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Philly GOP debunks revived 2012 election conspiracy theory

The political conspiracy theory sounds more dastardly the further you travel from Philadelphia, where the misdeed is said to have transpired.

The political conspiracy theory sounds more dastardly the further you travel from Philadelphia, where the misdeed is said to have transpired.

Psst, did you hear that Mitt Romney didn't get a single vote for president in 50 divisions in Philadelphia during the 2012 general election? Not one!

It is true.

It is also not that surprising to Republican Party officials in Philadelphia.

They are, after all, accustomed to dealing with a 7-1 voter registration advantage held by the local Democratic Party.

Donald Trump, the Republican nominee for president, last month started using Romney's experience in parts of Philadelphia in 2012 as one plank in his "the election is being rigged" platform.

That plank was picked up and pushed by Fox News host Sean Hannity, an avowed Trump fan.

Hannity cited during his Aug. 2 broadcast an Inquirer story, published shortly after the 2012 election.

"Now, maybe I'm conspiratorial," Hannity said before asking this about Romney and the 50 divisions. "Is that possible?"

Yes, as it turns out, it is possible in Philadelphia.

Inquirer reporters, making phone calls and knocking on doors in those divisions after the 2012 election, found no Republicans who claimed their votes went uncounted.

Joe DeFelice has heard it all before. Now chairman of the Republican City Committee in Philadelphia, DeFelice in 2012 was director of election day operations for the state Republican Party.

He and other local Republican Party officials are not at all surprised that Romney received no votes in 50 divisions, given how deeply Democratic parts of the city are. The city had 1,687 divisions in 2012, meaning Romney took zero votes in just 3 percent of them.

It was originally reported a week after the 2012 general election that Romney received no votes in 59 divisions. That was updated two months later, after the count of absentee and provisional ballots showed he received votes in nine other divisions.

DeFelice said he has been fielding phone calls about the no-vote divisions for four years. And he says people who seize on the issue are looking in the wrong direction.

He said it's "almost impossible" to take votes off a ballot machine in Philadelphia but has concerns about how easy it is to add votes to those machines.

In "over-vote" cases, the number of signatures from voters who sign in at polling places is lower than the number of votes tallied on the machines.

DeFelice noted that most of the divisions where Romney had no luck in 2012 are in North and West Philadelphia, which are overwhelming Democratic and African American.

"It was a presidential election," he said. "You had a rich, white Republican running against a black Democrat."

Al Schmidt is vice chairman of the City Commissioners and the lone Republican on the three-member board that runs Philadelphia's elections.

He said people outside of Philadelphia who are struck by the issue may not know the city has so many divisions, which are also sometimes referred to as precincts.

"These precincts are very small, geographically," he said. "And frequently, the electorate is very homogenous because we may be talking about one building or one block."

City Councilman David Oh, one of three Republicans out of 17 members on Council, leads the Third Ward, where Romney received no votes in two of 22 divisions in 2012. His ward is the western edge of Philadelphia, next to Cobbs Creek.

Oh, like other Republicans, noted that President Obama was up for reelection as the nation's first African American president in 2012, a historic event that resonated with many black voters in the city.

"There's no evidence to me that there's any cheating going on," Oh said. "It's really not suspect under those circumstances."

Denise Furey, the Republican leader of the 46th Ward in West Philadelphia, said she was not surprised when Romney received no votes in two of her 23 divisions. Those divisions, she said, are "almost exclusively African American" but many years turn out some reliable Republican voters.

"What we found in the Obama races was a lot of people who would typically vote Republican voted for Mr. Obama," Furey said. "That is not surprising to me."