The Morning Jolt

Elections

A Careful Voter-Fraud Review

Voters cast their ballots at Madison Square Garden on the first day of early voting in New York City, October 24, 2020. (Jeenah Moon/Reuters)

On the menu today: a careful review of recent voter-fraud cases, and how this dispels the trite, inaccurate claims that “voter fraud doesn’t exist”; perspective on what recent voter-fraud cases have proven and the scale of the problem; and something my critical readers will probably love: looking back to see how my autumn reporting and analysis holds up in light of the election results.

Innumeracy Comes to the Debate about Voter Fraud

Over at The Blaze, Leon Wolf read and evaluated 234 pages of affidavits that the Trump campaign collected from poll workers in Michigan that they say proves the existence of widespread irregularities in the Michigan vote-counting process, and which they plan to attach as an exhibit to an expected lawsuit that will challenge the certification of the vote in Michigan.

You should read Wolf’s whole article, but the upshot is that he’s seen plenty of compelling tales of mistreatment of GOP poll watchers, and not many compelling tales of illegal votes being counted. Mistreatment of GOP poll watchers shouldn’t be hand-waved away, but by themselves, these affidavits do not go particularly far towards proving that Joe Biden’s current 146,990 vote lead is based upon fraudulent votes.

To cast a fraudulent ballot, a lawbreaker needs more than just a blank absentee ballot that he can fill out with a made-up name to stuff the ballot box. The ballot has to match the name of a registered voter. In Michigan, the signature on the absentee ballot has to match the signature on the voter’s registration file, so the fraudster has to be able to create a reasonable facsimile of the person’s signature. The election clerk checks the absentee ballot against the in-person voter rolls, to ensure the person didn’t cast a ballot twice. If the voter shows up on Election Day and is informed that they’ve already voted absentee, this will lead to questions and probably unravel the scheme.

Probably the most fertile territory for absentee-ballot fraud is a place like a nursing home, where elderly residents often vote absentee but can be misled by some trusted figure. In Texas earlier this year, “Carrollton mayoral candidate Zul Mirza Mohamed was charged Wednesday with 109 felonies for fraudulently requesting and obtaining mail-in ballots he alleged were for nursing home residents.”

But even in this sort of scheme, it’s hard to get away with it, particularly on a massive scale. “Investigators contacted the voters and found they had not made the ballot requests.”

Voter fraud exists. In 2019 in Delaware County, Pa., a man named Harry Maxwell “gave detectives an audio recorded statement in which he said that he routinely picks-up ‘girls’ in the Port Richmond section of Philadelphia, and brings them back to his residence for the purpose of obtaining absentee ballot signatures from them.”

Earlier this year, Randy Allen Jumper pled guilty to one count of attempted illegal voting after being charged with voting twice in the 2016 general election — once in Pima County, Ariz., and once in Washoe County, Nev.

In Georgia in 2018 and 2019, a special election for the state house had to be held three times. The first two times, a judge threw out the results because they were marred by illegal votes, in the form of mapping errors that twice included the votes of those who lived just outside the district lines — first dozens, then four votes in a race that came down to a two-vote margin.

Then there’s this case:

A former judge of elections and Democratic committeeperson from South Philadelphia has pleaded guilty to accepting thousands of dollars in bribes to inflate the vote totals for three Democratic candidates for Common Pleas Court judge in 2015, and for other Democratic candidates for office in 2014 and 2016, U.S. Attorney William M. McSwain announced Thursday . . . In May 2014, DeMuro inflated vote totals by adding 27 fraudulent ballots in the primary election, 40 votes in May 2015, and 46 in 2016, according to court documents outlining the scheme and the charges against him.

The Heritage Foundation keeps a whole database of convictions for fraud, organized by state and year.

Any fair reading of the facts would conclude that the contention “voter fraud doesn’t exist” is simply not accurate.

