The Election Issue

I'm sorry. I'm truly sorry.

Hey, you. How’s your day going?

It could be worse. You could have just bought a brand new Porsche and then driven it off the side of your driveway-cliff trying to figure out how to put it in reverse.

To quote the late, great Chris Farley: “Man, that sucks!

One piece of housekeeping from The Coronavirus Issue 2 1⁄2: The inimitable Erika Troyer pointed out to me that if you start at Thanksgiving, and add about two weeks for the disease to set in and cases to be reported, and then another 22 days (the average time between a COVID case report and the patient dying), you get…Christmas! Which feels a lot like a cruel cosmic joke. Merry Christmas, America! Here’s a few thousand dead people!

Anywho, let’s get down to this week’s tasty treats.

1. Irrefutable Proof of Election Frau…

Okay, so last week, Sydney Powell (one of the lawyers leading Trump’s legal challenges to the election) said during a press conference that Lin Wood (another lawyer working for the GOP on similar cases) had irrefutable proof of election fraud. She didn’t get specific (which was even making Fox News’ Tucker Carlson pretty frustrated [YouTube, 10 min] ), but implied that it had to do with statistical proof that votes were switched to Biden across a wide swath of districts.

Lin Wood then filed an affidavit in his case in Georgia from a cyber-security expert named Russell Ramsland. This affidavit provided some pretty damning evidence that something was amiss in the vote counts in Michigan. Ramsland had gone through the precincts one by one, and had identified at least 19 where the votes cast for Biden were more than the total number of voters in that precinct.

This was crazy! The whole election was called into question! Maybe Ms. Powell was right: Venezuelan communists really had funded a coup!


Except for one thing.

The precincts listed in the affidavit aren’t in Michigan. They’re in Minnesota.

Apparently, Ramsland got his MI and his MN mixed up in his data set, and was comparing vote totals to voter rolls by precinct number (and isn’t from Michigan or Minnesota, so didn’t recognize any of the town names).

The smoking gun was a typo.

That, my friends, is a pretty big blunder. I feel bad for Russell Ramsland.

Here’s Trump supporter and conservative blogger John Hinderaker with the original research that figured this out [Powerline Blog, ~7 min].

2. Wait, did you say communists?

Depending on which half of the Facebook information ecosystem you belong to, you might think it doesn’t sound realistic that Trump’s actual lawyer said in an actual press conference that the rigging of the election was a Venezuelan communist plot. But she definitely [Washington Post, ~10 min] did [Twitter, 1 min video].

It seems clear now that she was wrong, at least about that specific thing. So why did she say that? It’s easy to assume she was just making things up, but I don’t actually believe that’s how most people work.

My best theory right now for what happened to her and the Trump legal team is this:

  1. A researcher found these impossible vote totals in Michigan.

  2. They realized that most of the precincts in question used voting software from a company called Smartmatic.

  3. They googled Smartmatic and saw that it was founded in Florida by Venezuelan immigrants.

  4. What other evidence do you need? Clearly communists.

It’s an easy joke, and I don’t think it’s entirely out of line. But I also think it’s very important to try and look past the joke to true understanding.

I’m willing to bet that Sydney Powell and Rudy Giuliani and a bunch of other people really thought they were on to something. They were convinced Trump could only lose if the election was rigged, so they went searching for proof that it was. They found some evidence that vote totals were off in Michigan; this confirmed their theory; they started searching for the “how”. And the “how” that made the most sense potentially involved communists, which, let’s be honest, is worth a lot of clicks and TV coverage. So they went with it.

I think they truly believed that if they could stall long enough to do some more digging, they’d find actual evidence of the communist connection, or at least of something equally as juicy. They made a classic mistake—the same one that you, and me, and millions of people across every discipline and industry have made over and over again since the dawn of time: They came up with a conclusion, and then went searching for evidence to prove it, and then stopped searching when they found something that confirmed the conclusion.

It’s kind of the way the human mind works by default.

But it leads to errors—sometimes of the embarrassing “What’s Michigan’s abbreviation again?” variety. To avoid this problem, you have to keep searching and questioning and analyzing. You have to keep trying to disprove your own theory, or you’ll end up in a situation where you’ve staked your reputation on it and someone else disproves it for you.

Which is why the scientific method was created and honed over time—to force our dumb human brains to avoid jumping to conclusions and follow the data where it leads. We all remember it from school, right?

1. Hypothesis → 2. Collect Data → 3. Update Hypothesis → 4. Go Back to 2

You see how there’s no Step 5: You’re Done? Scientists are fond of saying that we can’t ever actually know anything for sure, which is true, but which also makes it hard to print headlines about what scientists know. Ask a scientist about something utterly unquestionably true from their field of study and they will absolutely refuse to say they’re more than 99% confident it will always be true.

Anyway, I’m getting off topic, but Sydney Powell and the communist explanation for the voter fraud that didn’t actually happen reminded me of the difference between knowing and suspecting, and also of one of my favorite explanations of this phenomenon [YouTube, 2:48] from—who else?—Richard Feynman.

3. The biggest, most brazen, most pointless crime in history

Okay, so here’s where I think we need to just talk about the election for a minute.

I have plenty of SARM readers from all corners of the political spectrum (the spectrum isn’t two dimensional!), and I intend to keep it that way. I’m no partisan—2020 was the first election in my life in which I voted for a major party presidential candidate. I’ve always felt that the two-party system is fatally flawed, that most national politicians are terrible, and so forth.

