The US Presidential Election and Viral Conspiracies: Your No-BS Guide to a Whole lot of BS.

The American election process has always been akin to a hotly contested sports event. Two rival teams with approximately equal resources line up and slug it out for the win while millions of fans watch with baited breath and root for their preferred side with the kind of fervor and zeal that ought to make free-thinking folks a touch nervous. Obviously, the stakes of the US presidential election are much higher if you value things like human dignity, representative government, and the sanctity of facts. But other than that the similarities between a good old-fashioned election and a Yankees/Red Sox World Series are striking enough to make a smart person weep like a lost child. This year’s tournament of mediocrity has proven to be no different, except perhaps in the level of fervor and zeal involved. It has been a very long time since the American electorate has been this riled up about the contest. In fact, no presidential candidate in history has garnered more votes than our 2020 contestants.

I will not belabor the reasons for this year’s elevated level of emotional uproar. I lack both the time and ennui to slog through it without guzzling a bucket of Scotch. Suffice it to say that lots of people are pumped up for lots of reasons, and precious few are willing to discuss the merits of those reasons without spewing a whole lot of expletives, ad hominem, and COVID-laden rage-spittle. Thanks to the internet and a disappointing trend favoring emotion over logic, the combined forces of confirmation bias and echo chambers have produced an alarming crop of magnificent BS about our latest election night. You may have seen some of this drek smeared across your Twitter or Facebook pages, or perhaps you dove too deeply into a subreddit and got some of that stinky brown nonsense on your digital shoe. We here at Bullshido are happy to be the muddy lawn of the internet and help scrape some of that excrement off before you track it home.

The Terror of the Mail-in Ballot

Pretty sure this dude is going to fuck that mailbox.

As I sit here to type this up, the 2020 US presidential election has still not been officially decided. This may feel strange to a whole lot of folks who grew up in a digital world of gigabit speeds and instant gratification, but in ye olden days of yore it took weeks unto months to gather and tally all the votes cast across this great nation. It’s a big place, and it’s full of voters. Imagine that.

With the small issue of a global pandemic in play, a large portion of voters availed themselves of the mail-in ballot in lieu of physically going to the polls this year. There are a few half-assed conspiracies and accusations with respect to mail-in voting floating around and I’m going to lump them all into this section because I don’t want to repeat myself any more than I have to. The crux of the issue lies in the perceived risk of fraud that not showing up to vote in person might engender. The risk itself? Laughably small, of course.

Right off the bat, this argument only comes up when it might hurt one party more than the other. Mail-in or absentee voting has been a legal and accepted practice in every American election, literally. Even before we were a country, men in the colony of Massachusetts could vote from home if they were vulnerable to “Indian attack” or otherwise unable to get to a polling station. During the Civil War, mass absentee voting was critical in Abraham Lincoln’s victory over McClellan. 

1978 was the first year people could vote via mail without an excuse in California. Other states soon followed suit. Mail in voting is easy, and in a big complex world, sometimes the easiest way is the best way to get a complicated task accomplished. For some reason in 2020, the concept of mailing in a ballot has once again become controversial. Wait. I misspoke. It’s never been controversial before. It was just a thing you did when you couldn’t get to the polls because of a war or weather or plague made leaving the house a bad idea. While voter fraud is a real thing and should be stomped out, voter fraud via absentee ballot has never been more prevalent than in-person voter fraud. Neither of which happens all that much.

Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump holding up their mail-in ballots

So the practice of mailing in your ballot is older than the country itself and has been historically problem-free. But still the angry Tweets keep coming. Why? There have been accusations from conservatives that the Biden campaign would be able to “stuff” the ballot boxes with fraudulent absentee ballots. One might ask how this potentially catastrophic outcome has never been considered before. Obviously, it has. In an August 26th press briefing on this very topic, senior FBI officials said the following:

“We have not seen, to date, a coordinated national voter fraud effort during a major election. It would be extraordinarily difficult to change a federal election outcome through this type of fraud alone, given the range of processes that would need to be affected or compromised by an adversary at the local level.”

Stealing an election via ballot-stuffing is harder than it looks, people. Voting is closely watched, and while screw-ups do happen, there is no practical way to apply more votes to an election than there are voters. Can ballot-stuffing happen? Sure. Does it happen? Rarely, and mostly in small local elections where scrutiny is easier to avoid or bribe. Has ballot stuffing ever changed the outcome of a major election? Not in the USA. Ballot-stuffing is a terrible way to steal an election because getting caught is extremely likely. Historically, the most effective way to secure an election in the US is to go about it the old-fashioned way: Selling yourself to corporate special interests and letting them buy it for you.

So why is absentee voting such a big deal now? Where this all gets a little dicey is when one party’s candidate has made it very clear that they do not think going out to vote is a bad idea, while the other side has perhaps advised voters to minimize their exposure to viral pandemic via mail-in ballots. If you are the candidate encouraging your supporters to brave said pandemic getting to the polls, then you have a very large vested interest in disenfranchising your opponent’s mostly mailed-in votes.

