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We know a lot about election fraud thanks to history, defectors, and observation.

Here's the thing about election fraud: it's either obvious or ineffective. "Obvious" is a weasel term, I guess, so let me give an example of obvious.

The US occupied Haiti from 1915 to 1934 and ran a tinpot military dictatorship there. It didn't prop one up, it ran one. The Navy wrote their constitution and the Marines ran the government. No, I mean literally, not that stupid left-wing metaphors-are-real way. As an explicit policy of the US, its military commanders were also the filling the civilian roles in Haitian government.

There were, however, elections for a variety of not really in charge institutions. Here's how those worked. To vote, you'd pick up a slip of paper with the name of the candidate you wanted and put it in the ballot box. Those slips were passed out by the Marines and there was only one candidate to vote for. If that sounds like how Duvalier did his elections, congrats, you're drawing connections. It's also how Hussein did his. And so on. One candidate, ballots passed out by the military.

When I say "election fraud is either obvious or ineffective" I mean "election fraud is either Marines passing out ballots with only one name on it or ineffective". That's the sense of "obvious" I use.[1]

The other effective methods for election fraud are all like that. Changing the tally is pretty obvious because it requires an architecture of secrecy. That's why people's wariness at electronic voting makes a lot of sense to me, it can potentially provide that architecture of secrecy. Large scale ballot-stuffing requires lots and lots of ballots and teams upon teams or, again, an architecture of secrecy that lets you dump the fakes in at a single bottleneck you control, like a counting room. You know all that stuff about people standing around to observe the counting? That's why they're there, preventing that architecture of secrecy needed to let the counters make the results, if you know what I mean. But accomplishing that requires sudden black-box choke points where, mysteriously, accountability entirely disappears and observation is completely forbidden.

Less[2] tweedy methods like having people vote multiple times require large organizations acting in public. These are obvious and everyone knows they're happening; they require the buy-in of other organizations, like police. They advertise for fraudsters. Seriously: it's a job you get hired for, explicitly, or a bounty is paid.[3] If you lived in a place where it happens, you'd know who was involved because they'd tell you. Usually they'd tell you right before basically kidnapping you to use a multi-voter, changing you clothes constantly and carting you from polling place to polling place.[4] They succeed because no individual vote is obviously fraudulent even if the operation as a whole is.

I'm being a bit disingenuous here. The "ineffective" methods are mostly the same ones, mechanically, just done on a smaller scale. Some intimidation at a few places. A couple miscounts, here and there. A few hundred or thousand duplicate votes. These are less obvious because they aren't large and they're not Marines passing out ballots. But that means their effect size is naturally smaller. And, in smaller elections, there's less space to hide them. The proportion of fraud matters both to effectiveness and secrecy. A higher proportion of fraud is more effective and more obvious. A lower proportion, less effective but also less obvious. So anything not obvious[5] is only effective if an election is really close. The election needs to be decided by a few thousand votes, at most, with millions cast.

If fraud is obvious or ineffective, why bother? First: people aren't always that bright, never attribute to Machiavellian genius what can best be explained by Machiavellian incompetence.[6]

Second, though, elections serve a lot of important purposes. One is that they have an reifiable legitimacy: the winner of an election has the support of most people and, ipso facto, most of the manpower which could be used to take the position by force. Before we think anything else about democracy, think about how winning an election is a really good sign that you could, gauntlets down and roses picked, most plausibly win the game of Bigger Army Diplomacy. The more people accept the idea that elections determine political outcomes, the more likely that the winner could assemble a bigger army; many of the loser's supporters will accept the loss and the winner's supporters will be incensed. When I said "if Trump isn't the nominee, there will be riots and there should be", I meant it and now you know what I meant.[7]

They also fulfill a perfectly reasonable idea of "public will".[8] Take a tally of all the opinions, and the most commonly held is the "aggregate" opinion. This has flaws, but it also makes intuitive sense. In fact, it makes so much intuitive sense that many ideas which people propose to improve elections take this idea of public will as their starting point. They just see how different ways of measuring can have different results. Many though just rely on our improved understanding of statistics to create systems which can be accurately described as "measure twice, cut once". This idea is so reasonable that proposals offered by way of disagreement are, in many ways, mostly about improving accuracy.[9]

They also have a weirder role. They're obvious. The outcome of an election, fraudulent or legit, is obvious. There's a winner. People tend to know if they'd care who it was. This has excellent implications for succession if you think about the number of wars fought over uncertain lines of succession in monarchies. I can bring it up and you know about it. That's actually huge. I spent two paragraphs making the meaning of "obvious" obvious. Being obvious is a big deal.