However, I think a thought experiment is in order. So join me, wont you, on a magical journey into the hypothetical?

Let’s say, for a moment, that there was a vast left-wing conspiracy to steal the election. The “how” doesn’t matter. Perhaps they bribed or hacked a voting machine manufacturer. Perhaps they have a nationwide network of election workers that were willing to risk going to jail. Perhaps they registered dead people and mailed in votes on their behalf. However it worked, let’s assume it worked.

In this scenario, all of the following must be true:

  1. They either had the power to switch votes from Trump to Biden, or to add additional votes for Biden.

  2. They used that power to have Biden barely win in a few key states.

  3. They did not use that power to create a convincing Biden victory on election night.

  4. They did not use that power to keep a bunch of House seats that flipped to Republicans.

  5. They did not use that power to win back the Senate, or even to win one of the high-profile races where the national Democratic machinery had pumped hundreds of millions of dollars into the races. (For example, Lindsey Graham and Mitch McConnell both won by a lot.)

  6. The outcome they wanted was one in which a hamstrung President Joe Biden cannot appoint a single federal judge, cannot implement anything that requires congressional approval, and where exactly zero of the legislative goals of the Democratic party are even on the table.

Let me tell you something, dear reader. That doesn’t add up. I would go so far as to say that given the results, I am 99% confident 😉 that no matter what version of “the election was rigged” Trump’s team claims next, it simply cannot have happened.

Because if it did, it was the biggest, most brazen, and most pointless crime in history.

4. Well, that’s good. I wouldn’t want the democratic process to be interfered wi…

So at this point, it doesn’t seem like there is any evidence of widespread voter fraud. However, President Trump has a couple more tricks up his sleeve.

First, he’s been personally calling local election officials [Associated Press, ~10 min] and trying to convince them not to certify the results in their counties or precincts. As inappropriate and kind of nakedly gross as this is, the deadline to certify results is approaching and I don’t think it’s very likely this will add up to much.

Second, he’s trying to convince state legislators in swing states that went blue [Reuters, ~10 min] to ignore the results of the election and appoint Electoral College Electors who will elect Trump.

This is much more dangerous.

Wait, is that even legal?

Yes, surprisingly. The U.S. Constitution and U.S. law says that each state shall appoint Electors to the Electoral College to choose the president, and there are a bunch of rules about when, but no rules about how. States can choose to have a popular election to appoint their Electors, or they can choose to just pick some at random, or they can do pretty much anything else they want. They just have to do it by a certain date, and they have to have a state law on the books describing the process before the election begins.

This lack of a federal “this is how states choose electors” rule is the reason that while most states give 100% of their Electors to the winner of the popular presidential vote in that state, both Maine and Nebraska split their Electors between the candidates. In the early days of the Union, nearly all of the states split up their Electors based on the election. But over time, it became clear that the all-or-nothing states were more valuable to win, and so were getting more time and attention from presidential candidates on the campaign trail. And so eventually, nearly every state changed their laws to give all of their Electors to the winner of the popular vote so that they wouldn’t be ignored and could stay just as relevant as everyone else.

Ironically, for a while on election night 2020 it looked like Biden might win by one Electoral vote because he won one single Elector in Nebraska (that’s what NE-2 referred to, in case you were watching but didn’t understand that). Had that happened, it would have been incredibly ironic—the most important state would have ended up being the one that never jumped on the “I wanna be important, too!” bandwagon. But I digress…

So what are the chances?

As you know, every state currently assigns Electors based on how its citizens vote because, you know, it’s a democracy.

I do not think it’s very likely that this scheme will work. First of all, Trump would need to convince three different states to do it because of how far he is behind in Electoral votes. But also, I think that most state legislators, even die-hard Trumpist Republicans, will be a bit trigger-shy when it comes to openly subverting the will of their constituents.

But it is possible, and that is a problem. And the fact that Donald Trump is willing to go there is an even bigger problem. [The New Yorker, ~20 min]

Even if you wish Donald Trump had won the election, you really don’t want him to remain in power this way. It’s bad for democracy, and could not lead to good things either politically or in the streets.

And I just want to outline this in big, bold ink for everyone that has only half been paying attention:

Donald Trump has how indicated that if he can’t win at the polls, and he can’t find any evidence of fraud, and he can’t win in the courts, he’s willing to ask the political elite to simply ignore the vote and keep him in power anyway.

That’s not cool, man!

That’s a Putin move. A Chairman Mao move. Dare I say it, a [gasp!] Hitler move.

And for me, it removes any lingering doubt I may have been harboring that he really is is a terrible, no-good, unscrupulous, law-breaking, dangerous, immoral president.

When The Atlantic printed their piece about how they thought he might try to steal the election [The Atlantic, ~30 min] by getting states to assign alternate Electors back in September, I was scared (and surpised it was possible) but skeptical.

I, like many people in this country I think, was holding out hope that maybe he wasn’t as bad as I thought. That maybe when the chips were down he would choose preserving America over preserving his own power. In other words, I didn’t think he’d actually try it.

Now that he is attempting to pull that trigger, I can give him no more benefit of the doubt on any subject, and I have to assume that everything he and his team say or do is just as suspect.

Which makes me sad.

5. On that note…

Have a wonderful Thanksgiving.

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