The New York Times Opinion section explains that vote fraud is practically impossible because it would require a large number of people working together to win elections with machine-like coordination: a “political machine” if you can imagine such a thing.
But, of course, political machines don’t exist.
Stealing a presidential election requires an unrealistic level of planning, coordination and good luck.
By John Mark Hansen
Mr. Hansen is a political scientist at the University of Chicago.
Nov. 4, 2020
Fraud on a scale to affect a presidential election, or even to tip one state, would require planning, coordination, good luck and a high tolerance for risk. The chances of pulling it off are extremely slim.
Such a nefarious plot would require the foresight, many weeks or even months in advance, to know to focus the effort on Pennsylvania. The plotters might hedge their bets by targeting multiple states, but that just makes the effort more expensive, risky and difficult.
A conspiracy to fix the 2020 election in Pennsylvania would also need to muster tens of thousands of votes. In 2016, almost 6.2 million Pennsylvanians cast ballots for the presidency. Donald Trump won by 44,292 votes, 0.7 percent of the total.
Suppose the conspirators somehow knew this year that Pennsylvania would be tied but for their efforts. For the sake of argument, let’s say they decided to marshal 62,000 fraudulent votes, roughly 1 percent of the 2016 total and twice the 0.5 percent margin that sets off an automatic recount. (Even that seems to cut things a little close.)
How hard could it be to order up 62,000 illegal ballots?
The chance that 62,000 Biden supporters in Pennsylvania would spontaneously vote with a second, illegal ballot, either in person or by mail, is effectively zero. It’s hard to believe any voters would expose themselves to the risk of felony prosecution, fines and imprisonment, with no knowledge of whether anybody else was doing so too, in order to bring the Democrats one vote closer to victory in Pennsylvania. A fraud of the necessary size would have to be organized.
And how might that work?
Maybe a fraud mastermind would recruit a thousand accomplices, each of whom would generate 62 illegal ballots. All thousand of them would have to risk their reputation, resources and freedom to beat Donald Trump in Pennsylvania. They would have to be able to keep their work secret then and for all time — and trust their thousand co-conspirators to do the same.
The work of the thousand fraud wranglers would itself require a lot of ingenuity and a big dollop of luck. They might each try to persuade 62 people to vote a second time, but it would be a hard sell.
The recruits wouldn’t want to vote both in person and by mail, given how easy it is for election authorities to detect it. And unless they happen to be registered in two jurisdictions, they can’t vote in more than one — and they risk prosecution if they do. The conspirators would also have to gamble that none of the 62 (or more) people they contact is a secret Trump supporter or a Biden supporter with a healthy conscience.
Alternatively, the conspirators might each impersonate 62 legal voters
This U. of Chicago professor should have run his op-ed past a Chicago oldtimer.
Dan Webb, the United States Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois in 1981-1985, estimated that both the 1982 Illinois gubernatorial election and the 1987 Chicago Democratic mayoral primary (Harold Washington vs. Jane Byrne) saw perhaps 100,000 fraudulent votes in each.
I’m not sure if I believe that 100k figure: that would have been almost 3% of the 3.6 million votes cast statewide in 1982 and 9% of the 1.1 million votes counted in the 1987 Chicago Democratic primary.
On the other hand, 1987 was an important election, with many Chicagoans seeing it as a question of whether Chicago would follow Detroit into permanent black rule.
On the other other hand, the 1982 gubernatorial election was just two normal white guys, Big Jim Thompson for the GOP vs. Adlai Stevenson III for the Dems. Yet there was still massive vote fraud by Cook County Democrats, with the Democrats closing a 10 point gap in the polls until after days of counting, the DuPage County Republicans suddenly discovered about 5000 net votes for the GOP that had somehow been overlooked in all the excitement.
About 5 dozen party operatives were convicted of 1982 vote fraud. Here’s the grand jury’s report:
The 1982 Illinois governor election is striking because it falsifies some realistic-sounding theories minimizing the significance of vote fraud, such as:
- “Well, sure, it makes sense to cheat in a low turnout election like a primary or a school board special election, but nobody would cheat in a giant statewide election with 3 or 4 million ballots being cast.”
- “Well, sure, it makes sense to cheat in a contest that will determine whether your city will become the New Detroit or not, or whether Literal Hitler will be stopped before he launches a New Holocaust, but nobody would cheat a lot when the opponent is just a conventional Republican.”
- “Well, sure, it makes sense to cheat when the race is very, very close, but nobody would cheat when the Republican is a mile ahead in the polls and it would be really obvious you are trying to steal the election.”
Now I’m certain it’s true that in the 38 years since this 1982 scandal, Reforms Have Been Made (although they didn’t see to do much good in 1987). But, for some reason, PBS doesn’t run many documentaries celebrating the long slow struggle by honest suburban Republican voters to escape from their oppression by cheating urban Democrats, so I’m unfamiliar with the details.
But in 2020 The Establishment should at least reassure us that, “Well, sure, back in the bad old days the Rust Belt Democratic machines used to engage in vote fraud on a massive scale at times, but that couldn’t possibly happen anymore because of reasons. Therefore, your bringing up the giant Chicago scandals of the 1980s is almost as irrelevant to 2020 as, say, somebody bringing up Emmett Till from 1955, if you can imagine anyone doing such a thing.”
After all, the saintliest man of all time, Barack Obama, was a Chicago politician. Indeed, he moved to Chicago in 1985 with the intent of someday becoming mayor of Chicago, so if that’s not proof of how honest 1980s elections in Chicago were, I don’t know what is.
Seriously, my guess is that it will ultimately turn out that Biden will win by enough votes in enough states that the overall election result will have been honest.
But, c’mon, don’t yank our chain about how it’s crazy to worry that Democrats might cheat. They’ve done it before, over and over.