Thursday, August 18, 2016

The Vote Rigging Fallacy

There is no evidence to support the conspiracy theory of a rigged electoral system. As explained by the Washington Post there is no way that presidential elections are fixed, "It's simply not feasible."

However, it is not just the objective reality that matters. The perception that elections are free and fair is crucial. both to encourage people to participate in the democratic process and to lend legitimacy to those that win.

These conspiratorial narratives have dire consequences, it does not matter that they are not true.  Casting aspersions on the legitimacy of electoral outcomes is a grave threat to the national interest. As explained by longtime Trump ally Roger Stone, the perception of vote rigging would result in "a constitutional crisis, widespread civil disobedience, and the government will no longer be the government."

The idea that the presidential election is rigged has been advanced by both Donald Trump and some supporters of Bernie Sanders. Despite the large number of people that have boarded this conspiracy train, a close examination reveals that like bigfoot or UFO's there is no credible evidence to support their claim. In fact the evidence solidly refutes these allegations.

Another Washington Post article reports on a huge investigation of electoral fraud. The findings revealed that over the course of 14 years of elections only 31 cases of in-person voter fraud were discovered. During this time one billion votes were cast. Even though there are only 31 cases out of a billion votes, this finding has not silenced allegations of voter fraud..

Ari Berman, a senior contributing writer for the Nation, and author of “Give Us the Ballot: The Modern Struggle for Voting Rights in America.” In a Washington Post article he says that it is virtually impossible to have widespread voter fraud without it being detected. However Trump is reiterating oft repeated Republican hypocrisy.

"By questioning the integrity of the ballot, Trump is merely amplifying a strategy the GOP has pursued for two decades, one less about stopping fraud than about making it harder for Democratic-leaning constituencies to vote.

Their are two examples of practices that could be construed as fixing an election  The first is Republican redistricting,  the second is the GOP's voter restrictions. Some states have enacted voter ID laws that prevented 122,000 people from voting. The mostly black and younger voters that were denied the right to vote typically vote Democrat. However, even these efforts have been overturned by the courts in recent weeks. Federal courts have struck down Republican-backed voting restrictions in Texas, North Carolina, Michigan, North Dakota, Kansas and Wisconsin.

Accusations of widespread voter fraud are utterly baseless. The statistical risks of such fraud are almost identical to the risk of getting hit by lightening. Concerns about widespread hacking and rigging of voting machines has also been debunked. Voter fraud on a scale capable of altering electoral outcomes would require the complicity of tens of thousands of government officials across the nation.

“The more people it takes to pull off a form of fraud, the more likely you are to get caught,” says Wendy Weiser, director of the democracy program at the Brennan Center for Justice. “To the extent that there are absentee-ballot fraud scandals, they are in local elections. You could never do it on the scale to effect a congressional, statewide or national race.”

Not only is voter fraud unlikely it also comes with a steep penalty that serves as a powerful deterrent. Each fraudulent vote would carry a penalty of five years in jail and a $10,000 fine, plus additional state penalties.

Allegations of vote rigging from Republicans panders to the conspiracy theories of Trump's constituency. It may also be a way for Trump to explain what looks like his forthcoming election loss. However, what makes this election cycle even more tragic is the fact that those on the left and those on the right are both expressing concern about electoral fairness. These false allegations denigrate democracy and this is a dangerous game that contributes to polarization and political gridlock. 

“A preoccupation with mostly phantom election fraud leads to real incidents of disenfranchisement, which undermine rather than enhance confidence in elections,” U.S. District Judge James Peterson wrote in a decision striking down Wisconsin’s voting restrictions on July 29.

The great American tradition of speaking truth to power is sacrosanct however, the propensity to spin lies as truth is antithetical to all that is great about America's democratic traditions.

The fact that this is even a discussion topic at all is sad. Rather than addressing issues of substance we are refuting allegations that have no basis in fact. Sadly, some of the crazies who subscribe to these conspiratorial views will not be swayed by facts, so it is up to everyone else to contain their contagion of lies.

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