Thursday, November 15, 2012

Electoral Denialism on the Left: The Case of Proposition 37

This will be a long one. Though I have written many posts in the past few days looking at Right-Wing denialism regarding the election, I want to pivot a bit and look at some denialism from the Left. In particular, I want to focus on a series of articles written by Jon Rappoport and posted at which claim that the election results for Proposition 37 (a proposition that would have mandated labeling of food with GMO ingredients) in California have been fixed. The articles in question can be found here and here, and I intend to unpack them in some detail because they are a treasure-trove of factual errors, fallacious reasoning and conspiracy mongering, and they reveal how a failure to think critically can lead someone to make some rather absurd and nonsensical claims.

In the first of his articles, Rappoport raises concerns about the high number of still uncounted ballots in the California election.
When the networks and other media outlets made the early call on election night, claiming Prop 37 had gone down to defeat, there were millions of votes still uncounted.
I just checked the California Secretary of State's website, which is the official center for vote results, and there are 3,334,495 votes that remain unprocessed.
He then raises suspicions about these ballots by noting that on the date he published his article (November 12), there hadn't been any updates in three days. Rappoport asks, "Why is it taking so long for California to count all its votes? Why do so many remain uncounted at this late date?" This is a nice example of a Loaded Question as it seems to be implying that there is some large conspiracy at work. It is also an Argument from Ignorance as Rappoport is offering his lack of understanding as a reason for thinking that something screwy is going on.However, let's just think for a moment about this question. First, the election was just over a week ago. It really hasn't been that long and three million ballots is a pretty large number. How does Rappoport propose that all those ballots be counted more quickly? Secondly, the reason there haven't been any updates is that there was a weekend followed by a federal holiday. Should we really be surprised that a government agency closed down for three days over a three-day weekend? The Post Office didn't deliver mail on Monday the 12th either. Is that evidence of a conspiracy?

Rappoport then makes the baseless assumption that these large numbers must be the result of electronic balloting and voting machines writing, "But large numbers of uncounted votes must be electronic. What's the hold-up?" First, it is false to claim the large numbers of uncounted ballots are electronic. In fact, they are primarily absentee ballots. The one I filled out was an optical read ballot (like a scantron). According to the Secretatry of State website on this issue:
During each election cycle, hundreds of thousands of ballots are not counted on Election Day. Elections officials have approximately one month to complete their extensive tallying and certification work (known as the official canvass). Most notably, voting by mail has increased significantly in recent years and many vote-by-mail ballots arrive on Election Day. In processing vote-by-mail ballots, elections officials must confirm each voter's registration status, verify each voter's signature on the vote-by-mail envelope, and ensure each person did not vote elsewhere in the same election.
Had Rappoport read this, many of his questions would have been answered, and he would realize what the hold-up is, namely the massive number of ballots that need to be processed by hand.

Rappoport then goes on to suggest that the early election night reports that Proposition 37 had failed are evidence that the election was fixed. "When the absurdly early call against Prop 37 was made on election night, that was a clue. It was a red flag. It was a loud siren: "Something is very wrong here." That was the message." It is not entirely clear why Rappoport thinks the call was made too early, but even assuming that it was (and all the evidence so far suggests that the call was correct), it is unclear why it would be evidence of anything more than media overreach. However, Rappoport thinks that there are only two conclusions to draw from this:
From the moment that clue sprang forth, from the moment that siren went off, we had two choices. We could say, "Well, the TV networks are insane. They're crooked. So we need to get all the votes counted, to see what the real result is."
Or we could say: "This early call against 37 suggests more criminality. Other crimes. How can we rely on the vote count at all? How can we assume, even when the other votes are counted, we're going to get a true result?"
This is a great example of a False Dilemma as there are many other possible conclusions to draw from this including the possibility that the networks and other major media outlets were correct. There are far more than two choices and to claim otherwise is to commit a fallacy.

Rappoport continues by making a false analogy, writing:
Let's say you're investigating a jewel theft. And you see a guy walking down the street and he has part of a big necklace hanging out of his pocket. Do you assume the necklace is the only stolen item he's carrying? Or do you infer the guy is loaded with other items from the theft?
I must say, I am not entirely sure what this analogy is supposed to be getting at, but why assume that the guy with the necklace is a thief. Maybe he is the fence, or maybe he found a dropped necklace. I see no reason to make the broader inference that the individual is a thief without more evidence and description of the situation. And this ultimately is what is so wrong with this article and Rappoport's position in general. He never provides anything even remotely suggesting evidence of fraud. All he provides are a bunch of loaded questions and his own disappointment at the results of the election.

Having made his false analogy, Rappoport then doubles down on his earlier ignorant comment about electronic voting machines, but launching into a lengthy discussion of the problems and defects associated with electronic balloting.  While this information is important, it is a clear Red Herring as it has absolutely nothing to do with the topic at hand. The votes in question are not electronic, so issues with electronic voting are completely irrelevant to the discussion at hand.

Rappoport continues on for a few more paragraphs, essentially drawing tendentious links between the AP and large banking interests that, for reasons that are never explained, seem to be colluding to defeat Proposition 37. As with most conspiracy theorists, Rappoport is very good at throwing out wild speculations and falsehoods, and is able to find lots of links between things, but he never provides any evidence, or explains any mechanism by which a fraud on the scale he is claiming could occur.

Hopefully this lengthy post has demonstrated how one can generate wild conspiracy theories solely through a failure to think critically about what one is claiming. Unfortunately, judging by the comments to Rappoport's post, there is no shortage of people who lack critical thinking skills who are more than willing to buy into this nonsense.

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