Understanding Bullshit: Voter Fraud
Voter fraud has always been one of the favorite Republican boogeymen, the last few years especially (which shouldn’t be surprising since it does double duty for them: it gives them an excuse to prevent people from voting if they're statistically not likely to vote Republican. And it also occasionally allows them to gin up anti-immigrant hysteria to motivate their base). In Trump's case, it also allows him to save face, since he's been claiming with no proof whatsoever that he won the election.
Expectedly, as ballots were being counted, on Election Day and afterward, numerous videos claiming election fraud began to go viral, fueling claims that Democrats were trying to "steal" the election. (Sadly, what most people don’t seem to realize is that elections are usually “stolen” before they even occur — mainly by blocking people from voting; something Greg Palast considers “truly evil”, and it’s likely to happen again and again).
One video claimed to show ballot counters in Delaware County, Pennsylvania "filling out" new ballots. The president's supporters alleged the video proved ballots were being created for Biden. In reality, the ballot counter was attempting to ensure that damaged ballots were properly counted. According to Delaware County Council officials, the video shows the counter transcribing ballots that had been damaged and could not be counted by a machine. The worker is seen copying the information onto a blank ballot in order to count the vote properly — while being watched by bipartisan observers standing six feet away, an arrangement that was approved by the Delaware County GOP. The viral footage had simply been zoomed in and cropped so the watchers were out of the frame and allowing anyone who viewed it online to be manipulated.
Still another video, shared widely by well-known conservatives, including the president's son Eric Trump and YouTuber (and full time chud) Steven Crowder, claimed to show voter fraud in Detroit. It features a man loading a box from a white van onto a wagon to bring into a polling center. Innumerable people immediately began to speculate that the box contained ballots that were being brought to the election center to be counted after the polls were already closed. But in fact, the footage features a local news cameraman from WXYZ 7 Action News loading his equipment into a vehicle for work.
Another GOP contention was that the party’s observers were not allowed equal access to watch voting and tabulation. That charge caused a particularly tense standoff in Detroit, but the two parties and a group of nonpartisan observers had more than 100 watching spots. At one point Wednesday there were far more people than allowed in the room, said David Porada, an attorney volunteering for the state GOP. So people were turned away until other observers left.
In Wisconsin, GOP loyalists were sure they had found more cheating. One tweeted that the vote total of more than 3.2 million in the state was suspicious, because only a little more than 3.1 million people were registered. That claim was retweeted by many, even though the real registration figure was closer to 3.7 million two days before the election. And that did not count those who registered on election day, as state law allows. (On the question of deceased voters in Michigan voting: In the state of Michigan the ballots of voters who have died are rejected, even if the voter cast an absentee ballot and then died before Election Day).
It should also be noted that calling an election before all votes are in is still not an indication of fraud. It’s standard practice in the U.S. and across the world. Media outlets have long projected winners before all the votes are counted, which is a necessity in a country where the count can take weeks to complete, even when it isn't in the grips of a global pandemic. In 2016 for example, the count wasn't finalized until December. But this time was different — because a majority of voters cast their ballots either long before election day or through the mail.
I will admit that allegations of election-related voter fraud does make for enticing news. Voter fraud, in most people’s minds, has the feel of a bank heist caper: roundly condemned but technically fascinating, and sufficiently lurid to grab and hold headlines. Many older Americans I’m sure can even remember the vivid stories of voting improprieties in Chicagoland, or the sudden appearance of LBJ's alphabetized ballot box in Texas, or even Governor Earl Long's quip: "When I die, I want to be buried in Louisiana, so I can stay active in politics." And perhaps because these stories are dramatic, voter fraud makes a popular scapegoat. In the aftermath of a close election, losing candidates are often quick to blame voter fraud for the results. Legislators cite voter fraud as justification for various new restrictions on the exercise of the franchise. And pundits trot out the same few anecdotes time and again as proof that a wave of fraud is imminent. (If Trump and the Republicans cannot win by challenging all those votes for Biden, then we may end up seeing some version of what happened in Florida in 2000 with Gore and Bush).
Allegations of widespread voter fraud, however, often prove greatly exaggerated. And on closer examination, many of the claims of voter fraud amount to a great deal of smoke without much fire. The allegations simply do not pan out. Broadly speaking, voter fraud has proved exceedingly rare. The Brennan Center for Justice in 2017 ranked the risk of ballot fraud at 0.00004% to 0.0009%, based on studies of past elections. Republicans would have you believe that vote fraud is widespread enough to affect elections. But the “fraud” uncovered by conservative institutions such as the Heritage Foundation for example, have all been on the individual level and not on an organized level. (It would actually be far easier, not to mention cheaper, to organize a social media campaign seeking to discourage certain groups of people from voting, which is something the FBI has repeatedly warned us about). Or a cyberattack on voter registration data that would eliminate certain voters from the rolls. Which would cause havoc at polling places or election offices as officials attempt to count ballots from people who are “missing” from their voter databases.
Nevertheless, and despite his initial lack of success, Trump has shown no signs of turning down the volume of bullshit. After sundown Friday, he tweeted that his leads in several states had “miraculously” disappeared after he took early leads. (Which he obviously helped create. He repeatedly disparaged mail-in voting, while Democrats voted by mail in huge numbers). Election experts predicted well before election week that Biden would dominate mail-in voting, ballots that often would be counted last. Yet the Trump loyalists (aka people who still think men in drag are funny) came to the embattled president’s defense, echoing his assertions about vote-rigging even though study after study has shown that voter fraud is extremely rare, and when it happens, it involves local and state elections, not presidential elections. Trump (and his right-wing propaganda machine) have spent years now developing and circulating the ridiculous lie that there is massive "vote theft" or "fake ballots" cast by Democrats. (Republicans have actually been the ones arrested for trying to rig elections using those same methods).
To sum up: There is no evidence to suggest a systematic bias towards one party or another from mail-in ballots. Nor is there any evidence that there is widespread fraud in the use of mail-in ballots. What Trump supporters (those hotdog water smelling simpletons that they are) need to understand is that it isn't just a matter of the president saying it's true. You've got to have evidence, and there is no evidence.