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November 29, 2012

Here's Why I'm Not Writing About Vote Fraud In The Election

I keep seeing questions about this in the comments. Let me address the question, rather than simply ignoring it.

After the election, there were claims that one Philly precinct hit 116% voter turnout, and that other precincts hit 90% or above.

Taking the last claim first: That seems to have been based on a misreading. An article I read said that 99% of the votes in some Philly precincts went to Obama-- but I saw it reported in blogs that the precincts had 99% turnout.

Which isn't what the article said. It said that of the votes counted -- with turnout level unspecified -- Obama got 99% or even 100%.

That sounds suspicious but it's not. We're talking about black inner-city neighborhoods. Blacks, generally, voted for Obama at, what, the 95% level? And bear in mind most of the black Romney votes aren't going to be located in Philadelphia's inner city-- they're going to be in suburbs, around military bases, and in very rich suburbs where rappers live (and vote Republican).

It's not the least bit suspicious that poor blacks in the inner city would vote 99% or 100% for Obama, when all blacks -- including middle class, rich, and military blacks (who are more Republican-leaning, relatively speaking) -- vote for Obama at a 95% level. 100% in the inner city in Philadelphia is pretty much what I expect.

What would you expect?

So this part of the claim comes from a mistaken reading of vote count for turnout, or an unwarranted suspicion about it being unlikely that an almost-all black neighborhood in Philly would vote 99% or 100% for Obama.

The other part of the claim-- about the 116% turnout in one precinct -- was due to a mistake, which has been explained.

Two divisions in Southwest Philadelphia's 40th Ward were both assigned to the same polling location, the Paschallville Library on Woodland Avenue. When poll workers were setting up operations for the day, they mistakenly traded the voting machines preprogrammed for each division.

One recorded turnout of 116 percent, with 245 votes from a division with only 211 registered voters, while the other recorded 166 votes among 472 registered voters, or 35 percent.

Combining votes from the two divisions, 411 votes were cast for president among 683 registered voters, a turnout rate of 60 percent - virtually the same as turnout citywide.

Republican City Commissioner Al Schmidt said poll workers at the library realized on Election Day that they had switched machines and notified election officials of the error.

Citywide, only three divisions reported turnouts above 80 percent - one each in West Philadelphia (85.7 percent), Roxborough (80.7 percent), and East Falls (80.4 percent). The Roxborough division was won by Romney.

So, the 116% turnout claim comes from two different precincts swapping their name-tags so that the smaller precinct reported way too high turnout (116%) while the bigger precinct reported way too low turnout (35%). Swap them back around and, presumably, turnout levels are more plausible.

Obviously there is voter fraud and of course Democrats are chiefly responsible for it. And yes, this is a perpetual problem in need of redress and reform. I don't mean to suggest it's not. Voter integrity is crucially important.

But as for the specific charge that the election was "stolen" by large-scale voter fraud -- this meme seems to have originated in the first 24 hours and seems to have been based on mistaken earlier reports and simple misreading of articles. But I guess because no one on the right ever says "I don't believe that, and here's why" it continues to percolate up as a viable claim.

But unless there's more to this than I haven't seen, this just seems to be an I Heard It On The Internet thing. Vaporware.

On the Motivations for Raising Rabble: I'm often curious about the reasons that claims without evidence are put forward. I figure it's a spectrum of rationales:

1. People who really believe it, who heard it, and just believe it.

2. People who don't so much believe it as think it might be true, but proving it to be true would require resources and a fairly serious amount of digging, the sort of digging that only a well-staffed media company or think tank could undertake. So the idea is to propagate the idea on blogs, which in will turn get people chattering about the idea, and this in turn will induce the actual investigation into the claim, which might not bear fruit, but then again it might.

The trouble, from my perspective, of this Type Two Rabble-Rousing is that for me to engage in this chatter-creating process would require me to start pretending I know this is true and it must be investigated by AEI or Fox!!!, and obviously I don't know it's true, and in fact rather think it's not. So it would require me to do an awful lot of lying in hopes of getting a major investigation started... even though I actually don't expect that investigation would wind up bearing fruit.

That's a lot of lying do for a It Just Might Be True! lark. More than I've got in me.

Don't get me wrong-- I like lying. I just don't want to commit to a long-term lie that takes so much damn work.

3. The third reason people might inject these claims into the internet bloodstream is purely cynical -- they don't believe the claims are true, but believe it would be politically useful if other people believed them to be true, so this is just a straight-up huckster move.

While I have sympathy for reasons 1 and 2, I don't have sympathy for this one. People who think this way strongly overestimate their own intelligence. They seem to think that while they themselves can see through some huckster hackery, other people are dumb and therefore can't, and see themselves sort of as puppetmasters.

I don't like this sort of person. Anyone who believes he's smart enough to engineer a Big Lie that works is most likely pretty dumb. Obviously, no one ever admits to being this sort of person, but sometimes I think that people really are trying to sell me on a Big (Dumb) Lie that they know is false, but which they think can Really Make a Difference if we all Just Push It Hard Enough.

This is why I hate all the astroturfing. Like for a specific candidate. It's not just that I disagree with the tactic of faking up a Wave of Irresistible Enthusiasm. I really hate the misplaced I'm So Smart I Can Fool Millions With My Clever Shenanigans mode of thought.

I certainly understand Reason One (I believe it) and Reason Two (I don't necessarily believe it, but we'll never know for sure unless we can get some serious research into this matter, so let's brave-face it and pretend we know for sure such research will wind up in Pulitzer Prizes).

On this last point, though, reporters are fantastically lazy individuals and are never going to just throw hundreds of man-hours into a speculative claim even if a dozen big blogs swear that maybe it's true.


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posted by Ace at 05:33 PM

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