For decades before he worked for the president, Donald Trump’s director of Election Day operations has called out and made allegations of voter fraud by the Democratic party, building a lucrative career in the process. His name is Mike Roman, and this year he’s claiming an increase in mail ballots because of the coronavirus pandemic will allow Democrats to cheat and steal the election, despite little evidence.
Roman is best known for promoting a video of apparent voter intimidation by the New Black Panthers outside a polling place in his hometown of Philadelphia in 2008. Filed weeks before George W Bush left office, the justice department investigated the incident that was cited as evidence of Democrats seeking to influence the election. The case was later dropped because it lacked evidence.
In the decade after, Roman stayed busy. He wrote about alleged election fraud for conservative websites like Breitbart News. He managed a research unit for the Koch network, did consulting work for various Republicans and oversaw poll watching for Trump’s 2016 campaign. These days he’s focused on peddling the same myth in his hometown of Philadelphia, a key city in the battleground of Pennsylvania that could determine the outcome of the election.
Earlier this year, Roman visited battleground states and worked with local candidates and parties to recruit volunteers to monitor election sites. The Trump campaign hasn’t released information about the number of volunteer observers it has recruited in each state but claims it has established a 50,000-plus army of volunteers across an array of swing states.
“This is one of the things about Mike Roman, is that he’s helping assemble this massive team of volunteers to ‘observe’ satellite voting places and it truly is voter intimidation, plain and simple,” said Tiffany Muller, president of Let America Vote, a voter’s right organization.
Trump’s campaign sued Philadelphia this month over city officials preventing campaign representatives from watching residents register to vote or fill out mail ballots in satellite election offices. Prior to the lawsuit, Roman tweeted out a video of one of Trump’s observers being escorted out of the City Hall offices by Philadelphia police, claiming that “Trump observers [were] being blocked entry to all of the satellite voting locations in Philly”.
The video was shared by Eric Trump and President Trump, both claiming the incident was proof of “corruption” against the Trump campaign. But later, it would come to light that one of the supporters law enforcement escorted out of City Hall was James Fitzpatrick, the Pennsylvania director of Election Day operations for the Trump campaign. He was recording video on his cellphone, being disruptive and refused to leave when asked.
The campaign lost the lawsuit and the appeal. But the loss hasn’t stopped the Trump campaign or its supporters from trying to observe the satellite election offices. Trump’s campaign spent some time last week surveilling and videotaping voters dropping off mail ballots at Philadelphia City Hall. Pennsylvania’s attorney general warned that the campaign’s actions fall outside of permitted poll watching practices and could lead to voter intimidation.
On Monday, Roman posted a picture of a voter with five ballots on Twitter, alleging a Trump volunteer alerted election staff in Philadelphia of the crime. There’s no proof the voter was in Philadelphia or a crime was committed. In Pennsylvania, if a voter has a disability they can designate someone to deliver their ballot.
Roman’s personal blog and Twitter feed are filled with similar claims, with many posts targeting Pennsylvania. He has falsely accused the US Postal Office in Thorndale, Pennsylvania, a suburb of Philadelphia, of having an anti-Trump sticker on its front door and asserted a random, unrelated theft of a laptop and USB devices at a Philadelphia election board warehouse may have compromised the election.
Despite many of Roman’s allegations of voter fraud being relatively new, it’s clear he’s been building his narrative for decades.
In 1993, Roman worked on a special election campaign in Philadelphia where voter fraud occurred. After Democrat William Stinson seemingly won the election against Republican Bruce Marks by a narrow margin, Marks campaign successfully argued in court that some of his opponent’s campaign workers went to a neighborhood with a large Latino population and bribed, tricked and coached residents into voting for Stinson by mail. The judge threw out all mail ballots and declared Marks the election winner.
“That’s one of a handful of [voter fraud] cases in which the allegations of fraud were about absentee voting,” said Lorraine Minnite, a political scientist at the University of Rutgers Camden. “You could call it fraud, you could also call it voter intimidation, because some of that activity involved pressuring people to vote a certain way – by mail ballot – and telling them they were eligible to vote a new way when Pennsylvania actually had pretty strict rules.”
That case could herald Roman’s tactics ahead of the election results next week.
Just days before the election and hours after Roman made his last claim of voter fraud in Philadelphia, Trump tweeted on Tuesday morning: “Philadelpiha [sic] MUST HAVE POLLWATCHERS!”