Good morning Hank, it's Tuesday. Today I want to talk about the rigging of U. S. presidential elections. So travel back with me to the election of 2004 where incumbent republican George W. Bush defeated democrat John Kerry.
Across the country Bush received about 3 million more votes that year then Kerry did. But of course the popular vote doesn't matter in US Presidential Elections because of the Electoral College. This is a strange and anachronistic feature of our presidential elections, explained in detail by CGP Grey here but quick overview... Every state is allotted a certain number of electoral votes based on congressional representation. So every state has 2 senators so they get 2 electoral votes and from there it's decided by population: like California has 55 electoral votes whereas Montana has 3.
Right, so most states (there are of course exceptions because nothing is ever easy in US politics) allot their electoral votes to the candidate who gets the most votes in that state. A candidate needs 270 total electoral college votes to win and because you might win some states by a wide margin and lose others very narrowly, it is possible to win the popular vote in the country, but lose the election. In fact, that's how George W. Bush was elected in 2000.
Also if 3 or more candidates get some electoral votes and that prevents any one candidate from getting a majority of electoral votes, the president is actually chosen by the US House of Representatives. This has happened a couple of times in US History including in 1826 when Congress chose John Quincy Adams to become president even though Andrew Jackson had received more votes.
Anyway if you're thinking all of this sounds bananas, I agree. But one of the very few even arguable upsides to the Electoral College is that is makes US presidential elections extremely hard to rig because we're not actually having one election. We're having 51 elections each governed by the separate states. But in fact it's even more complicated than that because in every state, counties and townships have their own elections with their own independent oversight, so we're having thousands of elections. And this massively decentralized system protects against widespread fraud.
So back to 2004, there's not much question that George W Bush won the most votes in that election. The question is Ohio. Kerry lost Ohio by about 118,000 votes. If he'd won, he would have been elected President and lots of people on the left, including by many accounts John Kerry himself, believe that voter suppression and possible ballot fraud essentially rigged that election. Like there was a Rolling Stone cover story about it, you can still find blogs making the case.
The claim goes like this: Ohio's Secretary of State, who oversees elections was a Republican who engineered long lines at polling places. Also he purged voters from the Rolls and failed to get the names of 25% of newly registered voters to polling places. And also somehow, 150,000 votes in rural Ohio were switched from Kerry to Bush, possibly via hacking electronic voting machines, possibly via physically altering ballots.
Here's what actually happened: 25% of newly registered voters did have to fill out provisional ballots which is ridiculous and speaks to how poorly the Ohio election was run that year. However, almost exactly half of those people cast their ballots for George W Bush. The voter rolls were purged because they are required by law to be purged because people die and/or move. Actually, I guess I don't really need the and/or there, mostly they just die or move. Right, also none of the 150,000 purportedly switched votes was actually switched. There were however long lines at polling places which did disenfranchise voters but not in a way that would have affected the outcome of Ohio's presidential election.
The 2004 Ohio Presidential Election was poorly run and it did not reflect the ideals of our democracy, but it also did not steal the election from John Kerry. Like the Democratic Party's own investigation concluded "Despite the problems on Election Day, there is no evidence from our survey that John Kerry won the state of Ohio". But of course that report was written months later - the morning after the election, John Kerry still believed he might have won and he was furious with the partisanship he saw in the Ohio election but nonetheless he called George W Bush and conceded.
This is one of the central tenants of our country - we have fair elections where the outcomes are trusted broadly, if not universally, and when power changes hands, it does so peacefully. Like it is sometimes said the greatest moment of George Washington's presidency was its final moment when he handed the office over to John Adams and created a precedent for how American leaders would seek power. To paraphrase something George W Bush said recently, in American History, the office of the presidency is always more important than the person who holds it.
Now none of this is to say that our elections are perfect like voter suppression has been a hallmark of US voting and suppression efforts have disproportionately targeted systemically disadvantaged voters - the poor initially and then when the franchise was extended, women and people of colour. Even today there are many political strategies for suppressing voters but voter suppression, which is real, is not the same thing as Widespread Fraud which is not.
In most states, observers from both major political parties monitor poll workers to prevent official fraud and fraud among voters is incredibly rare in the United States. With very few exceptions, people do not vote when they are not allowed to, or impersonate voters or vote multiple times or vote when they are dead. The voter rolls may include dead or otherwise ineligible people because the rolls aren't kept up to date or purged often enough but that does not mean fraudulent votes will be cast.
Like you may have heard that in-person voter fraud is as uncommon in the United States as dying from a lightning strike, but that's just not true. In the past 14 years, there have been 31 substantiated cases on in-person voter fraud in US elections and 36 people have been killed by lightning this year alone.
Now fraud by absentee ballots is somewhat more common because its easier to fill out someone's ballot if it's mailed in, but it is not widespread and it is not systematic.
You might hear about a study showing that 6.4% of non-citizens living in the United States voted in 2008. That study has been thoroughly debunked.
You may have heard that certain voting machines can be easily rigged. That is just not true.
And you many have heard that voting machines made by liberal George Soros will be used in 16 states this year. In fact, George Soros has no ownership stake in the company in question, Smartmatic, and furthermore Smartmatic machines will be used in 0 states in 2016.
By the way, links to non-partisan sources in the dooblydoo as usual.
So, the US Presidential Election will not be rigged anymore than the one in 2004 was. What's different now is that one of the major party presidential candidates is loudly and consistently claiming that the election will be rigged - that there will be widespread voter fraud; that people may vote 10 times; that undocumented immigrants will vote and on, and on, and on. These are all simply lies. They are not substantiated in any way and normalizing those conspiracy theories frankly scares the crap out of me because it means fewer Americans will trust our elections even when they are free and fair.
I guess I understand that fear mongering is part of US politics, but undermining the legitimacy of our political institutions without cause isn't. Hearing that unfounded rhetoric from a Presidential candidate is a new and disturbing development in American political discourse so I want to be very clear: your vote will count, the election will not be rigged.
If you are fortunate enough to be an eligible voter in the United States of America, please make your voice heard.
Hank, I'll see you on Friday.
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