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All Elections have Fraud

Here’s my most memorable moment as a political phone canvasser. I had already made about 20 phone calls on this shift, trying to encourage soft supporters to vote on Election Day.


“Hello. This Dave of the _______ Campaign Office.”

“Yes?” It was a voice of an elderly lady.

“I would like to talk to Ed Smith, please.” I said in my most polite phone voice, carefully honed with all that previous practice.

“Ed’s dead.”

I recall a big awkwardness. Then I tried to say something nice, but it probably didn’t come off well. This phone call took enough wind out of my sails that I really didn’t like phone canvassing after that.

So Dead Ed is on the voter’s list! This is very useful information for partisan campaign workers who want to see their preference elected.

Here’s a conversation I could have had with a poll worker on Election Day.

Dave: “Hi, I’m Ed Smith.”

Poll worker: “Your address, Mr. Smith?”

Dave: “123 Main Street.”

Poll worker: “Let’s take a look at the list. Yep, there you are. I’ll just cross you off the list. Here is your ballot, Mr. Smith. Go to the station behind me. Mark your X. Bring it back here.”

And that is how a dead guy can vote.

The story brings up two important points about elections. First, it’s impossible to have a 100% accurate voters’ list. There are always some people who should not be on this list. Deaths and people moving out of the electoral jurisdictions are just a fact of life. The people in charge of the voters’ lists just can’t keep up to the daily or even monthly changes. Second, there are overly zealous partisans who will use such information to give their preference a little advantage.

Maybe even Ed’s son! He could walk into the voting station to cast a vote for his dead father. He would be surprised that his father had already voted! Comical as it sounds, these things do happen. If Ed’s son is smart, he shouldn’t make a big point that someone else cheated before he could cheat. There are laws for impersonating someone else as a voter.

So when Donald Trump says dead people are voting, he is right.

So when a Republican poll watcher complains that the poll workers pushed him too far away for him not to see the ballots properly handled, the poll watcher is probably right.

So when another Republican poll watcher complains that a ballot has been ambiguously cast yet the poll workers deem the ballot in favor of the Democrats, the poll watcher is probably right.

The bad news is that these kinds of things happen in elections, regardless of how well voting stations are run. Have you noticed that the authorities and media are quick to use the words “massive fraud”? They know a little fraud is always happening. Yet they just can’t admit it to their audience.

The good news is that this kind of cheating is very small. Seldom does it make a difference in the final outcome.

And the other good news is that overzealous party workers from the other side are probably doing a little cheating as well. So the little cheatings are canceling each other out.

It’s too bad there are so few lessons for the public to learn about the intricacies of how elections are conducted to minimize cheating. One feature is that there are two poll workers at each voting station. They usually do not know each other beforehand. So even if both workers have the same partisan interest and are willing to cheat, it’s difficult for them to agree on how and when to cheat when so many other people are watching and hearing them. And at best, these two workers have a limit to how much they can cheat and get away with it. Maybe 20 votes for the entire day!

A second feature is the accounting procedures around ballot distribution and counting. If one listens to the media, it seems the poll workers just count the ballots and bark out the numbers to their supervisors. Job done! Well, it’s not that simple: there’s some auditing that requires numbers to balance—before poll results can be officially reported. If partisan poll workers can find an extra 20 votes for their party, the supervisors and poll watchers might not see the imbalance. Or they might let it slide. But a 200-vote imbalance must be investigated. And there are laws to prosecute poll workers who carry things too far.

So when I hear a story of a truck driver telling the media that he hauled a trailer of ballots from New York to Wisconsin a couple days before Election Day, all I can say is that that big of an imbalance would have shown up big time in the auditing of Wisconsin tallies. There is no way a judge could throw that kind of evidence out of court. He would have had to make ruling on the imbalance, which then can be appealed all the way to the Supreme Court.

Let’s go back to Dead Ed. After my phone call with Ed’s widow, I could have had this kind of conversation with my campaign manager:

Dave: “There’s this dead guy named Ed Smith. He is still on the voter’s list.”

Campaign Manager: “You know what to do, don’t you?”

Do such discussions happen? Probably. But again, the extra votes these kinds of discussions can find seldom affect the final result.

Canvassers need to be trained. Here is something that was NOT said at my training session:

“Hey, all you phone canvassers! Part of your job is to find all the dead people on the voter’s list. Bring their names and addresses to me, so I can find other people to impersonate them at the voting station on Election Day.”

Can you imagine how this kind of story could be kept secret? Especially if a political party had made this a national strategy across many phone canvasser training sessions? There would be so much evidence that some people would be going to prison for tampering with the electoral process.

Our electoral systems tolerate a little impromptu cheating from zealous party workers. But our systems are pretty good at preventing organized and widespread fraud.

But the fact that even the best elections cannot be 100% perfect has opened up the door to give the impression that elections are not fair. When too many citizens believe, rightly or wrongly, elections are not fair, why have democracy?

In my opinion, Mr. Trump believed that with all the judge appointing he has done in the past four years, some of those judges would “return the favor” and throw out unfavorable electoral results in certain Democrat strongholds, just because someone there voted for a dead person. That is perfectly understandable within the realm of quid-pro-quo logic.

While that legal plan has not worked out, Mr. Trump has serendipitously found a profitable business unit. He now has his hands on $200 million donated from loyal supporters! Most readers here know this is partially (or mostly) a con job. But Mr. Trump will keep the charade going for as long as he can. Every failed court case just adds more money to the coffers. This is perfectly understandable in a business sense.

Is the legitimacy of American democracy being eroded? Probably. But let’s not blame Mr. Trump, his minions, or his supporters. They are only doing what they have been programmed to do.

How should we prevent this kind of thing from happening again? Especially when it is impossible to have a 100% accurate election?

Voters' List in the TDG

As some of you know, I am an advocate for an alternative version of democracy called “Tiered Democratic Governance (TDG).” So how would the TDG handle voters’ lists that will never be 100% accurate and be open to a little fraud? Here are some features of the TDG to address this problem:

TDG electoral districts will comprise about 200 residents. It will have much less anonymity between poll workers and voters and the viable contenders. It will be harder to conceal fraud.

With only 200 voters on the list, the list is more manageable. If someone dies two days before the election, that vote won’t be cast.

The TDG elections would be held every year. Poll workers and voters will have gained a lot more practice with these annual elections. This reinforces the necessary familiarity to conduct a well-run TDG election.

Voters are voting for people, not parties. There is no hiding behind a party banner for a shmuck to be elected.

Voters are voting for people they know personally, not some unknown person they have only seen on TV or at a rally.

There will be a few TDG elections that are not so well run. First, the results of a few errant local elections will not change the people in the higher levels, where the authority and responsibility lie. So the incentive to cheat is lower. Then for the next election, the TDG will put extra effort into proper oversight of these local elections, ensuring the residents send their preferred resident into the TDG.

So here’s the conclusion. TDG elections will require fewer rules and will have less fraud. When there is fraud, it will be handled in the next annual election—rather than waiting for the fraud to become critical enough to be addressed. If the goal is to prevent trivial acts of fraud being portrayed as massive acts of fraud to delegitimize democracy, the TDG is a pretty good solution.

The TDG is a really neat democracy. If you are concerned where American democracy is going, spend some time on the TDG website. That time might be more useful to the USA than attending another protest march to fix the current version of American democracy.

Published on Medium 2020

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