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Thread: The Recount Road to Nowhere

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    The Recount Road to Nowhere

    The Recount Road to Nowhere



    Who started it this time? The behavior of Jill Stein, the Green Party Presidential candidate, who has filed in Wisconsin for a recount of votes cast in the Presidential election, and who plans to pursue recounts in Michigan and Pennsylvania as well, has been frustrating; that of Hillary Clinton, the Democratic Party contender, who joined the effort, human but disappointing; and that of Donald Trump, the President-elect, outrageous and destructive. The recount business has not brought out the best in anybody, and in Trump it has brought out the worst: in a series of tweets Sunday night, he alleged that millions of votes were fraudulent, enough to cost him the popular vote. None of this is going to produce any change in the results of the 2016 election. The sole item it may deliver is the one thing the country had been spared with Trump’s victory: a corrosive, conspiracy-minded, and slanderous attack on the integrity of our voting system. This is a critical period in which the shape of Trump’s Administration will be formed, one that presents all sorts of tasks and challenges for his opponents. Democrats have better things to do.

    A candidate needs two hundred and seventy Electoral College votes to win the Presidency. Trump has three hundred and six, and Clinton has two hundred and thirty-two. This includes sixteen for Trump from Michigan, where his victory, by ten thousand votes, was certified this afternoon. Wisconsin has ten electoral votes, and he is ahead by about thirty thousand; Pennsylvania has twenty, and the lead is seventy thousand. A recount would have to reverse the results in all three states to get Clinton to two hundred and seventy. And, as fivethirtyeight.com noted, this has never happened in cases where the margins are as large as those in Wisconsin or Pennsylvania; even Michigan would be at the edge of past experience. (It is worth noting that Jill Stein won enough votes in Michigan and Wisconsin to account for Clinton’s losses there.) Stein’s Wisconsin application lists a number of reasons for a recount, most of which are paraphrases of a single thought: the Russians might, just might, have fixed the election—after all, they hacked John Podesta’s e-mail. Added to that is the general observation that electronic voting systems are, in any state, theoretically hackable. That amounts to saying that no one should really trust any results. The only example of observable irregularities that Stein cites is an uptick in absentee voting, something that may have many causes. Attached to her submission is an affidavit from a computer expert, J. Alex Halderman, who has long warned against electronic voting systems. But, apart from explaining why a paper record is a good idea, he doesn’t really offer any evidence, apart from press reports that the Russians have hacked other things and a general sense that they are up to no good. (There have also been reports pointing to a weaker performance for Clinton in counties with paperless balloting; however, as both fivethirtyeight.com and the Upshot have pointed out, any difference disappears when one controls for demographics.) And Halderman includes this line: “One would expect a skilled attacker’s work to leave no visible signs, other than a surprising electoral outcome in which results in several close states differed from pre-election polling.”

    This is classic conspiracy logic: the absence of evidence is evidence of just how insidious it is. The failure of an event to turn out as expected is presented as evidence of some hidden hand at work, some deliberate interference. But did something go wrong in 2012, when Obama beat the polls’ expectations? Polls differ from one another; that is why candidates campaign in small towns in swing states, or why they should. It has been widely noted that Clinton did not visit Wisconsin in the general election. The results may have been “surprising,” but they are not mysterious. There were other late factors that may not have been accounted for in the polls: the F.B.I.’s ill-timed announcement about the Clinton e-mail investigation; the revelations about the Clinton Foundation in those hacked Podesta e-mails; and the decision of the Speaker of the House, Paul Ryan, of Wisconsin, to campaign openly for Trump, and not just for House candidates, as he had done earlier. Similarly, the Republican National Committee’s data operation—which, despite all the stories about Trump’s supposed isolation, was fully deployed in his favor—seems to have done a pretty good job figuring out where to send him in the final days, and the candidate, hungry for crowds, went. Trump, when self-mythologizing about his win, talks about a final rally he added, in Grand Rapids, Michigan, which ended in the early-morning hours of Election Day itself. (“This doesn’t feel like second place.”) He may be right about that. Demographics are essential, but the practice of politics matters, too. One doesn’t want to pile on to Clinton; she has suffered a devastating loss at the hands of an unworthy man. Ultimately, though, a failure to face up to the flaws in her campaign is leading to some dark places, full of the plotting of foreign agents. And in many states, anyway, the difference between the polls and the final results was within the margin of error: this is why, days before the election, Nate Silver gave Trump close to a one-in-three chance of winning. And, as the Obama Administration confirmed this weekend, there is no sign of interference in the balloting. The Administration said in a statement, “We stand behind our election results, which accurately reflect the will of the American people.”

