Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Can illegal voting really sway an election?

President-Elect Donald Trump claimed that three million votes in the United States were cast illegally. It is just the latest in a long line of unsubstantiated claims. Not only does he make the claim without citing evidence, he assumes that all illegal votes were against him. We know that's not true because Trump so thoroughly convinced some of his supporters that voter fraud was epidemic, they committed voter fraud to counteract the perceived injustice. However, just because Trump says whatever he wants without substantiation, does that mean no evidence exists? Regardless of whether Trump can back up his claims, is illegal voting a large scale issue in the United States?

Virtually all claims of widespread voter fraud occur on right-wing websites. Even liberals who marched down the street tearing up property didn't believe voter fraud was a substantial issue. They just didn't like the election result. Almost all of the proposed evidence is generated by one side leading to accusations of bias by left-wingers. That is not always a fair criticism. In some cases it is. I'll get those out of the way first.

The supposed evidence cited in defense of Trump's most recent claim is a tweet by some guy named Gregg Phillips. Mr. Phillips doesn't explain his methodology and refuses to identify his sources. As near as I can tell, Gregg Phillips is just some guy on Twitter who says stuff and the President-Elect believes it.

One study found on conservative websites had to be dismissed because it was biased and, at times, unhinged. It claimed that widespread voter fraud occurred in Virginia and a statewide conspiracy covered it up. If you so choose, you can read it here, but fair warning: it's nonsense. It's 143 pages of indignant rambling and whining.

Not all evidence presented by conservatives is outlandish, though. Conservative blogger Stephen Frank claims that 13% of illegal aliens admit they vote. He cites a 2013 study conducted by Republican pollster John McLaughlin. The study's major findings indicate that Hispanic voters favor many Republican policies on immigration reform, including stricter border security, but have a negative view of the Republican Party.

Stephen Frank references a Daily Signal article from 2015 that points out, buried in the back, the study states that 13% of non-citizen respondents claimed that they registered to vote.

Frank states: "Based on a sample survey of 800 Hispanics in 2013, McLaughlin found that of foreign-born respondents who were registered voters, 13 percent admitted they were not United States citizens."

The survey has a couple of problems when used as evidence of voter fraud.

1. The 13% of non-citizen registered voters might not be representative of the Hispanic population at large because it wasn't the purpose of the study to expose voter fraud.

2. Registering to vote doesn't mean that they can actually vote because the U.S. Election Assistance Commission scrubs millions of voters from registration every election cycle. Reasons given for removal include: "Voters who’ve been convicted of a felony, ruled mentally incompetent or found to be noncitizens also can be removed."

3. Not all registered voters actually vote. Only 50-60% do (Also, only about 55-60% of illegals support Democrats. We also can't extrapolate the data to encompass all illegal aliens because 10% are not Hispanic).

The study indicates that non-citizens illegally register to vote but doesn't help much in determining if non-citizens actually voted. Some portion of non-citizens who register to vote are exempt from prosecution because they inadvertently registered to vote. Accidental registration is somewhat common according to the next study we'll look at.

A second study is oft-cited by Republicans as evidence that non-citizen voting occurs at significantly high rates. Unlike McLaughlin's study, this one is specifically designed to figure out how often non-citizens vote. The study by Jesse Richman, Gulsha Chatta and David Earnest analyzed data from the Cooperative Congressional Election Study and concluded:

“Our best guess, based upon extrapolations from the portion of the sample with a verified vote, is that 6.4 percent of non-citizens voted in 2008 and 2.2 percent of non-citizens voted in 2010,”

Unfortunately for Republicans who cite the survey, a panel from the Cooperative Congressional Election Study says that Richman et al.'s extrapolations contained a measurement error that expounded problems with their conclusion. The CCES panel stated:

“The Richman and Earnest study is an incorrect use of the survey that we manage, and a false claim of evidence of non-citizen voting. It’s a dangerous, stray false-fact.”

The abstract for their survey also states: "The results, we show, are completely accounted for by very low frequency measurement error; further, the likely percent of non-citizen voters in recent US elections is 0."

I wouldn't say that Richman et al's study was debunked, per se, but its conclusions were probably overzealous. In a cordial back and forth with Factcheck.org, Richman acknowledged that measurement errors could have biased their conclusion upward, but also said that CCES's conclusion that zero voter fraud exists is "complete and utter bullshit." He didn't really say that; he was much more polite, but that was the gist.

Voter fraud exists. I gave an example of it in the very first paragraph of this blog. However, virtually all viable instances of voter fraud or illegal voting rarely exceed numbers in the dozens.

Washington Times writer Kelly Riddell gives several instances of voter fraud as evidence of a wider problem, but some of her claims have been debunked. Furthermore, she claims that many people in Pennsylvania "might have cast two ballots." Claims like this are dangerous. It has caused legal registered voters to be banned from polls because they had similar names to someone else. Even in her debunked examples, calling election fraud  "widespread" is probably a stretch.

