from downtown Atlanta.

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There were seven other precincts in that same county where Romney received only a single vote; in one precinct, Obama ran up an 898-1 advantage.

While Georgia's Secretary of State - who is a Republican - doesn't see anything amiss with numbers like that, there are many others who support Donald Trump who believe these type of numbers are impossible to attain without fraud.

The data for this story was obtained several ways - by digging through hundreds of precinct canvass reports on websites run by state and county elections officials (not all states post that type of information), by looking through a database of election results run by Harvard University , as well as information from a 2008 study done by researchers at Stanford University.

What I found were hundreds of precincts around the nation where Romney didn't get a single vote, and many precincts where President Obama was shutout as well.

And these kind of results did not happen only in 2012.

Political science professor Jonathan Rodden of Stanford University ran the numbers for the 2008 election, and found hundreds of precincts where John McCain received no votes - and some that gave no votes to Obama as well.

"If we limit ourselves to precincts in which at least 10 votes were cast, there are almost 180,000" in the U.S., Rodden told me. "Of these, 477 gave every single vote to Obama, and 52 gave every single vote to McCain."

Stanford's Rodden found in 2008 what I found in the data from 2012 - Mitt Romney shutout Barack Obama in a number of rural, mainly white areas in the South and Plains, while President Obama rolled up huge margins in big city precincts that were overwhelmingly African American.

And on Tuesday, we could well see a repeat - and it won't be voter fraud, experts say.

"If there is a precinct that is primarily African American, Donald Trump is not going to get many votes at all," said Matt Dallek, a political historian and associate professor at George Washington University.

Here is one example in 2012, from Philadelphia's 3rd ward, a heavily black area on the southwest side of the city:

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In 2012 in Pennsylvania, it wasn't just Philadelphia that had precincts give no votes to Romney, as it also happened in Pittsburgh, and two suburban precincts outside of Philadelphia.

That pattern was repeated in cities like Detroit, where there were 31 precincts that went to Obama in which Romney did not get a single vote, with many of those precincts delivering well over 400 votes each to Obama - another big city area with a high concentration of black supporters and few Republicans.

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Another prime example was Cuyahoga County in Ohio, home to Cleveland, where Obama ran up a 6,354-0 margin in the 19 precincts where Romney did not win even one vote.

There were also 27 other precincts statewide in Ohio where Romney only received one vote, like in Dayton, where one precinct went 599-1 for Obama. There were two small precincts in the Buckeye State where Obama received no votes.

In an interview, Dallek of George Washington University cited Washington, D.C. as an example of why these type of big city precinct results are normal.

"If it's 96-97 percent for Hillary Clinton, does that indicate fraud? Absolutely not," Dallek said. "It's just a very liberal, solid Democratic city."

Stanford's Rodden, who gathered the data from over 185,000 precincts after the 2008 election, pointed out that Obama won 100 percent in some precincts in the rural South - areas run by the GOP.

And that he says shows the argument of voter fraud doesn't stand up to scrutiny.

"In many of these counties, the election administrators work for county governments that are solidly Republican," Rodden told me in an email. "The notion of such a vast conspiracy across hundreds of counties is absurd."

One of the more interesting states in 2012 was Louisiana, where 75 precincts won by Obama did not give a single vote to Romney - but, there were also 46 other precincts won by Romney where Obama did not get one vote.

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Lincoln Parish, in northern Louisiana was notable, because that parish had nine precincts where Barack Obama did not get a single vote, and also seven other precincts where Mitt Romney did not receive one vote.

All in the same county.

Overall in 2012, Romney's best state for shutouts was in Kansas, where Obama failed to get a single vote in 94 different precincts; among them, Avilla Township in rural Comanche County along the Oklahoma border, which went 44-0 for Romney.

Here's a partial list from the Sunflower State:

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Just to the south in Oklahoma, one of the reddest states in America in 2012, Romney chalked up four more precinct shutouts in mainly rural areas of the state.

Despite losing Oklahoma by a 2-to-1 margin, President Obama actually managed a few precinct shutouts of his own, winning three small precincts 1-0, 3-0, and 4-0. Two were in Oklahoma County, home to the capital of Oklahoma City.

While it might seem odd for someone to see a 1-0 tally in a precinct, I actually found a lot of those around the United States - another reminder that not all precincts are created equal.

For Rodden, those type of "results do not indicate election fraud, but rather the realities of American political geography."

Romney's best shutout precinct was in rural Alabama, as Lamar County's Trull precinct gave him a 113-0 edge over Obama; census figures show Lamar County is over 85 percent white, and Obama did not get to double digits in five different precincts there.

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While most of the precincts where Romney did not get one vote were in big cities and urban areas, there were exceptions. For example, in Highlands County, Florida - located to the northwest of Lake Okeechobee in south Florida, Obama won a precinct there 201-0.

While Highlands went almost two-to-one for Romney, Precinct 9 was over 83 percent registered Democrats - only 11 Republicans were registered to vote there in 2014 according to county statistics.

In southern Florida, Miami-Dade County was home to 40 different shutouts in a number of smaller precincts; Obama had 29 of those, while Romney had 11.

For Romney, the vast reaches of Red State America was where he did the best in shutout precincts, and that included the state of Wyoming, where he won four mainly rural precincts, 60-0, 54-0, 25-0 and 24-0.

One of those precincts for Romney was in Oshoto, in Crook County, Wyoming, not far from the Devil's Tower, which is close to my family's original homestead in northeastern Wyoming.

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After seeing those numbers, I got in touch with one of my third cousins from Crook County, who has been active in Republican Party politics there.

"Very interesting that you came across Oshoto!" Wade Dennis told me, as we chatted about the election by email.

With that small world story jumping into my work life, it's a good place to end this report - with a reminder that Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump may well repeat what Obama and McCain did in 2008, and what Obama and Romney did in 2012.

Somewhere on Election Day, we are likely to see precincts with zero votes for Clinton or Trump; it will be a pretty normal thing to happen.

And experts say it won't be due to voter fraud.