vote-switching and the vast rightwing echo chamber

I SUBSCRIBE TO NEWSLETTERS with a decidedly conservative bent. It’s always interesting to see the take they have on real news stories, and even more interesting to read the non-news stories that they treat as real news. A story making the rounds today can be summed up as, “Texas voters claim vote-switching in presidential picks.”

One of this morning’s journals opened with this statement: “After casting their ballots, some early voters in Texas claimed voting machines changed their votes for president from Republican Donald Trump to Democrat Hillary Clinton.”

The statement is backed by a report from The Dallas Morning News: “The allegations follow a similar pattern: voters say they voted straight-ticket Republican, but when they reviewed their ballots, they reflected they had voted for Hillary Clinton for president, not Donald Trump.”

Vote-switching: Cartoon by xkcd about Diebold voting machines and antivirus software.

Ripped Off’s Believe It or Not: “Premier Election Solutions has blamed Ohio voting machine errors on problems with the machines’ McAfee antivirus software.” (Cartoon by xkcd in 2008.) 1

The usual suspects clog up Google

Being inclined towards a modicum of due diligence before placing even an ittybitty toe of even one of my feet onto the hot bed of coals of opinionating, I naturally did some research into this very interesting story. 2

I typed, “early voters in Texas claimed voting machines changed their votes” into Google. As of 9:00 AM this Thursday morning (October 27, 2016), there were more than 1,400,000 results!

Sure enough, on the first Google page there was The Dallas Morning News, just below Fox News, both reporting this ‘story’ as news. The usual suspects that one expects to jump in on such stories—the countless blogs of the Rep*blican Echo Chamber (look it up)—made up the bulk of the sites listed on Google’s first three pages.

When personal accounts are the same,
with only the names or locations changed—
that’s usually a sign of a planted story.

Except for one standout: the third site listed was the redoubtable Snopes, who probably do due diligence better than any other investigative site on the Internet. According to Snopes, what’s true in the story is this:

“A woman in Tarrant County claimed that her vote switched from Republican to Democrat and she caught and corrected the error; a subsequent investigation determined the machine was working properly, and the woman admitted she may have erroneously selected the wrong candidate.” 3

What’s not true is just about everything else:

“Reports are not flooding in from across Texas about vote switching, and most anecdotes are identical with localities changed.” 4

Despite the persistent and widespread rumors of dead people returning from their graves to vote, there is almost no evidence to substantiate most of these claims. “While voter fraud is rare—one study found just 31 credible claims of fraud amid more than a 1 billion ballots cast since 2000—a few instances of voter fraud and voting irregularities have been found ahead of the election.” (Los Angeles Times) 5

When ‘news stories’ aren’t news at all

One of the easiest ways to separate fact from fiction on the Internet is the ease with which anyone can check the anecdotal accounts of such stories. When the personal accounts in the story are the same, with only the names of persons or locations changed, that’s usually a pretty good sign of a fake, planted story.

And as these ‘personal and true stories’ are fabrications, and it happens over and over, it’s reasonable to assume a degree of conspiracy among the perpetrators.

Here the conspirators are the bloggers who willingly spread anti-liberal or anti-Democrat stories without doing their own due diligence with a few minutes of research on the very Internet that makes their blogs possible.

To be fair and balanced, both the newsletter and The Dallas Morning News did eventually note in their coverage that the whole thing may simply be a mistake. That a mountain was being made out of a molehill in Texas. But of course only after presenting the gossip and the hyperbole as news!

And if you have taken Journalism 101 anywhere in the past hundred years or so, you learned that of every ten people who reads the first paragraph of a story, perhaps one or two read to the end of the article. 6

Vote-switching: Map of Tarrant County, Texas.

Reports of vote-switching are NOT flooding in from Texas—regardless of social media anecdotes. Click To Tweet

News in the rightwing blogosphere

Our story, then: one woman in Texas apparently mishandled a voting machine and saw her intended vote for Trump turn up a vote for Clinton. Okay? One woman, one vote.

She complained and the officials took care of the mistake, switching her vote back to Trump. From this, a non-story ‘news story’ now appears on more than 2,300,000 sites (a 60% increase in three hours) on Google as of noon this October 27, 2016.

Like an endless echo, it just keeps on.

And on.

From one blogger to the next, each a wall for the echo to bounce off of.

And on.

Millions of walls

And on.

Of course, echoes have no substance.

And on.

And that’s how news is made in the Bizarro World of the rightwingnut blogosphere! 7

HEADER IMAGE: I found this fantastic photo of my fellow Americans waiting in line to cast their ballots in Boston in 2012. And of course I chose it for it Escheresque flavor! (Photo by Matt Campbell of the European Pressphoto Agency.)



1   Premier Election Solutions is the new moniker for Diebold, manufacturer of voting and ATM machines. “The controversial manufacturer, whose name conjures up the demons of Ohio’s 2004 presidential election irregularities, is now finally under indictment for a worldwide pattern of criminal conduct. Federal prosecutors filed charges against Diebold on October 22, 2013, alleging that the company bribed government officials and falsified documents to obtain business in China, Indonesia, and Russia.” (Columbus Free Press)

2   Although opining is the correct term for expressing an opinion, I prefer the incorrect opinionating.

3   Here is a lengthier explanation from Snopes: “We contacted Tarrant County and spoke with an elections official there who told us the rumor was not new, as every election brings along with it claims of vote switching. She stated that in all instances where machine or voting equipment malfunctions are reported, a technician physically investigates the machine involved in an attempt to replicate the error, adding that the county has never successfully managed to reproduce a switched vote.

The representative stated that someone from the county spoke with the claimant on October 24, 2016, after the machine she had used was tested by a technician. The representative asked the woman whether it was possible she inadvertently hit ENTER using a scroll-wheel, and the woman said she might have in fact accidentally selected the wrong candidates herself. But the machine the woman used was found to be properly calibrated and working correctly.”

4   Snopes was able to uncover these basic facts within hours of the story first appearing in The Dallas Morning News. Why, oh why, can’t or don’t or won’t the other sites check their facts so promptly and exactly?

5   The skeleton above holding a Starbuck’s cup in one hand and an absentee ballot in the other can be found in a country courthouse in Bozeman, Montana. That state has one of the few laws that allows dead citizens to vote: “If an elector votes by absentee ballot and the ballot has been mailed to or received by the election administrator but the elector dies between the time of balloting and election day, the deceased elector’s ballot must be counted.” (Montana’s absentee voting law)

6   In fact, when reading any news story by any writer for any publication, you can assume that any opinion the publisher or editor or writer’ may have is in the top half of the story, while the facts are buried in the second half.

7   Given that the story is less than 24 hours old as I write this, there is still plenty of time for thousands of other bloggers to pick up this juiceless tidbit and pass it off to their readers as more “truth” about voter fraud in these here United States . . .

A non-story news story? On August 22, 2016, a video of a woman supposedly registering voters lot made the rounds of the rightwingnut websites. What she was doing was not established by the video, nor was her identity, although the bloggers miraculously identified her almost immediately as Susan Berman. They all accuse her of “voter fraud” despite voter fraud having absolutely nothing to do with voter registration. Which means that each site is passing the story along without their own due diligence. In the two months since it was first posted, not a single legitimate news site anywhere in the world picked up the “story.”

One study found just 31 credible claims of fraud amid more than one billion ballots cast since 2000. Click To Tweet


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