I didn't quite think it was possible, but it seems that the fight over some potential election recounts has served to basically make everyone
look petty and awful. American politics continues to be a dumpster fire. Here is the latest, in three acts.
Act One: Jill Stein to the rescue?
Last week, there was a bit of a fuss, starting with a mostly detail-free article from NY Mag suggesting that some well-respected voting researchers had found some abnormalities, and were suggesting
that the Clinton campaign seek a full recount in three key states (Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, and Michigan). After that started to get some buzz, the key e-voting researcher named in the article, Alex Halderman clarified
that he didn't actually think there was any foul play, but that, since we all recognize there are security problems with e-voting machines, this could serve as a useful check. As we noted at the time, there was really no way for the Clinton campaign to take this on without much more realistic evidence of fraud, or else it would look incredibly petty and ridiculous -- especially given the concerns the Clinton campaign raised about Donald Trump potentially contesting the election results.
But, into the breach stepped Green Party candidate Jill Stein, who set up a crowdfunding page to see if people would donate to pay for the recounts in those three states (if a candidate requests a recount, they have to fund it). Stein claimed that she wasn't doing this to help Clinton, but as part of the Green Party's support for "election integrity." And, sure, yeah, we're all for election integrity, but Stein's crowdfunding campaign is a bit of a scam
. She's preying on false hopes of Clinton supporters to raise a ton of money -- likely approximating twice as much
as she raised during her actual campaign. And, for what? No one's entirely sure. Yes, some of the money will go towards demanding recounts, but those recounts might not happen. Instead, the Stein campaign can put in an official request for one, but that's no guarantee. And the Stein campaign just says that if it ends up with more money than it needs, it will "also go toward election integrity efforts and to promote voting system reform." But, without details, it's not at all clear what people are really donating to -- other than building a massive list for the Green Party of potential people to hit up for money in the future.
On Friday, Stein filed the first of these recount requests
in Wisconsin, in which her campaign alleges "evidence of voting irregularities" even though there really isn't any. It's basically a made-up request that tosses in a dose or two of conspiracy theory about "foreign interference" in the election. Again, while I'm all for election integrity and am concerned about e-voting machines, alleging fraud without any real evidence is just conspiracy theory mongering.
: Hillary Clinton: well, okay, if we must...
After the money started flowing to Stein, the Clinton campaign, in the form of a Medium post from the campaign's top lawyer, Marc Elias, said that the campaign would somewhat reluctantly
get involved in any recount effort. This is after admitting that the campaign found no evidence on its own of fraud and hadn't intended to ask for such a recount at all, despite a multi-pronged approach to review voting information to see if anything looked fishy. But, now, Elias claims that since Stein got the ball rolling, the Clinton campaign will get involved "just to be represented" in any effort:
Because we had not uncovered any actionable evidence of hacking or outside attempts to alter the voting technology, we had not planned to exercise this option ourselves, but now that a recount has been initiated in Wisconsin, we intend to participate in order to ensure the process proceeds in a manner that is fair to all sides. If Jill Stein follows through as she has promised and pursues recounts in Pennsylvania and Michigan, we will take the same approach in those states as well. We do so fully aware that the number of votes separating Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton in the closest of these states — Michigan — well exceeds the largest margin ever overcome in a recount. But regardless of the potential to change the outcome in any of the states, we feel it is important, on principle, to ensure our campaign is legally represented in any court proceedings and represented on the ground in order to monitor the recount process itself.
Which, okay, fair enough, but it still looks a bit silly overall, and a waste of money since they don't seem to think any recount effort will have any impact anyway.
: Donald Trump: meeeeeeeeee! this must be about meeeeeeeeee!
At this point, any reasonable President-elect in the same scenario would sit back, chuckle at the absurdity of the efforts discussed above and maybe focus on finishing up his planned cabinet appointments. But not Donald Trump. First, he mocked the Clinton campaign for joining in this effort. To some extent, you can understand this bit of gloating, after the lengths Clinton and her supporters went to in mocking Trump's own claims that he might contest the results of the election:
Of course, this still looks kind of petty, especially given that Trump himself had made it quite clear that he would have actively contested the results had he lost. It's a bit silly to then mock the Democrats for doing what he would have done, even if they played this silly game of pretending to get involved reluctantly.
But, in true Trump fashion, he just can't leave things like this alone. The potential recount seemed to be getting too much attention, so he decided to roll out his bullshit "voter fraud against me" claims anyway
, first arguing that he would have won the popular vote, if it weren't for 3 million illegal votes for Clinton.
This seems partly in response to the fact that reporters are covering the fact that Clinton's lead in the popular vote keeps growing, and surpassed 2 million votes. Of course, who won the popular vote is effectively meaningless, but it seems to make Trump antsy. The whole "millions of people who voted illegally" thing is conspiracy theory bullshit, pushed by a former Texas official
based on absolutely nothing -- but picked up by the crackpots at Infowars
Let's be clear here: the claim is absolutely hogwash, yet is being repeated by our President-elect, who already won
but seems insecure with the fact that he lost the popular vote. I thought that in this effort, both Jill Stein and Hillary Clinton would come out of this process looking like sketchy sore losers. What I didn't expect (though probably should have) is that Trump would come out of it looking even worse. Not only is he a sore winner, but he's reinforced the fact that he's willing to buy into complete crackpot conspiracy theories if they support his ego. That's insane, and incredibly dangerous.
He followed that up with yet another tweet, claiming that the media is ignoring "serious voter fraud" in Virginia, New Hampshire and California:
This is also ridiculous. If there were any actual
evidence of voter fraud, the press would be all over it -- even those that people want to insist supported Clinton. Even if the mainstream media were hopelessly in the tank for Clinton, getting a big story like evidence of widespread "serious voter fraud" would overwhelm that. But the fact is that there's no such evidence. Our President-elect is either making stuff up entirely, or repeating crackpot theories. Also, by falsely claiming that there's widespread voter fraud, Trump seems to be undermining his own message that there shouldn't be recounts going on. If he's really so concerned about widespread voter fraud (again, which didn't actually happen), why isn't he embracing the calls for recounts too?
If you want some actual facts: there's been almost no evidence of voter fraud, other than a few small attempts here or there. ProPublica has the best analysis of this, noting the many ways in which it has reviewed the data, looking for evidence of voter fraud and finding none at all. Here's a sampling of what ProPublica had to say:
So, yeah. Everyone comes out of this looking absolutely terrible. Voting machines are terrible and prone to serious security problems, and should be done away with -- especially in their current form. But even with the security concerns, the idea that there was serious voter fraud due to those machines, or from other factors, is complete hogwash, and everyone should just stop it.