Another issue in 2020 revolves around the problem of when to stop counting those mail-in votes. This is not really an issue, of course. Any vote postmarked by November 3rd is a legal vote and gets counted. Period. There is a pervasive myth floating around that somehow certain jurisdictions are counting “late” votes. This is a spurious accusation with no merit whatsoever. Ballots are counted and voted under strict supervision. It’s just not happening, and chanting “Stop the count” outside an election center is not going to make you sound any smarter.. 

So the answer to when we stop counting votes is always: “When we’ve counted them all.” If that takes three days or a week or whatever, it does not matter. 

Magic Ballots!

Let’s talk about Matt Mackowiak. This guy is a conservative commentator and he chairs the Travis County Republican Party in Texas. Early on the 4th he tweeted a pair of election maps appearing to show that during one results update in Michigan, Joe Biden received 100% of newly counted votes. It was sort of a “before and after” snapshot thing of the maps, where in one instant a race looked competitive and then the arrival of 138,000 Biden ballots magically appeared as if by magic. No other candidates received any votes over this interval, which looked really damn fishy. An objective observer might look at that data and think, “That’s not possible,” and begin to look for the reason or error. A partisan stooge steeped in the salty brine of confirmation bias looks at the same data and thinks, “That’s not possible,” before immediately picking the reason or narrative that most closely aligns with what he wants to be true. In this case, the cry off “ballot-stuffing” soared across the internet at the speed of stupid. (The only thing proven to be faster than light…)

The images from the now-deleted tweet.

Reality is boring, folks. Sorry. The real scoop is that somebody at Decision Desk HQ (an election data company) mashed the wrong button when they sent the maps out. That’s it. One typo that anyone with the IQ of potting soil should have recognized as a mistake the instant they saw it. Many people did recognize it as an error. Decision Desk HQ certainly did, and thirty-nine minutes later they re-released the data with the correct numbers. These were much more in line with what logic and reason would lead us to suggest. I’m going to throw Matt Mackowiak a bone here because he took his tweet down and clarified the error as soon as it became obvious nothing was afoot. But it was already too late.

Is someone knocking at the door? I believe it is our old friend confirmation bias coming for a quick visit! The tweet caught fire like a bag of dog crap soaked in kerosene. Which is precisely (metaphorically) what it was. Unfortunately for the dignity of our electorate, thirty-nine minutes is an eternity in the internet world, and the conspiracy nuts gobbled it up like Hungry Hungry Hippoes in the hands of hyperactive toddlers after a Halloween sugar binge.

SharpieGate

Irrespective of this nonsense, isn’t using a brand-new Sharpie one of the most low-key pleasures in life?

Let’s head to Arizona. Somehow, some way, a rumor on facebook began to circulate that ballots filled out with a Sharpie marker would fail to be tabulated by the ballot machines. The accusation was levelled that Biden supporting election officials were giving Trump supporters Sharpie markers to eliminate those votes. I’m going to pause here while you all try to unpack that one. I suppose you can argue that many Trump voters tend to be vocal and visual in their support of Trump, and perhaps this nefarious plot might eliminate some Trump votes from the pool. This seemed to be limited to Maricopa County, a notorious election battleground. It is possible that any wiggling of the Trump numbers could have made a difference.

The problem with this theory (as if there was only one problem with it!) is that the ballot counting machines do not give a rat’s ass that you marked your ballot with a Sharpie. The bleed margins were more than sufficient, and all election equipment is thoroughly tested before it gets deployed. Finally, the worst possible outcome is that the machine would spit out the ballot as unreadable and it would have subsequently been counted by hand. Just like every other ballot with an issue.

They’re Filling Out The Ballots!

Here’s a fresh one that just hit the ol’ Facebook.

So there’s a video from a livestream in a Delaware polling station that shows two nefarious ne’er-do-wells scribbling on ballots. These two poll workers had the unmitigated gall to be filling out multiple ballot forms RIGHT THERE IN PUBLIC AND ON CAMERA!
Now, if your first thought was, “That’s a really stupid way to try to cheat an election,” then congratulations for being smarter than a lot of folks out there. Obviously, they were not cheating anything. A bunch of ballot forms did not feed through the ballot counter correctly due to a trimming error or other damage. The poll workers, as per procedure, worked together to transfer the affected ballots to the proper size forms so those votes could be counted. This was done in full view of officials from both parties and on camera. Because that’s how you avoid people thinking you’re cheating. Adding some evil-flavored icing to this cake of discontent, The Philadelphia Inquirer reports that the video snippet circulating through your hate-siphon of choice was deliberately trimmed to hide the officials observing the whole process.

Those are the big ones so far. The day ain’t over yet and with each passing minute looking more and more like a Biden victory is imminent, we can expect a few more wild and angry accusations from the Republican camp over the next few days. Please remember to address these from a safe objective distance and do your part to halt the spread of BS. Good luck and have a Scotch for me, will ya?