Fair or Foul?

I’ve been thinking a lot about the battle over the 2020 presidential election results. I’ve read legal documents, watched witness testimony, and looked for information to support or contradict findings.  

Before going too far with my comments, I want to acknowledge that while elements of this election stand out, this situation isn’t entirely unique. Prior elections have had their issues. After the 2016 election, some people wanted to pressure state electors to vote their conscience rather than vote in accordance with the winner of their state. Following the 2016 election we also had investigations conducted into the activities of campaign managers leading to several convictions, including fines and jail time. All of that, however, did not overturn the 2016 election. 

We are a nation of checks and balances. It’s good to verify information and audit results.  

Let’s peel back the layers and speak honestly about what is going on as we approach the conclusion of our current saga. It’s fresh, people are upset, and that may make it hard to see things clearly. 

But here we go.

The whole issue stems from what happened on election night and the days that followed as votes were counted. A lot of us watched various news channels regularly update state-by-state projected results. Looking at projected results is like flipping through channels and passing a sports game. You can look at the current score, see who is up by how many points, but it is clearly not the final score — not until the game is over. At any moment either team could widen or narrow the lead. Teams can also come up from behind and score last minute points to win the game. 

But election night, as everyone was heading to bed, that channel flipping score showed that the Republican candidate was ahead and showing a slight lead in certain swing states (states that tend to vote for both Republicans and Democrats). 

As we followed the “game” for the next few days and frequently checked the “score”, those swing states started to show results that changed which candidate was in the lead. Some people understood that this was likely because in those states in-person voting was counted first, followed by all of the mail-in and absentee ballots. For others, watching the lead shift from one candidate to another it might have felt like something wasn’t right. As final votes were counted and each state declared a winner, many people were left wondering whether fraud affected the counting or results in certain states.

And so, from then until now we’ve seen the checks and balances we’re entitled to when ensuring a free and fair election. 

Sifting through all of the testimony, legal documents, and commentary, I’ll see if I can sum up some of the concerns (in no particular order). I’ll also give the results of the multiple audits that were conducted in those key swing states. Notice here that not every state has been audited, just those states which showed one candidate leading at the beginning of the game, but a different candidate won after the final ballot was tabulated. 

As people began examining the data in these states and started talking to workers and observers in certain counties, concerns were raised about the machines and methods used to count the ballots. Witnesses noted that ballots were passed through the machines multiple times, jammed machines weren’t set to zero and numbers were higher than expected. In response to these concerns several states conducted a hand-count of all ballots and compared them to machine tabulated results. After these checks and audits were completed, the machine results and hand-counted results were extremely similar. This means that there was not a significant error in the machine count. This also means that although certain procedures appeared to be wrong by observers, poll workers and trained ballot counters were doing their job. 

Mail-in and absentee ballots rely heavily on signature verification to validate a ballot as belonging to the voter. Some raised concerns that signature verification technology left loopholes for fraudulent ballots to be counted along with authentic ones. In response to this concern a significant sampling of ballots were selected and signature verification was conducted ballot by ballot by election officials, manually checking each signature against the signature verification system. Of the audit of over 15,000 ballots the machines were declared accurate, detecting only one case where a ballot was signed by a spouse and another voter forgot to sign on one of the signature lines. While this shows that the system isn’t 100 percent accurate, it provides enough evidence to conclude that the results of the election are valid. If large numbers of fraudulent ballots had been counted initially, there would have been a higher number of errors detected during the audit.

Another concern relates again to mail-in and absentee ballots, specifically during this unique year of the COVID-19 pandemic. Early on questions came up regarding when a ballot could arrive in the mail and still be counted. Would a ballot only be counted if it arrived on or before election day? Would ballots postmarked on election day also count, even if they arrived a few days after? Some of these details needed to be ironed out and could only be determined by state legislatures. Since legislatures are rarely unanimous, some details were brought before the courts and were determined on a case by case basis. In the end, each state has a right to determine their rules, and whether we agree or not, there’s not much we can do. Swing states which struggled initially, eventually certified their voting results signalling to the rest of us that no laws or processes had been violated.

Analyzing all possibilities, another concern has surfaced around ballots mailed and counted for people who have moved, died, or received more than one ballot. This is specifically pointing to the fact that registered voter lists are often behind current addresses, death records or other irregularities, and multiple ballots can be mailed, exposing them to potential fraud. 

How could we check and ensure that a voter only voted once? How would we make sure that voters who have died are not “voting”? How would we make sure that a person who has moved is not voting in two places?

To understand the answers to these important questions, you have to look at the tabulation process. In my county, for example, ballots are not even opened until the outside voter identifying information can be verified. If I’ve moved within the same county and received two ballots and decided to send them both in, the machine has a way of identifying duplicate ballots, before they are counted. 

Suppose those duplicate ballots, all collected and put in a separate place, somehow skipped the process (through the act of a felony by election officials and poll workers) and were opened and mixed in with all of the other ballots. Ballots once opened, after all, do not have names or other identifiers. Some counties may otherwise mark the actual ballot to give them a distinctive number or code, but suppose there’s nothing to identify these ballots. The easiest way to verify whether large-scale fraud has taken place would be to check registered voter numbers compared to ballots counted. If my vote was counted twice, it would inflate the numbers. True, a small handful of ballots might pass under the radar and could mess up a local election, but the numbers needed in this case to overturn the election results for the presidential race would have to be significantly higher. After several audits and verification conducted by various states and counties, no proof of large scale fraud or inflated numbers were found.

What about voters who moved to another county or state who tried to vote twice? In this case it is true that if voters were able to travel to their old residence or have someone mail them their second ballot they could potentially vote twice. This is, of course, still illegal and difficult to do. A handful of people over the decades have been caught trying to vote twice, using previous residences. But again in this case authorities couldn’t find any proof that this was conducted on a large enough scale to flip the election results.

What about other abnormalities?

As in every election you find people who don’t quite grasp the gravity of voter fraud. Maybe a college student registered to vote in their home state and a thoughtful parent fills out and submits the ballot. Maybe a loved one has died and a ballot still shows up for them in the ballot box. These are all felonies.

The results of multi-layer audits have found these expected abnormalities where we can recognize the need for a wake up call to emphasize how important it is to avoid any form of fraud. However, no investigation large or small was able to find evidence that any fraud committed was orchestrated or on a large scale. Even the early fears of ballot dumping have been debunked as tips and trails have been followed, information tracked, and the results published and verified.

At the end of the day we may not be able to see the instant replay of every call made by a referee or election official. We may not be able to access all of the information we need to feel completely satisfied that everything was conducted fairly. We may cry foul as we see it and encourage our representatives to represent our feelings on the matter. We must also respect those elected officials representing others who have reviewed the same evidence and feel differently.

But something bigger is at stake here.

If we don’t trust our own local governments to count ballots and call elections fairly, that is on us. These are our elected officials, people who work for us and are accountable to us. For a long time, I didn’t care what anyone in government did. Frankly, I didn’t know what they were doing. I have since accepted that I have my part to play if I want to see things get better. 

Some of you may wonder if peeking behind the curtain will make you less trusting and more skeptical of the process. Speaking from personal experience I would say that while it is true that everything is still susceptible to human error, our nation really has been built upon principles we can rely on, over and over again.

We can object, investigate, and in the end… we can trust the final call.


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