Sunday, June 5, 2016

Better To Bern Out Than Fade Away?

Next Tuesday will be the (a?) moment of truth for Sanders supporters. At that point it is possible that Clinton will reach (or come very close to) the number of pledged delegates necessary to grant her the nomination. The Omnivore is interested in what happens at that point. A big part of the answer is: ascribe the loss to wide-spread pervasive election fraud.

Is There Election Fraud?

Probably not--at least not the kind of full-on, nation-wide orchestrated fraud that would turn a strongly winning candidate into a losing one. The reasons for The Omnivore to believe this are simple:

  1. Someone would talk. A wide-spread orchestrated illegal operation would leak and leak badly. Across the vast geographical and demographic span of America, the conspiracy would involve someone who was a weak-link, a mid-level functionary without monied interests, or, simply, someone with character. We have not see someone come out with evidence and that tells The Omnivore that the odds are against it happening.
  2. A complicated plan. The idea that voting machines are rigged is an attractive one to the Sander's crowd--that would, at least in theory, limit the number of people who need to be involved. The problem is that there are so many states that vote in so many different ways that a plan would still be hugely complicated. Some of Sander's biggest losses (more on this below) are in places with a paper-trail in addition to machines, further complicating any plan.
  3. Money buys power. The Omnivore doesn't even mean this in a cynical fashion: a campaign with 100's of millions of dollars can buy a hell of a lot of investigative journalism, create incentive for people to talk, and so on. A five-million dollar bounty for legal-grade proof of conspiracy would likely have many people involved talking to their attorneys about getting a tasty immunity grant. The Sanders campaign has not been shy about criticizing the process or the people--if they really thought large-scale fraud was going on, they would devote resources to smashing it. This would be the best possible Return-On-Investment imaginable.

It seems unlikely there is wide-spread, rampant election fraud--so what else is going on?

Well, something is happening. Let's look at the two major allegations of the Sander's Reddit supporters:

Voter Suppression Allegations

The first major tenant of the Sander's supporters is that the Democratic party machine is doing underhanded things to lower voter turn-out for Sanders. This involves things like losing registrations that were filed on time, taking likely Sanders voters off the voting rolls incorrectly, and so on.

It could also involve mailing out fake letters telling people they are ineligible to vote. According to Reddit, that is exactly what is happening: Life-Long Democrats (?) are receiving official-looking (?) letters saying they have changed their registration to Democat too late to vote in the NJ election. Here's the letter:
And a link to another story with a very similar letter. The Omnivore checked--it looks like whoever wrote the letter got the office information correct.

A few problems with this sort of scenario: in order to change a state-wide primary (hundreds of thousands of voters) you would need 1000's of letters sent. You would need to target them to Sanders voters (claims of data-breach are possible--but you'd need to hit more than just the online-crowd).  If 1000's of these were sent, we'd see it in the national media (unless they're in on it!)--but we don't. Even the "Reddit people" don't seem to be going to the media.

Secondly, there is a problem with the letter itself: The use of the term DEMOCRAT PARTY is a Republican terminology where they don't want to call it the DEMOCRATIC PARTY because, hey--Democracy is a good thing and they ain't good (?).

The second major pillar of the conspiracy theory is that we can see the evidence of manipulation of the ballot in the discrepancy between what Exit Polls show (victory for Sanders) and the final tally (Clinton wins). Let's take a quick look at that.

The Exit Polling Conspiracy 

There has indeed been a bunch of cases where the exit polling differed from the eventual numbers. Generally this is ascribed to the fact that Sanders supporters are more likely to respond to exit polls (see this for a good description of how they work) and that generally older Clinton voters may use mail-in ballots or early voting.

Still, these are the numbers:
Assuming the guy is right (The Omnivore has not verified), something is creating a systemic bias that's pro-Bernie in the exit polls and pro-Clinton in the final counts. If our two candidates are election fraud or exit-poll specifics, do we have a tie breaker?

Yes: the general polling. Despite several upsets--and a fairly big distinction in accuracy between polling methodologies, it appears that on the whole, the polling averages have been pretty accurate this cycle. This points to the process being fair.

Anecdotal Reports

There are hotlines you can call to report fraud or other shenanigans at your voting place. People have--largely? Sander's supporters. Could this be evidence of a Clinton-driven conspiracy? Maybe--but let's take a look:

The self-named "Bipartisan Report" headlines with: BREAKING: Rampant Election Fraud Reported in 31 Kentucky Counties.

It calls out several counties where Sanders reporters detected fraud--this sample is as follows:
  • Boyd County: Voting machine
  • Floyd County: (two calls) Special or absentee ballot and one electioneering within 100 feet of polls
  • Johnson County: Procedural question
  • Pike County: Election official
  • Rowan County: (two calls) Election official and procedural question
Sanders won all of them--by comfortable margins. If anything, this suggests that Sanders supporters are simply more likely to see fraud, even where there probably isn't.

What's Going On?

What's happening is that Sanders is losing. He's losing badly enough that the original slate of complaints (super-delegates, bad debate schedule, etc.) are no longer sufficient to give his supporters a narrative where he wins. They're left with either Hillary-Goes-To-Jail or It-Was-Stolen. They're hoping for the first--but coming to rest on the latter. This is a pretty constant refrain for the losing party.

In 2008, the PUMAs believed that Obama was conducting massive fraud against Hillary, thus explaining her loss. In 2012, many Republicans take it as an article of faith that the election was rigged. In 2000 Democrats felt that the Republicans had swindled them in Florida. The fact is that voting at the millions-of-people scale, with the historical baggage America has, is a messy, complex business.

It's arcane. It's not all that sensible (Puerto Rico gets delegates even though they don't get EV), and so on. It's structured like a game--but it's for real-world impact--so sportsmanship and fair-play go out the window quickly, once tribalism becomes involved.

To make things more complicated, several hundred thousand Californians who think they are independents actually registered for the American Independent Party by mistake and will receive an American Independent Party ballot, not a Democratic Party ballot. In addition, people who have registered as "no party preference" are entitled to vote in the Democratic primary, but they have to explicitly request a Democratic Party ballot. Not all of them know this and it could affect the race significantly since Sanders has done well with independents all year.
It seems likely that these two things will be interpreted as fraud by a large section of Sanders supporters and imputed to Hillary Clinton as evidence of her malfeasance.

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