With Donald Trump formally installed in the Oval Office, election integrity activist Jonathan Simon crunches the numbers and reflects on Election 2016, the death of electoral transparency and the thwarting of public will.
As Published in MintPressNews
By Jonathan D. Simon @JonathanSimon14 | January 24, 2017
Whether viewed in terms of outcome or of process, the story of the 2016 presidential election is one so grim that it calls for a trigger warning for anyone of ethical sensibilities or faith in the workings of democracy. In a year that will be remembered by many for the number of revered individuals we lost, it is an open question whether our democracy itself should top the list of the dearly departed, or whether rumors of its demise are exaggerated and it is with us still, lingering on in the ICU and facing a long and arduous road to recovery. If one of democracy’s vital organs is acknowledged to be an electoral process that permits the undistorted translation of collective public will into the electoral results that determine leadership, policy, and national direction, then 2016 goes down as the year that this vital organ, long diseased, finally failed. If the patient is to be nursed back to health, our search for a cure begins with a thorough case history and an unblinking examination of our stage-4 electoral pathology.
How did we get here?
An election year is made up of innumerable events and constant flux. If we take an alpha-to-omega overview of the 2016 presidential election, the first thing that jumps out from the thousands of event pixels is the fact that America entered 2016 with the near consensus recognition that something serious needed to be done to deal with runaway economic inequality. The year ended, however, with a president-elect and Cabinet representing not the “1%,” but the “0.1%,” portending not merely a step but a giant leap away from economic equality and toward outright plutocracy. The nation that came into the year coalescing around the need to seriously address climate change and the easy availability of guns, exited it in the hands of a climate change denier and new darling of the NRA. A nation that seemed anxious about the relatively mild pay-to-play concerns raised by the Clinton Foundation, wound up with an all but branded White House, its chief and ancillary occupants boasting more and deeper conflicts of interest than any in our long history.
In reviewing the elections of the year 2016, we will want to ask how we wound up, in virtually every dimension, zigging when we meant to zag. How did such a seemingly fundamental reversal of public will (and taste) come to pass? How did the gears of our electoral process mesh (or slip) to lead us to such a bleak moment in our national journey, as we rang in the New Year in our hospital bed, a forlorn “Get Well Soon” balloon bobbing from the bedpost.
Emergence of the politics of disgust
In the dog days of 2015, the ho-hum assumption was the “inevitability” of a Jeb Bush/Hillary Clinton matchup, or at least some tight variation on that theme. But as the campaigns got started in earnest and the public began to displace the pundits and weigh in with their votes, a very different picture began to emerge. It seemed that “upstarts” like Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders were pulling bigger crowds and generating far more enthusiasm than any of the “establishment” candidates, wherever those candidates attempted to position themselves on the traditional political spectrum. Voters — right, left, and center — registered their distress at the dysfunctionality and unresponsiveness of the political hierarchy by turning to candidates promising some sort of fundamental change.
Trump, who promised change from the right, melted his various, more conventional opponents and became the Republican nominee. Sanders, who promised change from the left (and who consistently far out-polled both Trump straight-up and Clinton when tested in matchups against Trump), was sent packing. Was there any more to that primary season outcome than simply one upstart winning and another upstart losing? The forensic answer to this question was troubling.
Attempting (and failing) to verify computerized vote counting in the primaries
Since votes are counted unobservably in the pitch-dark of cyberspace and our voting equipment and programming (unlike our footballs) are essentially off-limits to inspection, election forensics comes down perforce to indirect measures of patterns and anomalies, from which red flags may emerge to suggest “problems” with the vote counting process. Baselines commonly used for this verification process range from exit polls and pre-election polls, to hand counts (in the very few places where they still exist), to parallel contests too noncompetitive to be likely targets for malfeasance, to vote count patterns correlated with type or brand of counting equipment (e.g., paperless touchscreen vs. optical scanner or Dominion Voting vs. ES&S). In the 2016 primaries, it was primarily the exit polls that waved the red flags, although there were other strongly corroborating indicators.
Unlike previous eras, exit polls — or at least those in competitive elections bearing national significance — in the era of computerized voting have been so habitually “off” in the same direction (to the “left” of the vote counts) that many, having first presumed the accuracy of the vote counts, have come to dismiss the polls as faulty, the pollsters as biased or incompetent. This jaundiced view prevails despite the existence of studies confirming the demographic validity of exit poll samples.
But the pattern of exit poll and vote count results in the 2016 primaries was strange enough that it should have given pause to even the most hardened skeptics. To continue reading, please click HERE.