TexasVoters staircase 1500

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.)

 
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FOOTNOTES:

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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Looks like an Es­cher painting.

Yup.