Voter fraud, the media... and Bigfoot

Ever since Donald Trump’s (probably) ill considered tweet about having won the popular vote because of massive voter fraud we’ve seen a familiar train wreck in the mainstream media. While some have taken a slightly more measured response, saying that there was “no evidence” of widespread tampering, others have jumped straight down the standard Democratic rabbit hole of declaring that voter fraud is, for the most part, mythical. There was yet another example of this phenomenon awaiting me this morning in the Washington Post newsletter, this time from their editorial board:

Trump’s preoccupation with phantom voting fraud endangers our democracy.”

Yes, the powers that be at the WaPo decided to skip straight past any words like “exaggerated” or “unsupported” and went straight for Phantom. Of course, sometimes we all go for a bit of eye candy in the title of a piece while being more measured in the actual text. Not so in this case. The board mans up the Phantom gun and sticks to it.

The nation, in fact, does have a voting problem, but it is not the imaginary fraud that Mr. Trump conjures. Rather, it is a system that makes it too difficult for citizens to cast their votes. Registration procedures are unnecessarily restrictive. Early voting opportunities are needlessly limited. Lines are way too long. Names are too easily purged from voter rolls. Election equipment lacks paper trails in some states. Yet, if Mr. Trump’s preoccupation with phantom voting fraud is any indication, his administration may spend a lot of time making ballot access worse, not better. The integrity of the country’s democracy would suffer for it.

It’s been more than four years since I published The “Non-Problem” of Voter Fraud and I’ve yet to hear a compelling argument against the point I was making there. We actually can’t know how much voter fraud takes place (or most other crime statistics for that matter), largely because we don’t invest the resources to answer the question. But let’s leave aside for a moment the fact that neither media nor law enforcement actually spends very much time looking for voter fraud. We can even skip over the fact that on the rare occasions when somebody does bother to check, they seem to keep finding more examples, including in California. What’s on display from the media this week goes well beyond all that and provides us with an example of a basic failure of logic.

In case it’s of help to the Washington Post editorial board, allow me to share a brief story with you. Not long ago I was having a conversation with a friend of mine who is (like me) a fan of some of the crazier paranormal topics and loves shows like Finding Bigfoot and Mysterious Universe. He had brought along a friend who is a much more level headed skeptic and we got into a light hearted debate on the possibilities of paranormal encounters. At one point he exclaimed that Bigfoot isn’t real because nobody has been able to prove that it exists.

“Prove to me that chairs exist,” I responded.

“What? You’re sitting in a chair. So am I. It’s right under your butt and you’re not falling to the floor. It’s obviously real.”

“You’ve sold me!” I told him. “It’s a nice, scientific answer which is understandable by the layman. Now… prove to me that Bigfoot doesn’t exist.”

“Look, I can’t prove it doesn’t exist, but if it did we’d surely have found a body or some fossils or captured a live one by now. You can’t prove a negative, but we can make a pretty good assumption.”

He makes a good case for the most part. But it’s also true that you can’t prove a negative. It becomes even harder when there’s actual physical evidence that something does exist, such as with voter fraud. The only thing we can’t conclusively prove is how much of it takes place because, as wrote in that 2012 essay, so very few people are actually trying to find it.

Here’s a final point to consider. There are more people out there in 2016 looking for Bigfoot than there are officials or reporters looking for voter fraud. And yet we’ve come up with far more verifiable examples of the latter than usable pictures of Sasquatch. I’m not saying that there were “millions of illegal immigrants” voting on November 8th. Frankly, it sounds seriously excessive to me and I have no evidence to back up such an assertion. Much like claims about legendary, cryptozoological creatures, extraordinary claims require extraordinary proof. But we’ve got a lot more instances of actual voter fraud than Bigfoot DNA samples at this point. Perhaps our media might want to reconsider referring to it as phantom for the time being.

Oh, and just for the record… Bigfoot is real. You just aren’t finding any bodies or physical evidence because they’re multidimensional beings.