So is winning the argument. Winning the argument with friends, family, coworkers, and others, society wide, every day. That's the bedrock of politics, in the end, even in authoritarian states. How you win arguments isn't obvious. In fact, "winning the argument" needs scare quotes to properly contain it. I'm "winning the argument" about policing right now. I'm not talking to many people about policing. A combination of cellphone video, stagnant policy landscape, and a large head of pressure built by people like Radley Balko have pushed a lot of the abuses I've harped on for years into the public's attention. Opinions are changing. I'm "winning the argument" without even arguing myself. A lot of that winning is happening in the more classic way of debaitng with people; I'm just not doing the debating myself. Those classic cases are winning their particular argument, but "winning the argument", as a concept, is something all these factors do together.

When you come up against someone who supports an authoritarian regime, they can give you the result of the obviously rigged election and be a little bit disingenuous. "There were Marines passing out ballots!" "As is their patriotic duty, comrade." And on and on. This won't be an argument over facts. The facts are obvious. Your interlocutor knows them, is possibly proud of them. If facts enter, it will be forcing you to recount them and explain how election fraud works. I've written a whole article about that at this point. You're probably going to give up well in advance.

You know what just happened? The regime is winning the argument even though they really shouldn't because the fraud is obvious.[10]

What frustrates me about charges of election fraud in the United States is this issue here. When people argue that election fraud is occuring, they don't use "obvious" the right way. There aren't Marines passing out ballots. They personally never looekd into a part-time job disguising carting novelists from polling-place to polling-place. They're not referring to how all the ballots were collected into a shadowy warehouse guarded by a street gange and owned by mayor. If there's fraud involved, it's the ineffective kind. The sort which works only when the election is decided by a few thousand votes, at most, with millions cast. And that's just not the kind of election they're talking about! Most recently, it's about elections decided by millions of votes with millions cast. Just before this most recent outburst of fraud accusations, it was conservatives insisting that "fake voters" were swinging elections. Likewise, it seem unlikely that such an operation wouldn't be obvious in that Marines passing out ballots way.[11] That's just not how election fraud works.

And I mean that: it doesn't work that way. People do try it but it doesn't work. You can't swing big elections by tweaking the margins a little.

The problem, fundamentally, isn't known to me. I've got suspicions, sure. The big one is how passionate people slip into epistemic closure and the way epistemic closure lets metaphorical language become literal.[12] But knock it off. I'm tired of seeing this proposed by the loser every time. This year, it's Sanders supporters. In 2012, it was Republicans. It was Republicans in 2008, too. In 2000 Marines were passing out ballots. I mean, the Supreme Court decided the election in an actual court case.[13]

Loose talk about election fraud is very damaging. While those who make the accusation see the damage it does to their opponent, they usually don't see the wider consequences. Take a different topic. Americans grossly misperceive the amount of crime and whether crime is increasing.[14] Anxiety about safety distorts perception.[15] Likewise, building up anxieties about election fraud can distort people's perception of it. They see it everywhere and it feels obvious even though they can't point to any Marines. That's very bad. People start becoming suspicious of elections themselves; not just particular elections, the whole democratic framework becomes suspect. As Hannah Arendt points out, the bedrock of authoritarianism is the collapse of political trust into a kind of conspiratorial cynicism. That's really super bad. That's how you get Marines passing out ballots.