    Nevertheless, on Saturday, the Clinton campaign joined the recount effort. It did so by way of a post on Medium, written by its attorney Marc Elias, which said that the campaign took concerns about Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania “very seriously,” especially given that “this election cycle was unique in the degree of foreign interference witnessed throughout the campaign.” The portrait it provided of the campaign’s post-election reckoning was one of “lawyers and data scientists and analysts combing over the results to spot anomalies that would suggest a hacked result”; of meetings with data scientists; of researching recount and audit rules; of an attempt “to systematically catalogue and investigate every theory that has been presented to us.” Elias said that the campaign had not found any “actionable evidence of hacking or outside attempts to alter voting technology.” (“Actionable” being the wavering signal.) But, as long as Stein had got things going, the campaign would sign on in order to make sure that it was “represented.” The emphasis was on the idea that there was some deep mystery that the campaign acknowledged and was engaged in puzzling out, with Jill Stein serving as its Miss Marple.

    Trump’s victory has been truly disorienting for millions of Americans. There are many tasks at hand, including confirmation fights against some of his more alarming cabinet nominees (Jeff Sessions, Betsy DeVos), and over his still-to-be-named Supreme Court choice. Indeed, if there is a threat to fair elections it comes in the form of Sessions—who has worked to keep minorities away from the polls—taking control of the Department of Justice. Democrats might spend more time getting the word out about that. The Democratic Party, as a whole, must regroup and look for its next generation of candidates. Elias referred to the “heartbreak” of Clinton’s supporters; there are far more productive ways to channel that emotion than dwelling on the what-ifs of November 8th.
    “Totalitarianism in power invariably replaces all first-rate talents, regardless of their sympathies, with those crackpots and fools whose lack of intelligence and creativity is still the best guarantee of their loyalty.”

    ~ Hannah Arendt

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    Halderman put up a post on Medium to give his own version of the comments being attributed to him.

    Were this year’s deviations from pre-election polls the results of a cyberattack? Probably not. I believe the most likely explanation is that the polls were systematically wrong, rather than that the election was hacked. But I don’t believe that either one of these seemingly unlikely explanations is overwhelmingly more likely than the other. The only way to know whether a cyberattack changed the result is to closely examine the available physical evidence — paper ballots and voting equipment in critical states like Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania. Unfortunately, nobody is ever going to examine that evidence unless candidates in those states act now, in the next several days, to petition for recounts.
    There is a lot of hard spinning going on over the recount effort. Some claim it's an attack on the integrity of the Democratic process, and a destabilizing creation of doubt over the validity of the results.

    But a recount doesn't create doubt. A recount resolves doubt. That's what a recount is for. That's why the law allows for a recount to be requested. They're paying for it; they applied for it; it's a built-in feature of the system.

    I had an earlier thread about electronic voting machines, some of which print paper ballots for the purpose of auditing the electronic tallies. But if you never do a recount, that check mostly goes undone.

    On some great and glorious day the plain folks of the land will reach their heart’s desire at last, and the White House will be adorned by a downright moron.
    -H. L. Mencken

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    I understand where Trump is coming from; there is nothing but downside for him in a recount. But I am not sure I get the hand wringing from the Left. As you said, recounts are just part of the process.
    “Totalitarianism in power invariably replaces all first-rate talents, regardless of their sympathies, with those crackpots and fools whose lack of intelligence and creativity is still the best guarantee of their loyalty.”

    ~ Hannah Arendt

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    Quote Originally Posted by Norm dePlume View Post
    Halderman put up a post on Medium to give his own version of the comments being attributed to him.



    There is a lot of hard spinning going on over the recount effort. Some claim it's an attack on the integrity of the Democratic process, and a destabilizing creation of doubt over the validity of the results.

    But a recount doesn't create doubt. A recount resolves doubt. That's what a recount is for. That's why the law allows for a recount to be requested. They're paying for it; they applied for it; it's a built-in feature of the system.
    Not necessarily, as this New Yorker piece says, "This is classic conspiracy logic: the absence of evidence is evidence of just how insidious it is. The failure of an event to turn out as expected is presented as evidence of some hidden hand at work, some deliberate interference."

    Insoluble conspiracy theories don't resolve doubt, and promoting them, as Stein is doing, sow cynicism instead. ("That amounts to saying that no one should really trust any results.") Another thing fact-free conspiracy theories do is open the door to fact-free speculation of all sorts, such as to the motive of Jill Stein, beyond raising money for herself and getting the attention of such Democrat luminaries as George Soros.