But any fair reading of the facts would also conclude that the cases that have been uncovered and proven in a court of law involve small amounts of votes — two votes here, a handful of votes there, a couple dozen in that Philadelphia case. No investigator has ever uncovered a plot that falsified thousands or tens of thousands of ballots. No investigator has ever uncovered a conspiracy of poll workers to include piles upon piles of fraudulent ballots.

(UPDATE: Ted Frank calls my attention to the 2018 North Carolina congressional race in the ninth congressional district, where the N.C. Board of Elections unanimously called for a new vote after investigating what they determined was a  “coordinated, unlawful and substantially resourced absentee ballot scheme” driven by L. McCrae Dowless Jr., and operative for the campaign of Mark Harris, the Republican nominee. Officials never proved that Dowless or his associates touched enough ballots in and around Bladen County to account for the entirety of Mr. Harris’s 905-vote edge, but they deemed the election tainted. A different Republican candidate, Dan Bishop, won the subsequent re-vote. I’m not sure this meets the threshold of “thousands or tens of thousands,” but it was a sufficient number to cast doubt upon the election results.)

Every last claim of voter fraud should be investigated, and every perpetrator should be prosecuted and convicted. But judges are reluctant to invalidate a cast ballot without smoking-gun evidence, and no one should expect a judge to rule in the coming days or weeks that a couple hundred votes should not be counted and reverse the outcome of a swing state — and with it, the 2020 presidential election.

And it is worth noting that so far, the Trump campaign’s arguments in court do not match the president’s tweets that he “easily won” Michigan and Pennsylvania, or that Dominion voting software “attempted to alter our election and got caught.” As of this writing, Biden’s lead in Pennsylvania is 53,244, his lead in Nevada is 36,870, his lead in Wisconsin is 20,456, his lead in Arizona is 11,635, and his lead in Georgia is 14,057 — and that state will do a hand recount, at state expense. It is extraordinarily unlikely that judges will invalidate enough ballots in a majority of those states to reverse the results.

We are plagued by Democrats who believe that voter fraud being rare means that it is nonexistent, and by Republicans who believe that the proven existence of voter fraud means that it is pervasive and decisive.

Self-Evaluation, 2020

I wrote in the Morning Jolt of November 2: “I envision Trump carrying Texas, Georgia, Iowa, Florida, and Ohio, although I think Trump’s margins will be below his 2016 margins and well below the usual for a Republican in those states, and it wouldn’t shock me to see Biden eke out a win in any of those.”

Trump won Texas (by three percentage points less than he won last time), Iowa (by two points less than he won last time), Florida (by three points more than he won last time), and Ohio (by about the same margin as last time). Georgia is down to the wire and will have a hand recount, but as of this writing, it appears Biden will win by two-tenths of one percentage point. Trump won Georgia by five percentage points last time.

I continued, “I think Biden wins the ‘blue wall’ states — Wisconsin and Michigan — pretty comfortably, and Pennsylvania, although Pennsylvania will be close and who knows how long the final vote count will be tied up in lawsuits.” Looking pretty good on that one!

“I think Biden wins Nevada, Arizona, North Carolina, and New Hampshire.”

North Carolina was called for Trump by several networks. Biden appears to have won Arizona, by a half a percentage point.

“I also think Biden wins the congressional district around Omaha, Neb., and the second congressional district in Maine. All of that adds up to 306 electoral votes for Biden, 232 for Trump.”

I was right on Nebraska, wrong on Maine. At this point, if the current leads in these final votes remain, I will have, through dumb luck, nailed the Electoral College, because my wrong guesses on North Carolina, Georgia, and Maine’s second congressional district all balanced out.