I don't consider this an idealistic case. Remember my merits of elections above: Bigger Army Diplomacy, obviousness, winnding the argument, public will. Only one would qualify as "idealistic". The rest are wholly cynical and very literally Machiavellian.[16] They're very good reasons to protect the mechanism from fraud. They're also very good reasons to protect its legitimacy from loose accusations. The system itself isn't perfect, there are lots of problems in it, from low voter engagement to long lines, to the inability to reduce long lines if turnout is unexpectedly high. But these things aren't fraud. Election fraud is either obvious[5] or ineffective. It's not the former this year.



[1] Don't use it any other way. Had all of you made a commitment to "obvious" being obvious, I'd never have had to write two paragraphs about Haitian history and American assholery to explain what "obvious" means. Or don't. Maybe you want two paragraphs. Jerk.

[2] Read: more.

[3] It's an interesting thing, if you look it up.

[4] This is, in fact, how Edgar Allen Poe died.

[5] Remember: obvious means "Marines passing out ballots", that's our paradigmatic case.

[6] We had this phrase, "Dunning-Krueger Machiavellians", to describe people who think they're carrying out a secret and insanely clever plot which is, in fact, transparently obvious[5] and dumb.

[7] Side concerns about voter engagement and so on should be thought about carefully before raised; start with whether disengaged voters even have a candidate to fight for. I'm not saying you're wrong, just don't try my patience with cute bullshit.

[8] Reasonable, not right. There're lots of arguments about what the public will is or how you might measure it. I'll bet that the idea "what the majority says" is on the list from every brainstorming session on the topic, though. And I'll also bet that it's pretty rare for it to just get struck down immediatel along with the idea that maybe the public will is sandwiches. It's a brainstorming session, we just write down everything, even if it's a sly attempt to suggest we break for lunch

[9] Or "fidelity", really. Like converting between waves and digital signals. How do you make a stairstep pattern a wave? A wave a stairstep? How close is "close enough" or, considering our main topic, what methods really are "good enough for government work"?

[10] Remember: obvious means Marines passing out ballots, that's our paradigmatic case and very likely the immediate one as well.

[11] More precisely, in that "I and everyone I know have worked as a 'fake voter' before, or at least applied" way.

[12] Seriously, I've noticed ths a lot. Metaphors are used as linguistic shorthand. Someone "flies like an eagle" so I don't need to write a whole passage about strength and beauty. It's like an acronym: "Bob is an E.A.G.L.E.". But there's a tendency for feedback loops to forget that the metaphor is shorthand, to go from "Bob is an E.A.G.L.E." to "Bob is an EAGLE" to "watch out, I hear that Bob soars through the air and attacks people with his talons, according to Trusted News Source, he's attacked several people this year, bearing them aloft to his grim perch where they shall soon join the macabre assemblage of bones below".

[13] Not that it mattered, if the Constitution were followed, the House would have voted because neither Bush nor Gore would have a majority of Electors. The Republicans controlled the House, so there's no prize for guessing how it would go. The court case itself and the decision can be (metaphorically) litigated until the end of time, but the easiest answer was that Florida's election was too close and, so, neither infinite recounts nor arbitrarily stoppig them really yielded the correct result. What makes that answer easy is Republican control of the House: both stopping the recounts and declaring the Florida balloting null had the same result in practice, it's just that the latter has more constitutional legitimacy and less "the counters decide the election".

[14] Notice how the graphs align, too. That seems like a 9/11 effect. The perception of crime seems to be related to anxiety about safety, not crime. Septemeber 11 wasn't about street crime, but it did a lot of damage to people's sense of safety. http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2015/04/17/despite-lower-crime-rates-support-for-gun-rights-increases/ft_15-04-01_guns_crimerate/

[15] Anyone who remembers an anxiety attack can testify to this. It has an immediacy there which can be easy to miss in daily life.

[16] Though famous for The Prince, Machiavelli was most interested in republicanism with that kind of idealistic pragmatism which characterized the Renaissance. He would not have seen these as "cynical". We've lost the sense of "natural" he would have used to explain this. I sometimes talk about "post-cynicism", this is what I'm talking about.
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I think this gif has potential to outlast the election season. @NBCNightlyNews. 1:31 PM - 25 Jul 2016. 985 Retweets1056 Likes. Reply to @freddoso. Replies. (((M. A. Kruger))). 31m31 minutes ago. (((M. A. Kruger))) @musepolsci. @freddoso @NBCNightlyNews @BecketAdams love it.
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People forget the fact we’re supposed to be a citizen-government. You’re supposed to take what you’ve learned in your life to bear, take that knowledge and go to Washington or whatever it might be. Rely on that, vote your heart and conscience, and when you’re done—here’s the good part—when you’re done go back to what you used to do.