    The latest speculation may be that Hillary is preparing for another run for the White House in 2020. Please oh please oh please, I might add. It could be the second-chance effort Bob Dole never got. Eat your heart out, Adlai Stevenson!

    Oh well, back to the reality of present day fact-free theories.
    I had an earlier thread about electronic voting machines, some of which print paper ballots for the purpose of auditing the electronic tallies. But if you never do a recount, that check mostly goes undone.
    The machines, I understand, have indeed been tested and retested. That doesn't matter in a fact-free conspiracy theory.

    One fact the essay mentions amused me: "It has been widely noted that Clinton did not visit Wisconsin in the general election. The results may have been “surprising,” but they are not mysterious."

    During the stormy recall efforts over the first several years of Scott's tenure as governor, the opposition was nothing if not supremely confident in victory. Over and over. It appears Hillary bought into some of that false bravado in the general. That, and my fact-free speculation that her health made curtailing her public appearances severely an unfortunate necessity.

    I suspect the states targeted aren't interested in being used for cynical games that would, among other things, exclude their voters for the electoral tally. The Dems aren't doing themselves any favors by pretending this is a high-minded, disinterested examination of the process.

    A footnote here. Comparisons between Hillary and Dick Nixon were common during the campaign, but here at least she is clearly different. Faced with a razor-thin loss many reasonable people suspected was tipped by ballot box chicanery in Chicago, Nixon decided against a recount, citing the interest of the country and all that.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Newman View Post
    Not necessarily, as this New Yorker piece says, "This is classic conspiracy logic: the absence of evidence is evidence of just how insidious it is. The failure of an event to turn out as expected is presented as evidence of some hidden hand at work, some deliberate interference."
    You have the cause and effect backwards. The recount didn't cause the theory. The theory caused the recount. The recount is how it gets resolved, to the extent such things can be resolved. Now, if you really, really want to lend support to conspiracy theories, block the recount.

    On some great and glorious day the plain folks of the land will reach their heart’s desire at last, and the White House will be adorned by a downright moron.
    -H. L. Mencken

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    Quote Originally Posted by Newman View Post
    The machines, I understand, have indeed been tested and retested. That doesn't matter in a fact-free conspiracy theory.
    Oh, we've got your understanding to go on. Good enough for me.

    On some great and glorious day the plain folks of the land will reach their heart’s desire at last, and the White House will be adorned by a downright moron.
    -H. L. Mencken

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    Quote Originally Posted by Norm dePlume View Post
    You have the cause and effect backwards. The recount didn't cause the theory. The theory caused the recount. The recount is how it gets resolved, to the extent such things can be resolved. Now, if you really, really want to lend support to conspiracy theories, block the recount.
    There are scads of unfounded theories floating about. They don't cause anything. The recount has chosen a theory as its justification, and I'll guarantee you since the theorists claim the hacking is "undetectable" nothing will be resolved.

    No test will be sufficient. That's the nature of "classic conspiracy logic."

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    Quote Originally Posted by Newman View Post
    There are scads of unfounded theories floating about. They don't cause anything. The recount has chosen a theory as its justification, and I'll guarantee you since the theorists claim the hacking is "undetectable" nothing will be resolved.

    No test will be sufficient. That's the nature of "classic conspiracy logic."
    Does the law allow for recounts? See if you can work a "yes" or "no" into your interpretive dance reply.

    On some great and glorious day the plain folks of the land will reach their heart’s desire at last, and the White House will be adorned by a downright moron.
    -H. L. Mencken

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    Quote Originally Posted by Newman View Post
    There are scads of unfounded theories floating about. They don't cause anything. The recount has chosen a theory as its justification, and I'll guarantee you since the theorists claim the hacking is "undetectable" nothing will be resolved.

    No test will be sufficient. That's the nature of "classic conspiracy logic."
    Friggin' waste of tax dollars. What in the blazes of blues does Jill Stein hope to get out of this?

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    Quote Originally Posted by Norm dePlume View Post
    Does the law allow for recounts? See if you can work a "yes" or "no" into your interpretive dance reply.
    How about Yes, of course.

    Legal doesn't necessarily mean good, much less wise. Sometimes it means no more than clever. It's legal to sue anybody for anything; it's legal to get slapped for bringing a frivolous (but legal!) lawsuit.

    I amend an earlier statement: The Dems aren't doing themselves any favors by pretending this perfectly legal maneuver is a high-minded, disinterested examination of the process.

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