Well it has been two weeks since the election and while we know who won, a section of the US STILL hasn’t come to terms with it.
The Keystone Cop Coup is making little progress in court after multiple legal challenges being effectively laughed out of court. As with so much of the Trump era, the farcical aspect is paired with real damage to the USA with delays to the transition of power and deep resentment among the right.
We can sort the dodgy claims into a number of groups:
- Election night oddities: graphs or vote totals that went up or down in weird ways. These are largely ‘real’ in the sense of being documented things that happened but not inherently unusual with live data (typos etc). There’s a selection bias here which we’ll talk more about later but also if one of these events happened and Biden’s vote went up and was then corrected down, that is taken as evidence by the Keystone-Coupers that lots of other times Biden’s vote went up incorrectly and wasn’t corrected. Conversely if the opposite happened then that is taken as evidence of ‘corrections’ suspiciously favouring Biden. Heads it’s fraud for Biden and tails it’s fraud against Trump.
- The timing of postal ballot counting. This forms the bulk of the disbelief even though it was widely anticipated that many votes for Biden would be counted later in the process due to many states counting postal ballots after counting in-person on the day ballots. That Trump appeared to be winning and then wasn’t was just very upsetting (understandable I guess) but it shouldn’t have been surprising.
- Tall stories. Numerous claims have been breathlessly reported of mundane happenings. They often involve vans mysteriously arriving at polling booths and the witness didn’t know what the van was and so maybe it was a van of fake ballots rather than just a van…The most infamous of these is a video from serial fraudsters Project Veritas showing a postal worker making claims of voting irregularities…claims which the worker then retracted https://www.washingtonpost.com/investigations/postal-worker-fabricated-ballot-pennsylvania/2020/11/10/99269a7c-2364-11eb-8599-406466ad1b8e_story.html
- Down ballot blanks. Biden did much better than down ballot Democrats. You would think that is actually counter-evidence to claims of fraud by the Democratic Party but because it’s unusual it gets thrown on the pile. The reality is that Biden genuinely isn’t such a great candidate but there was a massive anti-Trump vote. Again, not a surprise not a mystery.
- “Statistical” non-oddities. I’ve been referred to so many right wing pieces claiming statistical evidence of electoral fraud that AREN’T Benford’s Law claims (which I’ll get to). In each case there are statistics (the post has numbers in them) but no statistical argument. They all follow a template of ‘look at these numbers’ [some details of voting numbers] and ways in which they are different from past elections and an expression of disbelief that Biden would get these votes. That Trump is uniquely disliked by the people who dislike him is never considered even though the right have been moaning about “Orangeman Bad” for ever so long.
- Name searches. Apparently we are dealing with people who believe firstname-surname combinations are unique identifiers. By searching for the names of dead people or names of people who live in other states or maiden names of married women who changed their surname, numerous examples of people with the SAME NAMES have been found to have voted! Gasp! It’s almost like multiple people have the same names! Utter bunk.
- Benford’s Law. This really seems to be dying off in popularity after hosts of debunkings. Watching it in real time propogate out from the far, far right and into the main Republican discourse was interesting in a horrific way. It’s bunk though.
- The big meta argument. Now this is the current favourite and it works by combining the effect of all of the above. As I haven’t mentioned any Sad Puppies yet, I’ll invoke blog tradition and let Dave Freer introduce it:
“For there to be no red flags two conditions need to exist: 1) approximately the same number of reported (correct or not) issues favoring each side.”https://monsterhunternation.com/2020/11/05/the-2020-election-fuckery-is-afoot/#comment-98724
Sure, sure, goes the argument, maybe that postal worker was lying and maybe that graph was a glitch but look at all of these things and look how they all favour Biden, that’s just too big a coincidence! Sometimes they even work out probabilities!
Yeah but nah.
There are five elements as to why this is utter bunk. The broad answer is that this isn’t random but let me count the ways:
- Biden’s mail in ballot advantage was a known thing in advance. The Biden campaign overtly encouraged people to vote that way and the Trump campaign overtly discouraged people from voting that way. There is zero mystery there and it accounts for much of the real differences in profile between Biden votes and Trump votes.
- Demographic differences between Biden and Trump votes mean that yes, Biden often won city precincts by large numbers and those numbers were often much larger because lots of people really, really hate Trump.
- Selection bias. “All’ of these “examples” aren’t a random selection of election weirdness. They are specifically the examples chosen by people who wanted Trump to win and/or who assume Democratic Party fraud. We saw this specifically with the Benford’s law claims in which there no examples of Trump votes not following Benford’s law because the people who had drawn the graphs had only picked examples where Biden’s didn’t and Trump’s did (sort of – probably these examples are Trump’s following a normalish distribution with a mean whose first digit was 1).
- Selective interpretation aka: heads it’s fraud for Biden and tails it’s fraud against Trump. For example the dubious name search evidence (see above) even if taken on face value does not demonstrate who the duplicate person voted for. However, any evidence of dodigness, no matter how unsubstantiated and lacking in details, is always taken as evidence of fraud by Democrats, despite the reality of ACTUAL genuine, corroborated examples of fraud in actual reality, while rare overall, is often conducted by Republicans.
- Outright lying…or, if we are being charitable, a disdain for truth telling that is morally the same as lying.
It is dispiriting but not surprising to watch people put so much effort into fooling themselves so as to support malicious beliefs about others. One election was never going to cure this degree of self-deceit. We should hardly be surprised that people who have been actively fooling themselves about a global pandemic and a decades long global warming crisis can fool themselves about an election, nor that they would be so easily influenced by people further to their right who lie about the holocaust or (as we’ve seen) about the shape of the Earth.
We can watch the growth of conspiracy ideation in real time here. How do people get so sucked in? Take our old pal Larry Corriea. He has some strange idea but he’s not a flat Earther or a Qanon-nut. His first comments about the election were framed in terms of just asking questions and citing “red lags” rather than bold assertions of fraud but as days progressed his assertions grew stronger even though the evidence got thinner. What makes this a ratchet of increasingly conspiratorial thinking is two-fold 1. more concrete evidence does not eventuate and 2. he stakes his personal reputation on his claims. Then what happens? Court cases flop, senior Republicans don’t back the claims of fraud, Fox News acts like Biden won. All of these run counter to the claim to his view of reality:
“I am more offended by how ham fisted, clumsy, and audacious the fraud to elect him is than the idea of Joe Biden being president.”https://monsterhunternation.com/2020/11/05/the-2020-election-fuckery-is-afoot/
If the fraud is not just audacious but also clumsy and ham fisted then how come everybody in positions of power at the GoP aren’t doing something? How come Trump’s legal team aren’t making more legal process? How come nobody has found any substantial concrete examples (aside from examples of Republicans misbehaving). The are two choices: reconsider your original claims (maybe there was still fraud but maybe it was more subtle and less provable) or start claiming that all these other people from senior Republicans to right wing news outlets are in on the fraud as well. However, the first means conceding that maybe his ability to discern how the extent of the fraud was not as good as he claimed and that is something that a fragile ego can’t cope with. It’s not even a matter of maybe thinking there wasn’t fraud but even the idea that maybe there was fraud but that it was subtle or clever is too much a personal affront. The only direction is down the conspiracy spiral which inevitably reaches a point where a nameless ‘them’ are calling the shots and nothing, not even the curvature of the Earth, can be trusted.