I continued:

In the Senate races, the GOP starts with 53, picks up Alabama to get to 54, then loses Maine (close, but Susan Collins loses on ranked-choice voting), Colorado (Cory Gardner’s a great candidate running in a tough state in a terrible year, I hope he runs for governor in two years or something), North Carolina (apparently Thom Tillis is hard to reelect without the wind at his back), Arizona (ditto Martha McSally), but keeps the seats in Iowa, Montana, South Carolina, and both Georgia seats. That comes out to a 50-50 tie, which, if my presidential race prediction is right, means Kamala Harris spends the next two years breaking a lot of ties. (This also means that any Democratic senator from a state with a GOP governor will not be selected for a cabinet job.) . . . my heart sees an upset victory for John James, but my head sees incumbent Democrat Gary Peters hanging on.

I picked Collins and Tillis incorrectly. James came within 1.5 percentage points. We have to wait and see on the Georgia seats.

“I think there’s very little movement in the balance of the House.” While there are still some House races to be called, the number of GOP wins so far is well outside the realm of “little movement.”

I thought that Trump could and probably would overperform the aggregate of the final polls, but only by a few points. My pessimism on Collins and Tillis was definitely influenced by the largely bad polling we saw this cycle.

Looking back at my coverage in the final months, I thought Jaime Harrison might be a serious contender (at least by South Carolina Democrat standards) but noticed how much the buzz around him faded in the final two weeks. That slight decline in the early vote among African Americans in North Carolina turned out to be consequential. My writing about the Trump campaign’s outreach to Cuban Americans, Venezuelan Americans, Nicaraguan Americans, and Columbian Americans looks pretty prescient in retrospect.

My observation of the yard signs in Bucks County is a mixed bag; as of this writing, Biden won Bucks County, 51.5 percent to 47.3 percent; four years ago, Hillary Clinton narrowly won Bucks, 48.4 percent to 47.6 percent. I wrote, “Does this mean Trump is going to win Bucks County? Not necessarily; all of these people who put out yard signs may have supported him four years ago, and he narrowly lost the county then. But whether or not Bucks County is Trump country, the Trump voters there ardently want to demonstrate that it is.” In 2016, Trump won 164,361 votes in the county; this time Trump won 183,611 votes.

Back on September 18, I noticed that we had seen “Democrats are concerned about get-out-the-vote efforts” stories in mainstream publications about Nevada, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Latinos — particularly Latinos in Florida. I concluded:

I would not recommend reading all of these stories and concluding, “ah, then Donald Trump is going to win.” Certain Democrats think of their party as worrywarts, full of donors, retired officeholders, activist-group leaders, and consultants who are happy to call up reporters on the political beat and complain, either on background or on the record, that the campaign isn’t listening to their advice enough. Every cycle, just about every state party official believes the national party isn’t sending enough resources their way.

I would recommend reading all of these stories and concluding that this election is not a done deal, and that because we haven’t held a presidential election under comparable circumstances, no one is entirely sure how each side’s turnout is going to be.

Considering the fact that Biden appears to have won Nevada by 2.7 percent, Latinos in Florida by just five points, won Michigan by 2.6 percent, and Pennsylvania by seven-tenths of 1 percent, those Democratic concerns were justified.

In the November 2 issue of the magazine, I wrote:

Once the votes are counted, it may be a while before anyone knows who won. Pennsylvania counties cannot start counting ballots until the morning of Election Day, which means that the vote count may arrive later — perhaps much later — than usual. Biden could win the absentee ballots by a wide margin and Trump could win the Election Day votes by a wide margin, with leads changing as one tally is added to another. Even when the votes are counted, the counting might not be done. Under Pennsylvania law, the state automatically recounts any race in which a candidate for statewide office loses by half a percentage point or less. As Florida was to 2000, Pennsylvania may be to 2020.

Right now, the only thing in Pennsyl­vania that’s guaranteed to be red this fall is the foliage.

That turned out to be pretty darn accurate.

ADDENDUM: Speaking of polls . . . we’re just going to keep reporting polls as if they hadn’t just badly missed most of the results on Election Day, huh, Atlanta Journal Constitution?

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