So far, nothing has corroborated Donald Trump's claims of widespread voter fraud or illegals voting. In Missouri, where I live, there have been zero cases of voter impersonation in general elections and only 17 cases of improper or false registration since 2005. While a few instances of voter fraud exist across the U.S., there is definitely no evidence that they swayed any election. If any reliable evidence existed, we'd see much more forceful election challenges than half-hearted recounts.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Do Not Ignore Donald Trump's Track Record

President-Elect Donald Trump represents a net negative to the majority of Americans. Most voters preferred that he didn't win and many who voted for him did so reluctantly. He not only lost the popular vote, non-voters most commonly referred to the outcome as "terrible." In New Jersey, some Democrats didn't vote because they didn't believe Trump would win and some conservatives didn't vote because they couldn't stomach Trump. So, despite many conservatives who are happy that Hillary Clinton didn't win, as a nation we're mostly unhappy with the outcome.

I am not interested in protesting a legitimately held election or kindling the fire under a trite faux resistance. I don't intend to bash the 60 million Americans who voted for Donald Trump and I have no interest in trying to shame them as I've seen elsewhere. I'm trying to convince everyone, including his supporters, that Donald Trump has been lying to you and that we must view his presidency with skepticism and caution.

I've spent too much of my professional career trying to protect consumers from people like Donald Trump and, in some cases, actually Donald Trump. For the past five years, I've tried to persuade people that he truly is a bad person. Considering the mountain of evidence, I didn't think it would be hard to convince people. 

President-Elect Donald Trump thinks it's OK to prey on the vulnerabilities of the poor. He stiffs his employees, contractors, pollsters and his suppliers.  He thinks that global warming is a hoax perpetuated by the Chinese. He bribed reporters to receive better coverage. He perpetuated a ridiculous conspiracy theory about the sitting President being ineligible to hold the office. He holds incredibly petty grudges and vows to carry that pettiness to the White House, even if it means violating the first amendment. He encourages espionage against our citizens. He hasn't even prepared to be president. He lies 70% of the time and grabs women by the pussy. Unfortunately, there's plenty more where that came from.

He coined the term #CrookedHillary, which carried weight with conservatives who already distrusted Hillary Clinton. He coined the term #DrainTheSwamp and claimed that he would rid Washington D.C. of corrupt politicians like Hillary. However, Donald Trump is one of the more corrupt businessmen in the world. Below is a list of all the times he's been investigated, indicted or fined by regulatory authorities for discrimination, improper lobbying, fraud, bribery, corruption, stock market violations, and more. So much more. He claims to be the government's savior by bringing his private sector dealings to the White House. That should horrify people.

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Donald Trump claims that the Clinton Foundation is a den of corruption and many people have grappled to that claim. The Better Business Bureau has been critical of the Clinton Foundation, noting that it is not as efficient as it should be and displays signs of conflicts of interest. The Clinton Foundation lags behind similar organizations. Donation money is not put where it will do the most good. In other words, they're not that bad, but they're not a top-tier organization like Bill and Hillary Clinton claim. Perhaps they are guilty of incompetence or poor organization, but probably not corruption.

On the other hand, Donald Trump signed yet another consent agreement to settle fraud charges for his business Trump University (He had to change the name to Trump Entrepreneur Initiative because the name violated consumer protection laws that prevent businesses that don't offer degrees from calling themselves "universities"). Trump University is another organization that the Better Business Bureau has been critical of. However, Trump lied repeatedly about his dealings with the BBB, causing the BBB to release a statement about his misrepresentations.

Donald Trump lied about being invited onto John Oliver's Last Week Tonight. He lied about President Obama yelling at a protester. He lied about John Podesta suppressing voters. He lied about non-citizens voting. He lied about Hillary Clinton stealing or allowing $6 Billion to be stolen from the State Department (paperwork was misfiled, but money never went missing). The list of lies goes on. These aren't gaffes or misspoken narratives that are intended to make him sound better. He's deliberately misleading his supporters and spreading false information. At some point, we have to recognize that his dishonesty is pathological.

On a personal level, Trump is a corrupt pathological liar, he might be racist and is definitely a misogynist. He had to settle charges of discrimination against blacks and violated the settlement within 10 years. He has elevated people who have expressed racist views, primarily Stephen K. Bannon, who made comments about too many Asian business owners in Silicon Valley and intentionally provided a platform for White Supremacists. Trump walked into his beauty pageant changing rooms to sneak a peak at naked women. He so brutally violated his ex-wife that she initially referred to the incident as rape. She has since walked back the statement to say she felt violated. More than a dozen women have accused him of inappropriate behavior or sexual misconduct. Many of their stories are plausible and have been corroborated by contemporary witness statements. Trump condemned Bill Clinton's predatory behavior on the campaign trail, but he initially defended Clinton. Trump brags about having sex with married women and, unfortunately, the list is even longer.

Before 2015, most people (Republicans included) had already determined that Trump was a pretty bad guy. He puts his desires above the needs of others, bullies ordinary people, and has repeatedly proven that he will sink to any level to settle a score.

His supporters were willing to overlook unappealing tendencies toward racism and misogyny for various reasons. Most people conceded that he doesn't have the desired temperament to be President of the United States, but that did not sway their vote. The Washington Post let Trump supporters put into their own words why they voted for him. These are in no particular order.

