Politics and Love

Are Concerns about the Validity of the Elections Results Legitimate?

Voting is the heart of a democratic process that possesses integrity. Thus, in almost every election in our country, there are concerns about whether the election process is legitimate or about various forces that could undermine its legitimacy.

For example, as you probably recall, in the 2016 election, there were concerns that Russians had meddled with our election or that, perhaps, President Trump had somehow conspired with the Russians to rig the election in his favor.

I will be honest that I initially had these same concerns about the 2016 election. I was shocked by Trump’s win, and his victory initially felt fishy to me. I have learned, however, that just because something feels fishy or seems “off” to me, does not actually mean it is. On the one hand, I think I have pretty good intuition, and so I tend to listen to my gut feelings. On the other hand, I know that I am a human being and, like all human beings, my gut feelings can be influenced by strong emotions (which may or may not be based on good reasons) and bias.

Photo by Tengyart, courtesy of Unsplash

Therefore, when it felt like something was off about the 2016 elections, I began researching a lot. I researched whether there was evidence to support the claim that Russia interfered with the elections or that Donald Trump conspired with them. I also researched whether there was evidence that contradicted this claim. (One of the best ways to become aware of your own bias is to pretend like the claim opposite yours is true and to honestly seek out the best evidence that supports it.)

Through my research I concluded that there was evidence that Russia conspired to hack U.S. elections but that they were not successful. I also concluded that Donald Trump was careless in the way he Tweeted about Russia but that there was not clear evidence of collusion with Russia. I also concluded that there were many more obvious reasons why Trump legitimately won the election, even though I was disappointed he did.[1]

I know that just because the candidate I didn’t vote for wins the elections, this doesn’t mean the elections are fraudulent. And just because my preferred candidate wins the election doesn’t mean the election process is automatically legitimate.

In fact, I would be concerned over concrete evidence of illegitimate elections even if my preferred candidate did win. I don’t want my candidate to win through illegitimate means because I believe in justice, fairness, and democracy. Winning through illegitimate elections is neither just nor fair, and it undermines the democratic process.

In this election, like any other, there have been accusations of illegitimacy in the voting process. It is important to note, however, that just because someone (or a group of people) makes an accusation that something is occurring doesn’t actually mean it is occurring.

In fact, people make accusations sometimes simply because they don’t like how something is going. I will call such behavior Pouty Middle School Boy Syndrome. I was a middle school teacher for many years and loved it. However, during my years of middle school teaching, there was some common unpleasant behavior I observed quite regularly while monitoring students playing games at recess. If a student (often a boy) didn’t like how a game was going, he would automatically accuse the other side of cheating, not because he actually cared about cheating or saw concrete evidence of cheating occurring but because the thought of losing damaged his ego. Thus, the accusations. That is the behavior I am calling Pouty Middle School Boy Syndrome.

People, both men and women, can behave like pouty middle school boys at any age. When I have heard accusations of election fraud during this election cycle, they have most often struck me as Pouty Middle School Boy Syndrome.  However, I decided to investigate some of the most common claims of illegitimacy, and I have written below about why I believe they lack a basis in either strong evidence or good reasoning.

Some Assumptions I am Making about You as a Reader

Before I discuss these claims, I would like to state some of the assumptions I have about you as a reader. I assume that you care about things like logic, honesty, truth, and consistent standards. I also assume that you understand that there are logical and illogical, honest and dishonest, and consistent and inconsistent people in both parties.

Photo by Michael Carruth, courtesy of Unsplash

Because of this, I assume that just as you want people in the party you didn’t vote for to be logical, honest, and consistent, you will hold people in your own party to the same standard.

Given these assumptions, I also assume that you understand that just because someone in your party says something is the case, that does not necessarily mean it is indeed the case. Just like people in other parties can make irrational and baseless claims, so can people in your own party. Sometimes people shoot off their mouth without really thinking about whether what they say has any basis in reality. And while there isn’t a law against shooting off one’s mouth, the things people say when doing so aren’t necessarily to be trusted, no matter how much we generally like the people in question.

If a person’s claims are to be trusted, they need to have clear evidence to support their claim (not just a gut feeling or a dislike of how something is going), and this evidence must be evidence that is reasonable to people in both parties that are trying to be logical, honest, and consistent. These are the assumptions guiding my writing in this post.

Having said that, here are some of the reasons people have said that the current elections are unfair and why I think these claims are false.

One: Some people have claimed that President Trump was clearly winning on election night and then, suddenly, a bunch of states that were red turned blue and helped Biden win. Some people have claimed that this is evidence that the election is unfair.

I am going to ask you for a minute to play a logic imagination game with me. Imagine that you could travel back in time to several weeks ago before the election. Let’s say that you are very familiar with President Trump’s opinions on a variety of issues. And let’s say that after you traveled back in time, someone asked you, “Does President Trump think people should vote by mail or vote in person?”

If you were familiar with President Trump’s opinions, you would know that the President urged his supporters to vote in person, rather than by mail because he thinks mail-in voting is suspect (even though he himself regularly votes by mail through absentee ballots).

And let’s say that you are also very familiar with the fact that Democrats tend to be more worried about COVID than Republicans and were concerned in-person voting would spread COVID. Let’s say you also knew that all 50 states permitted people to vote early either by mail-in voting or by early voting measures.