We’ve kinda forgotten that too haven’t we? Now people make careers out of getting elected, careers out of public service. There should be no retirement if you do public service. Then you’d get term limits. Take away the retirement, you’d get term limits then. Nobody’s gonna stay there 30 years without a retirement. That’s what’s ridiculous about it, that you get retirement for public office. Bull crap. Should be taken away.
"""
The former Minnesota governor and professional wrestler talks about his new book and the rise of Donald Trump.
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This is quite a powerful statement.

The right to vote is a fundamental part of citizenship. I don't even agree with denying the vote to convicts serving prison sentences. But to continue to deny the vote to citizens who have served their time is unconscionable.

I thought that when the Virginia Supreme Court ruled against McAuliffe that this fight was just over.

But no, Terry McAuliffe is signing 200,000 clemency grants.

That's just pretty damned awesome.

via +Douglas Pierre
He's signing clemency grants for the state's ex-offenders one by one.
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Republican conspiracy theories in 5....
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What happened instead was just sad and weird, very weird. The lineup for the 2016 Republican National Convention to nominate Trump felt like a fallback list of speakers for some ancient UHF telethon, on behalf of a cause like plantar-wart research.
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Matt Taibbi on how Donald Trump's disastrous 2016 Republican National Convention doomed GOP and made a joke of American democracy.
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"Look, this is the big leagues. If you think any problem has a tweetable solution, you’re just wrong. If you think “border wall” or “muslims = bad” is gonna solve our problems, I don’t have time for your shit."
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"""
[W]e need to judge less and understand more. It’s so easy for conservatives to use “culture” as an ending point in a discussion–an excuse to rationalize their worldview and then move on–rather than a starting point. I try to do precisely the opposite in Hillbilly Elegy. This book should start conversations, and it is successful, it will.

[...]

But to speak “culture” and then move on is a total copout, and there are public policy solutions to draw from experiences like this: how could my school have better prepared me for domestic life? how could child welfare services have given me more opportunities to spend time with my Mamaw and my aunt, rather than threatening me–as they did–with the promise of foster care if I kept talking? These are tough, tough problems, but they’re not totally immune to policy interventions. Neither are they entirely addressable by government. It’s just complicated.

That’s just one small example, obviously, and there are many more in the book. But I think this unwillingness to deal with tough issues–or worse, to pretend they’ll all go away if we can hit 4 percent growth targets–is a significant failure of modern conservative politics. And looking at the political landscape, this failure may very well have destroyed the conservative movement as we used to know it.
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Hillbilly Elegy author J.D. Vance explains what America doesn't understand about the outsiders elites despise
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See the subsequent paragraphs in the article.
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It took 22 years, but California finally acknowledged last month that the ban was cruel and ineffective. As part of a larger budget deal, Gov. Jerry Brown quietly signed into law the repeal of the so-called maximum family grant cap. “I don’t know a woman — and I don’t think she exists — who would have a baby for the sole purpose of having another $130 a month,” declared State Senator Holly Mitchell, a Democrat who led the repeal, in denouncing “a racist, classist, sexist policy.”
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Growing up as a goth, I frequently dropped Nietzsche into casual conversation, but not until stomaching cheesecake chased by tempura did I truly understand that when you look into the abyss, the abyss looks back at you. I moved onto the Jello squares and then the Jello shooter. In my notes I scribbled: are these the actions of a man who is happy with his life? Probably best I avoid answering that.
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"Just shovel the food down. Be rushed and—ideally—be distracted." Words to live by.
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Fareed Zakaria: "We have descended so far so fast that it is sometimes difficult to remember that this is not normal."
The Republican Party has given itself up to a single family and its business interests.
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