No, our voting system is not rigged

As I mentioned yesterday, Donald Trump is busy looking for an excuse for his impending defeat. God forbid that he should blame himself and his unsalable positions. Anyhow, he has found one, claiming that the vote will be rigged.

To use one of Joe Biden’s favorite words, this is malarkey. His supporters will probably believe it but you should not. Our voting system is remarkable for its fairness in that it will faithfully and accurately report the votes of those who showed up to vote. The Russians, the DNC, the RNC and not even a bunch of evil Trump employees can do much to change its integrity. Checks and balances are built in.

Has Trump even voted in person? I have to think maybe not. Maybe to the extent that he has voted it’s been done with an absentee ballot. I’ve voted in four states over the years and it’s always been the same. I enter the precinct and go to a table to check in. Two people greet me and they sit amicably next to each other and eventually check my name off an official list. One is a Democrat and one is a Republican. I get my ballot and vote privately. When I check out I go to another table where two other people (a Democrat and a Republican) verify I exited the voting booth and check my name off their list. I then place my ballot into a scanner and it drops into a large and sealed container. The container is important because it allows all votes to be recounted and is evidence of the vote. A total recount based on auditing all results may not happen. However, at a minimum a week or so after the election there will be spot checks of votes at precincts to make sure the audited vote is consistent with the reported results. If there are errors, depending on how often it is found, a full recount may be ordered by the chief election official or a local judge.

If some Russian hackers managed to change the reported results, it would likely be caught, maybe not immediately but within a week or two afterward. Most vulnerable of course would be voting systems that do not leave a paper trail. These are relatively rare now. Issues like hanging chads that dogged the 2000 election in Florida are behind us. In any event a result that looks wildly at odds with traditional voting patterns will probably trigger a challenge and an audit could ensue. Audits are usually mandatory for any result where one candidate wins by less than one percent.

In addition there is no national system for voting. It’s delegated to the states, which is both good and bad. It’s bad because it would be great to have uniform standards. The extent to which federal law can influence this is limited, and for sure the U.S. constitution delegates to the states the administration of voting. The good of course is that if one state’s results can be hacked, that’s one out of 49. In practice though states push voting management down to counties and municipal governments, setting uniform standards perhaps but not controlling the process in your precinct. So don’t believe this malarkey.

Granted there is plenty that politicians do try to restrict those who can vote. To the extent this happens today it’s usually Republican legislatures that are making it harder for people they don’t like to vote. (Democrats can take blame in the past, particularly in cities like Chicago and New York.) These include voter ID laws, prohibiting ex-felons from voting, tightening up absentee voting periods and times, and putting fewer voting machines in minority and poorer neighborhoods. There are also blatantly illegal things that are routinely done in presidential years: intimidating or misleading robocalls or harassing voters as they enter their precincts.

Of course there are other tricks too, such creating highly gerrymandered districts, which is likely the only reason Republicans control two thirds of state legislatures and the House. As I noted recently, the whole Electoral College system is biased. It discounts votes for third party candidates because in 48 out of fifty states whoever gets a plurality of votes for president gets all the state’s electoral votes. It’s constitutional, but it doesn’t pass the sniff test. This is because voters who do not vote for their state’s presidential pick effectively never have that vote count. How democratic is that?

It’s possible but unlikely that the press indirectly skews the election by reporting more stories about one candidate than another. In Trump’s case though he still gets a majority of the news stories compared to Clinton, they’re just usually not flattering. Maybe most of these stories are biased somehow but few openly lie like Trump does. They may highlight one candidate’s opinions over the other. It may seem unfair, but it’s freedom of the press. You have to deal with it.

And of course the whole business of persuading people to vote for a candidate can be less than uplifting. Trump is the poster child here too by pandering to racists, classists and the prejudices of whites without college degrees. It sure smells rotten to most of us, but it’s perfectly legal. It’s better than having the thought police deciding who will run for office and what they can say.

In short, Trump’s rationale for his impending loss has no currency and is the weakest possible tea from a candidate without a winning message.

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