How to debunk an electoral fraud claim
There are plenty of claims of US election fraud floating around this week. Most of them fall into three categories:
- Too vague to be meaningfully evaluated or investigated
- Too small to matter (a few individual ballots being challenged here and there, possibly valid but not enough to affect the results)
- Too wild to stand up to any kind of scrutiny
To start with, the data comes from an authoritative source, the New York Times. Even better in this case: a source associated with "the other side". Surely the liberals can't deny the truths from their own newspaper?
The following information is provided via an anonymous data scientist and another anonymous individual who wrote a script to scrape the national ballot counting time series data of off the @nytimes website.— CulturalHusbandry (@APhilosophae) November 9, 2020
This is based on their proprietary "Edison" data source which would ordinarily be impossible to access for people outside the press.— CulturalHusbandry (@APhilosophae) November 9, 2020
(in fact, the provided source code is incomplete - it pulls the data down from the New York Times but it does not do any of the analysis used to produce the graphs later in the thread. Perhaps they don't want us to check the workings after all?)
I suggest that everyone back up both of these files, bc this is an extremely important data source, and we cant risk anyone taking it down.— CulturalHusbandry (@APhilosophae) November 9, 2020
Charts and data lend authority to any claim, as they appear to provide evidence that validates the words used to describe them:
A series of near-reveals are followed by a retreat from the precipice - they tease us with a hint that we have found the fraud...only to pull back.
How could this be possible? Is this a telltale sign of fraud? Surprisingly, as it will be shown, the answer is no! This is actually expected behavior. Also, we can use this weird pattern in the ballot counting to spot fraud!— CulturalHusbandry (@APhilosophae) November 9, 2020
The explanations are well written, allowing readers to feel they are gaining a true understanding of what's going on. Your mind's desire to know, and flatter yourself with your knowledge, creates a confirmation bias where you increasingly go along with what is being claimed.
like a deck of cards. Since the ballots are randomly mixed together during transport, spanning areas occupied by multiple voting demographics, we can expect the ratio of mail-in #Biden ballots to mail-in #Trump ballots will remain relatively constant over time...— CulturalHusbandry (@APhilosophae) November 9, 2020
Around 4am there, there is a marked shift in the ratio of D to R mail-in ballots. Based on other posts in this thread, this should not happen. This is an anomaly, and while anomalies are not always fraud, often they may point to fraud.— CulturalHusbandry (@APhilosophae) November 9, 2020
so what happened just before 3am CST in Wisconsin? This did!https://t.co/t7DTmMwIOB— CulturalHusbandry (@APhilosophae) November 9, 2020
Now we're on the downhill slope, and the storytelling can be ramped up for a couple of tweets before we get back to the data.
Around 3am Wisconsin time, a fresh batch of 169k new absentee ballots arrived. They were supposed to stop accepting new ballots, but eh, whatever I guess.— CulturalHusbandry (@APhilosophae) November 9, 2020
(a clarification: they are only supposed to 'stop accepting' ballots that arrive in the mail after polls close. They're still meant to transport and count the votes that have already arrived - which these had.)
Sounds plausible, right? We'll get back to that.
than the rest of the ballots quite possibly bc additional ballots were added to the batch, either through backdating or ballot manufacturing or software tampering. This of this being kind of analogous to carbon-14 dating, but for ballot batch authenticity.— CulturalHusbandry (@APhilosophae) November 9, 2020
To continue the story: if you aren't convinced by Wisconsin, let's look at Pennsylvania.
And Georgia. And Michigan. The repetition lulls you into belief. Sure, someone could probably explain the 'anomaly' in one state. But all five of them?
lets look at another anomaly: pic.twitter.com/L9cCqJ9mKB— CulturalHusbandry (@APhilosophae) November 9, 2020
Finally Virginia is thrown into the mix. Same pattern. You haven't heard anything about Virginia this election, have you? Well that just goes to show:
Now in fairness, VA is the only state out of the 50 that has anomalies but has not had accusations of voter fraud, yet. I think this is the exception that proves the rule. Yet to figure out what causes this anomalous shift, but here it is so no one accuses me of holding it back.— CulturalHusbandry (@APhilosophae) November 9, 2020
ballot return to be extremely UNIFORM in terms of D vs R ratio, but to drift slightly towards R over time bc some of those ballots travel farther. This pattern proves fraud and is a verifiable timestamp of when each fraudulent action occurred.— CulturalHusbandry (@APhilosophae) November 9, 2020
- The share of votes counted for Biden (so far)
- The share of votes counted for Trump (so far)
- The total number of ballots counted so far
- The most recent time that new ballots were added to the total
- How good is the storytelling? If it follows a dramatic arc that confirms what you already suspect to be true, try to separate the persuasiveness of that rhetoric from the factual claims being made. Good storytelling doesn't mean that a claim is false, but it also doesn't mean it's true.
- Does the data look very clean and simple? Real data is usually a bit more messy, with the patterns not as easy to see.
- Does it accord with what you already know? In this case, a bit of thought about how counties report their vote totals would have shown that the claim could not be true.
- Does the claim rely on a long series of graphs and claims about data that are hard to check? If you don't have the expertise or time to check it yourself (and few of us do), see if someone you trust has checked and endorsed it for you. That might be a scientist, a trusted media organisation (although I'm aware that not everyone trusts traditional media organisations to the same degree) or a government agency (same). But even if you don't believe everything those authorities tell you, the fact that they are willing to put their name to something might still indicate they are willing to stake some of their credibility on it.
- A corollary of this: do you know the name of the person making the claim? Anonymous tweeters are not putting anything at stake by posting stuff like this, so you might choose to put less weight on what they say. Maybe different in a whistleblower situation where someone's safety is at risk, but that's why journalists protect their sources: so you can benefit from the fact-checking the journalist has done, without needing to know exactly where the original facts came from.
- Have you heard about it from anyone else? If something really is a genuine scandal, you'll probably hear about it in more than one place. It's much easier for someone to check the details of a report like this and amplify it, than for a whole conspiracy of journalists to get together and suppress it. And in a highly competitive media world, there are enough news sites with plenty of incentive to report any genuine issues - even if you think MSNBC wants to hide the truth, lots of other people don't.