1. His economic policies were more important than his personal shortcomings.
2. He is not a career politician and Washington DC needs a change from the status quo.
3. He is not Hillary Clinton and they consider him the lesser of two evils.
4. The Supreme Court nominations are too important to allow anything jeopardize their selection.
5. He throws political correctness back into the face of smug, condescending liberals with brusque disregard.

1. His economic policies were more important than his personal shortcomings.

He doesn't have any economic policies. He has vague notions. The only economic policy he proposed was his tax plan that was abandoned almost immediately because even right wing economists claimed it would disable the economy.

From his own website, within 60 days of his inauguration, here is an exhaustive list of his positions:

Two. He has two positions. No one can claim that his economic policies persuaded them vote for him because his policies don't exist. Making Mexico pay for a wall across the southern border of the United States is a fantasy. He's already started walking back his rhetoric about the wall and when given the opportunity to elaborate on his healthcare reform plan on 60 Minutes, Trump balked because he has no idea what to do about it.

2. He is not a career politician and Washington DC needs a change from the status quo.

His disestablishment tendencies made him popular among voters who are disgusted by the perceived  corruption at the highest levels of government. However, as we've seen above, he's more corrupt than the most corrupt politicians.

3. He is not Hillary Clinton and they consider him the lesser of two evils.

I am sympathetic to voters who hated Hillary Clinton, who were sick of her and her politics, her scheming and her name. That is still not enough to believe she was the lesser of two evils. I understand the fear that conservatives felt about Hillary Clinton's liberal policies. That makes sense, but Trump is more corrupt than any politician, including Clinton, and has made some poor financial decisions in his career. He's filed for bankruptcy six times and has had a worrying number of business failures that have left some nations resentful. America doesn't need his business interests causing international ripples.

But really, we're talking about two extremely rich people that are both out of touch with the working class. They both lie about it. Based on Trump's comments pre-and-post-election, he doesn't think badly of Clinton. He just said what people wanted to hear so he could win. On the other hand, all the bad things Hillary said about Trump were true (see above).

4. The Supreme Court nominations are too important to allow anything jeopardize their selection.

The Supreme Court appointments might be the most legitimate political reason for conservatives to have opposed Clinton. The court shouldn't be a political weapon, but we can't lie to ourselves; it is. This might be the first time in history that the Supreme Court will start stripping away rights. I'm not looking forward to that, but it's what conservatives want.

5. He throws political correctness back into the face of smug, condescending liberals with brusque disregard.

After any disagreement with liberals on nearly any policy, conservatives were called racists, sexists, xenophobes, and Islamaphobes. They were accused of standing in the way of progress. They were excised from conversations about race relations. Their opinions were marginalized and guess what? That pissed them off. Trump reveled in disregarding political correctness and stood up for people who were constantly told to shut up. He did so by saying racist, sexist or otherwise shocking things. It was fresh and appealing to many Americans who had been excluded from any meaningful conversation about gender or race equality. There was an unfortunate side-effect to this...

6. Actual racism

I admit, I completely underestimated how powerful racism remains in the U.S. It is impossible to deny that he appealed to racists. The KKK and white supremacists officially supported him and celebrated his victory. Hate crimes exploded. Trump may not have meant every word he said. He may have been trying to eschew political correctness, but he did say a lot of racist shit. I am ashamed that I did not see the influence it had on the public at large.

I expected occasional racist outbursts. I even expected occasional violence from the few true racists. As reports of these events started making headlines, the sheer number of them was terrifying. It is clear that this behavior is not just a few crazy people on the far end of the spectrum. There is an undercurrent of deep hatred that I was unaware of. The hateful were emboldened to cast off their moderate masks and take action.

Personally, I made a horrible mistake by enjoying the way Trump ignored people who called him a racist by doubling down on racist comments. I considered it poetic justice against the social justice warriors who strive to be offended by the most innocuous comments. They, who would be offended by anything, for any cause, deserved to be ignored. I was sick of Black Lives Matter, whose protestors felt justified in breaking the law and terrorizing innocent students because of the color of their skin. It was schadenfreude. I did not fully appreciate how this behavior would affect true victims of racism. Students paying $72,000 per year for Berkley or University of Missouri tuition are not the people to worry about. People who work two or three jobs while they raise their kids in crime-ridden areas are. People who are shunned because of their skin color are. People who are profiled by law-enforcement or, more often, retail establishments are.

Now we are seeing the outcome of all that racist validation. Middle school students are harassing their Latino classmates. Racists are boldly attacking and threatening black Americans in alarming frequency.

All of this wasn't enough to halt Donald Trump's march to the White House. He tapped into something that made many everyday American ignore the worst about him.  We've had worse human beings as presidents before, but this is the first time we knew the candidate was a bad guy and voted him in anyway. I didn't even get into the deeply substantive problems about how his vague notions for the direction of the country would violate the Constitution.

This man will be in the White House. He will be our head of state and chief magistrate. He will be the most powerful man in the world and I implore anyone and everyone to keep an eye on Donald Trump. He should not be trusted.