By Christian Decker
Like everyone else, I watched the coverage of the presidential election last week and worried like a lot of other people. Of course, when the election results started coming in and the trend towards Joe Biden finally started picking up, I was relieved. If you’ve read any of my previous articles, you’d know that I’m certainly not Trump’s biggest fan. I was pleasantly surprised to see that there were very few instances, if any, of election violence. Despite some threatening postures from right-wing militias, people were able to use their voices, with respect to how much they’ve been screwed over by voter suppression. As I logged on to Facebook one day however (always a mistake) I had noticed some former acquaintances of mine, and even some family members, posting some startling information.
This information had to do with the biggest right-wing boogeyman to ever be created in elections: voter fraud. For those of you who are unaware, voter fraud is the concept in which somebody purposely votes in a way that is illegal, either their immigration status prevents them, they use a dead person’s name to vote more than once, or something else to those effects. Since immigration has become a hot button issue recently, of course in America I can’t remember a time when it wasn’t really, Republicans have often laid the victories of Democrats at the feet of voter fraud from undocumented immigrants. The main argument in favor of the mass voter fraud claim comes from a study done by Richman et al, named after its primary researcher, Jesse Richman. The study claimed to have found a significant amount of voter fraud in the 2012 election that would have had a tangible impact. In this case, a state that had been won by Obama would have actually been won by Romney instead.
To the surprise of no one, the article was latched onto by the president, and Richman was a guest at the White House at one point. Just one problem with that article, it’s bullshit. In fact, a group of political scientists, including one of my professors who shall remain nameless for privacy reasons, signed an open letter basically confirming that the study used poor methodology and data to make its conclusions. Richman has apparently doubled down on this study however, in a stunning display of academic dishonesty.
This is not to say that people haven’t voted illegally before, on the contrary it has definitely happened, but this is a low number of people and often they don’t even realize they’re doing it. Often what happens is that formerly incarcerated individuals vote without realizing that their vote has been taken away. Some immigrants don’t even know that they have to be a citizen in order to vote. In comparison to the figures that some pundits put up, the number is nowhere near enough to constitute a significant amount of voter fraud, according to actual experts.
The issue is that this fact isn’t politically inconvenient. What happens when you lose? You accuse the opponent of cheating. Happens all the time. Curiously, all the cases of “voter fraud” just happen to be in swing states that Democrats are starting to win. Who would have thought? Not only is this rhetoric false, but it also stirs up the crazies, people who might actually get violent if things don’t go their way, and that’s very bad, anybody can see that. And it doesn’t help that the person doing the accusing has the most power in the nation at the moment. With such public figures like the president, other elected officials, and even hack political scientists making claims like this, it makes something as asinine as voter fraud become a mainstream political position. It’s the same case with the president’s other rhetoric, normalizing that it’s ok to say wrong and offensive things as a pushback against so-called “cancel culture.”
The fact of the matter is that there are issues with elections that are real and are very important, voter suppression for instance. Especially in poorer neighborhoods, polling places are few and far between, not to mention that the polling places that do exist there have up to 8 hour voting lines, which is unacceptable in a country that claims to have free and fair elections. Poor people don’t necessarily have easy access to transportation to these polling sites in the first place.
My main point is that we need to stop having this damn conversation every election season. We need to stop focusing on the fake issues and pay attention to, and fix, the real ones.