Debunking Election Misinformation

Image created by Rizon Parein

Image created by Rizon Parein

As we all continue to watch the election unfold, I wanted to take some time to discuss a few of the bits of probably misinformation I see on various sites on the Internet about some of the supposed issues with the election.


Before we begin, here is what we do know: This election has blown away old records in the modern era and set new benchmarks for the total number of votes castearly voting, wait times for voting in some polling locations, new registrations for voting, and is on track to break voting participation records as well. That is where this country stands, and it’s incredible to see. With that, let’s discuss some of the arguments we see for why this election could be “rigged.”

Between the end of polling on Election Day to the next morning, claims on the internet indicated that Wisconsin saw a mysterious injection of votes into its system, all favoring Vice President Biden. The number of injected votes has ranged from 5,000 up to 140,000, spurring a lot of noise from the right that these ‘Biden dumps’ are evidence of voter fraud. Many of these voices have taken to Twitter, including the president himself.

If this happened, the Trump Campaign would be presenting this as evidence in the Supreme Court as fast as possible. They are not as of this writing. Logically, to accuse either Wisconsin or the Biden Campaign of this malfeasance would require actual evidence, whether it was the fraudulent votes themselves or witnesses who could go under oath to swear this occurred. The Trump Campaign has no such lawsuits in Wisconsin. Perhaps more telling is that they do not include any accusation of this type in suits for other states. It would be unthinkable to pass this up if they had evidence to get those votes tossed and win Wisconsin. That’s the logical side of this.


The data side of this is more straightforward. Wisconsin has a certified roll of all voters in its state. Given the high percentage of turnout this election, the injection of 140,000 votes would be easily caught as it would go over the delta of non-participating voters in the state. Furthermore, we can track this at the county level and even drill into those heavily in Biden’s favor, such as Milwaukee and Madison’s areas.


To pull off this would a take a conspiracy to physically remove ballots for Trump in these areas and then replace them with Biden ballots. That would keep the totals even, but then you’re looking at hundreds of people at polling places with registered Republicans, Democrats, and Independents watching each station like a hawk. It’s simply not feasible without being noticed.


The most logical answer to what happened here is what those of us who stayed up virtually all night to track witnessed—shifting vote totals in real-time as Wisconsin counted the backlog of votes from mail-in and early voting. Throughout the evening, the world saw the shifting of Blue to Red and vice versa in all the battleground states (Biden was even leading in Texas for a while). This was expected. Election data scientists have been talking about this for months, given the extreme amounts of early voting that heavily favored Joe Biden.

The next issue concerns the idea of votes outweighing voters. This theory has been used for Wisconsin in particular, with some images going viral showing vote totals being more than registered voters. To put it simply, we never see an accurate count of the votes in real-time. They are a projection or an estimate. We get ballpark estimates live as the votes are tallied with a typical margin of +/- 3 to 5% error. This picture is a screenshot I took live from Bloomberg on Wednesday as I was looking at the news coming out of Wisconsin yesterday:


Courtesy of Nick Espinosa

Courtesy of Nick Espinosa


It clearly states a range for estimated votes in the state. This can change as the government starts to certify the votes. At the very bottom, it gives you the criteria that the count assumes a high voter turnout. Again, what we see in the ballpark and is not precise. Bloomberg stats their margin of error at +/- 5 percent. If you look at the percentage bar in the middle, you can see that 97-107% of all votes are counted. This shows us that they estimate the count and that within a 5% margin, we are somewhere in that spectrum.


Bloomberg and every other news outlet that runs live trackers estimate voter turnout for each state and compare it against the state-certified voter rolls. Those estimates can and will shift up with a record turnout as the votes come in or lower if the state population doesn’t turn up. This is why people can see votes overtaking voters. The networks are working to try-and-true up numbers on the fly as the states are reporting counts in real-time from dozens of counties all at once. It is a massive operation to report this in real-time for any news outlet.


The next issues come directly from President Trump, who wants to stop the count due to the above two problems rigging the election. President Trump is selective when he wants the count to stop and where he is okay with it continuing. In states where the president is holding a shrinking lead, he wants the counting stopped. The early votes are still being counted, but Biden has closed the gap in Georgia and Pennsylvania as of this writing. In Arizona and Michigan, Trump’s campaign coordinated efforts to get his supporters to show up at polling stations and demand they keep counting in Arizona and stop counting in Michigan. If the count stopped nationwide right this second, Biden would be the next president of the United States based on Nevada, Arizona, Wisconsin, Georgia, Pennsylvania, and Michigan. The president is selective here. That’s fine, but please understand it’s a political tactic and nothing more.


Further, his campaign has the legal right to sue on virtually any grounds in the election, but they have to produce a legal reason why a count should stop. Again, they have not once claimed fraudulent ballots in any legal maneuver yet – only online rhetoric with no legal standing. They also claim legal ballots may have been delivered after the deadline or that their campaign was not given proper access to the counting. Again, there is no evidence of this. Given the supply chain logging of ballots and the number of people on both sides of the aisle involved in that, it should be easy to prove or disprove these accusations one way or the other.

A separate theory sprouting up from the Internet concerns the covering up of windows in Detroit’s ballot counting area. The reasoning is that if the counting in Michigan was legit, why are they covering it up?


In the same tactic used in Florida in the 2000 Gore v. Bush race, President Trump supporters showed up to the polling place chanting and attempting to push past guards and were banging on the windows. To ensure no intimidation of judges, they began putting up coverings on the window to ease the election judges.  Only registered media can take pictures of a counting place.


Inside that polling place were authorized Republicans, Democrats, and Independents all working together to count the vote. There has been no official statement from Michigan election authorities whatsoever that at any time was one party’s officials excluded from the counting room. In both print and television, poll watchers from both parties were in their proper places by all news indications. A Michigan judge agreed and threw out the Trump Campaign lawsuit for this very reason.


The last, and most two-dimensional, accusation against the election is the disbelief that Joe Biden got more votes than Barack Obama. I don’t think anyone would disagree that, in terms of charisma, Joe Biden is no Barack Obama. However, it has nothing to do with likability and everything to do with the pure numbers. We had 101.3 million early votes and an estimated 58 million more on election day. The early votes alone were 73.5% of all votes cast in 2016. As I said earlier, this election broke records. 


But let’s look at the numbers: 2008 had a total of 131,312,820 votes cast. Obama captured 69,498,516 votes, an insane 9.5 million votes over John McCain, to take 52.93% of the total popular vote. Joe Biden has a 3.7 million popular vote lead over Donald Trump as the morning of Friday, November 6, 2020. There is no way that Biden will overtake Obama’s delta in their respective elections. Obama was more popular.


This election, though, is a numbers game. The added 28+ million more voters gave both candidates a numerical edge over past candidates, regardless of popularity. Joe Biden may have millions of more votes than Barack Obama, but Donald Trump now has overtaken Obama in popular vote count when the vote is certified. Finally, our population increases every year, and therefore so does our electorate. This was an easy one.


There you have it: The data and the logic related to all the mud and murky accusations thrown at the election and the electoral process. Information and data are of paramount importance to ensuring a free, open, and fair election. Let’s make sure the United States separates fact from fiction, and there is no better way than to look at the data. 

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