Tuesday’s election did not bring the decisive victory either party would have liked, as a large swath of voters turned out to cast their votes or mailed in ballots this year to avoid exposure to the coronavirus. Instead of a clear-cut winner, what the election produced was several days of ridiculous conspiracy theories.
Both parties have poll watchers to observe voting and counting. Some vote counts - including Cullman County - are live streamed. You can’t get much more transparent than that. Despite that, speculation abounds.
The rumors swirling all over social media included claims of ballots not being counted, ballots turning up overnight, more votes cast than registered voters, sharpies being used and ballots not counted, and suspicious activity in swing states.
What is suspicious is that people don’t take the time to do minimum research before posting and sharing these ridiculous claims.
Voting processes are established at the state level, so they vary from state to state. Some states, such as Florida, begin processing absentee or mail-in ballots as they come in. Other states, like Michigan, are not allowed to begin processing absentee ballots until after the polls close on election day. That explains why some states have returns faster than others.
It should also be noted that every vote in every state is counted. There appears to be some misconception that once a state is “called” for a presidential candidate, the vote count stops. As the Esurance commercial says, “That’s not how this works. That’s not how any of it works.”
The media “called” Alabama for President Trump before the first vote was counted because it was clear that was the way the state was going to go. That does not mean the vote count stops then. There are many other races and issues on the ballots besides the question of who is going to be the next president. Every ballot gets counted because one vote could make the difference in a local race or constitutional amendment question.
The national media’s attention may have moved on, but the local election workers continue to do their jobs until every vote is counted.
There were questions as to why a vote “suddenly stopped.” In some cases, it was because election workers are people, not machines, and require sleep and food. They also receive training to do what they do, so you can’t simply swap them out with another warm body and keep the count going 24/7. In other cases - such as Allegheny County in Philadelphia - they stopped counting on Thursday because, by law and court orders, they could not continue the count until Friday when another board was coming in to examine ballots.
A social media claim of “a man wheeling suspicious equipment” into the Detroit Convention Center turned out to be a news photographer loading up a wagon with his camera gear; a tweet claimed Joe Biden got 100 percent of the votes in one Michigan precinct, but that turned out to be a typo and the author deleted it. Unfortunately, others had already seen and shared the tweet.
Another claim: the number of ballots cast exceeded the number of registered voters. However, the state in question has same-day voter registration, so the number of ballots cast should have been compared to the number of eligible voters.
A lead by one candidate is suddenly lost or drastically narrowed and people cry foul and look for the conspiracy where there is none. There is just a large number of votes coming in from a geographic area that favors one candidate over another. It’s called voting.
Brian Kemp, the first modern-day Republican governor of Georgia to have never been a Democrat, may as well have been, as people claimed that voting was only stopping in “states run by Democrats.” They also questioned the “coincidence” of a water main pipe temporarily stopping the vote count in Atlanta. Anyone familiar with Fulton County elections would know that a water main bursting in the building where they were counting votes is very on-brand for Fulton County.
Maybe it’s time for Americans to get civic lessons from real life instead of television. Unlike crime shows, criminals are not caught, prosecuted and sentenced in one hour. Nor are all contests resolved by audience votes in a 10-minute time span.
Democracy has processes and procedures that take time, including time to verify votes via signatures and other methods and to let voters “cure” a problem they may have had with their ballot. We need to grant that time and let the process work. If there are actual irregularities or questions of law, the court is the proper place to take those claims. Repeating unverified claims won’t change the election outcome, it just discourages people from participating in future elections.
Free and fair elections are the bedrock of our democracy. There are foreign entities that envy our democracy and want to see our trust in it undermined.
Let’s not do their dirty work for them.