Let’s say someone asked you this: “Who do you think will vote more in person on election day—Republicans or Democrats?” You would likely have said “Republicans”. And you would have been right.

And if someone asked you, “Who do you think will vote more by mail-in ballot or in early voting stations—Democrat or Republican?” You would have likely said “Democrats”. And you would have been right.

Now let’s say that you also found out that some states like Pennsylvania did not permit officials to count early or mail-in ballots until after election day. Given all this information, let’s say someone further asked you this question about a state like Pennsylvania: “Given what you know about who is likely to vote in person and who is likely to vote by mail, as the ballots get counted, who will it seems is the winner on election day and why?”

You would likely answer, “It will appear on election day that President Trump won because the votes counted on election day were likely predominantly cast by Republicans since Trump discouraged his supporters from mail-in votes, so they were more likely to vote in person than Democrats, who were more likely to vote by mail because of COVID concerns.”

Photo by visuals, courtesy of Unsplash

And let’s say someone further asked you, “Why might the election night count not be an accurate reflection of the final count?” You would probably reply, “It might not be an accurate reflection because in states or counties that were more Democrat, a majority of the Democratic votes would not be counted until the day after (or next several days after) the election.”

If you answered this way, which is a reasonable way to answer given the voting behavior the President urged (or given voting behavior in line with COVID concerns), you would have done a great job of describing something called an Election Mirage that some folks warned about before the election.

This election was very different from pretty much every election we have had because of the very different way people voted based on their political party and their concerns about COVID. If a state had a lot of people who voted at early polling centers, for instance, these folks tended to be more Democrat. And if this state allowed these votes to be counted first, it would appear on election night that Biden was much further ahead in this state than he actually turned out to be once Republican votes were counted on election day. This would be a Blue Mirage.

On the other hand, if a state didn’t permit the counting of early and mail-in votes until after election day, it would appear on election night that President Trump was much further ahead in this state than he actually turned out to be once Democratic votes were counted after election day. This would be a Red Mirage.

So, for example, Trump initially seemed to be winning Pennsylvania. However, Pennsylvania didn’t start counting mail-in ballots until after election day, and as they have counted these ballots, which were predominantly Democrat (because of the reasons mentioned above), Joe Biden took the lead. This same thing happened in Georgia.

And by the way, something like this happened in Arizona, too, although the situation was much more complicated there. Arizona ended up going blue, and Fox News and the AP called Arizona for Biden. But then more ballots were discovered that seemed to favor Trump.  Nate Silver, who runs FiveThirtyEight, one of the most respected polling sites[2] believes that Arizona was called too soon, although it did eventually go to Biden.

Photos by Clay Banks, courtesy of Unsplash

So, when people suggest the President won a state and then folks mysteriously found ballots and the state flipped blue, this is a misunderstanding of how the vote counting process occurred this year in response to an increased number of mail-in ballots and early voting. It was impossible to declare a winner on election night because some states did not even start counting large numbers of votes until the day after the elections. Because of this, states could initially seem blue OR red and then turn the other color as all the votes were tallied.

And by the way, it’s important to note that many Trump supporters were protesting outside of the voting headquarters demanding that votes in Arizona continue to be counted because they thought that Arizona would flip back to Trump. These Trump supporters were right. The votes in Arizona should ALL be counted, even if it were to turn out the Fox News and the AP were wrong and called Arizona too early for Biden. (That ended up not happening.)

And it is also true that ALL the votes should be counted in every state, even if those states eventually flip over to Biden, which it appears, for example, that Pennsylvania did.

And, by the way, if states had stopped counting votes when the President demanded they stop, this would have guaranteed Trump’s loss, not his win (something which Trump’s aids had to inform him of) because at the time he called for people to stop counting votes, Biden had more electoral college votes.

So, it is not evidence of voter fraud that some states initially seemed red and then shifted to blue. Rather, this shift happened in both red and blue states and occurred because of the unusual COVID-related voting process this year, and people were warning about shifts like this before the election.

But of course, red and blue shifts are not the only thing that has caused some people concern. Another reason that people are concerned about the legitimacy of elections this year is because of the preponderance of people who voted by mail. So, that issue–mail-in voting– is what I will examine in another post, coming soon.

In the meantime, you might find this post helpful:

Do You Have a My Guy Bias? Is It Harming You?

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[1] One of the reasons I eventually concluded what I did is that an FBI task force did an extensive investigation and found that while there was evidence that Russia conspired to interfere with US elections, there was no evidence of collusion with the Trump campaign. James Comey headed up this investigation. In the weeks before the 2016 elections, he had previously released a report about Hillary Clinton’s alleged carelessness regarding her handling of classified information on her computer. Many people believe his report was one of the key issues that cost Clinton the election and helped Trump get elected. Despite this, Comey was in no way in President Trump’s pocket and conducted this investigation despite numerous protests and threats by President Trump. These facts suggest that the FBI investigation was conducted with earnestness and integrity.

[2] Silver predicted that Trump had a much higher chance of winning than most polling sites in 2016. In 2020, his site predicted that Biden was the favored candidate to win.

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