Skip to content

The Fraud Hunt of 2020: Among the Biggest Time Wasters in US History

Comment

It was an NPR story that pushed me over the edge.

The report, released last week, details an effort in Colorado to survey voters door-to-door about ballots they cast in November 2020, 20 months prior. The purpose of this exercise was to somehow prove that rampant fraud had occurred in the state in that year’s election – a state won by Joe Biden after voting for each of the three previous Democratic presidential candidates. But canvassers interviewing residents in various parts of the state were clearly acting in the belief that something untoward had happened, echoing a theme raised by Biden’s opponent in that election even to this day.

The chances of canvassers finding even a single instance of voter fraud are slim; that they’ll discover a rampant fraud campaign substantial enough to challenge the results is somewhere near “some guy in Denver who got hit by an Alpha Centauri meteorite” in the Statistical Probability Book of the universe. Yet they persist.

Sign up for How To Read This Chart, a weekly data bulletin from Philip Bump

According to a report by the web-leading group, the group had knocked on 10,000 doors in four counties by March. It was this number, to be precise, that spawned this article. Assuming it is accurate (which I would advise against, for reasons that will soon become apparent), it represents a scale of human energy and time that is difficult to grasp in the abstract.

So let’s do a little thought experiment. Imagine trying to talk to people in 20 different homes in your neighborhood. Maybe you live in an apartment building, where knocking on 20 doors, waiting for an answer, and talking to those who answer can take about 15 minutes. After all, a lot of people aren’t home or don’t answer their door. If you live in a more suburban area, it will take longer, going to different houses and engaging in similar conversations. Let’s say 30 minutes, minimum.

To contact 10,000 doors in this last scenario, we’re talking about 250 hours of time. In the apartment building example, that’s half as much – just 5.2 solid days of walking and typing.

And why? learn that most people are not at home or don’t want to tell you about their vote — or that, yes, they voted, why do you ask?

This is just one small facet of the effort to uncover alleged fraud in the 2020 presidential election, an effort that I feel comfortable describing as one of the biggest wastes of time and money in American history.

Consider that similar efforts to uncover fraud using the same mechanism have taken place in other states. Pennsylvania, more than once. Washington. North Carolina. Even in Otero County, New Mexico, where Donald Trump won more than 60% of the vote, a strong Trump supporter helped convince county leaders to invest in an audit of results and a canvas – which did not give anything fruitful. That hasn’t stopped the county from trying to block its 2022 primary results for fear that the taint of fraud may have somehow lingered. Only state intervention has advanced these results.

That’s the other part of those efforts, of course: the response. People going door to door and wasting their time is one thing. Wasting the time of officials, government resources and the courts trying to vindicate Trump in his futile effort to blame fraud for his downfall.

To some extent, this happens in many elections. There are often court cases that will never go anywhere. There are often audits that are condemned from the outset. In the weeks since 2020, there have been more than normal: more than 60 filings by Trump’s campaign and his allies, recounts in multiple states, including several in Georgia alone. At most, Trump got a handful of extra votes. The results were not significantly affected. In many elections there are also a number of isolated instances of voter fraud, such as there have been after 2020. These too are almost never enough to affect the outcome, as they were not in the last presidential election.

Even ignoring this base of normal and fruitless energy expenditure, the consequences of 2020 have seen a huge waste of time and money.

Let’s look at the most obvious waste of time and money, “verification” of results in Maricopa County, Arizona. Millions of dollars have been spent in a five-month effort to dig up any possible dirt on the makeup of the vote in the 2020 contest. Dozens of people were involved in the auditing effort, devoting hours to poring over on ballots and looking for clues of bamboo, among other things. Each ballot was reviewed and recounted. At the end of the verification, the results were unchanged.

But the waste continued. There was a lengthy hearing involving members of the state legislature and various parties who had been involved in the effort, all of whom spent hours cobbling together explanations for what they found. The county was repeatedly forced to refute absurd claims by ‘listeners’ and participated in an hour-long hearing explaining why elements of the election presented as questionable were, in fact, well within the normal range of activity. .

The result? No change for the election.

The media, of course, has spent a lot of time covering the audit and its components, as they have the effort to prove “fraud” more broadly. Since Election Day in 2020, for example, there have been more than 21,000 15-second cable news segments on CNN, Fox News and MSNBC mentioning fraud in the context of an election. This represents approximately 225 solid days of coverage on these three networks in which the fraud was discussed. That’s only three television networks and doesn’t include, say, newspapers.

Then there is the fraud-conspiracy circuit. Otero County’s review of its election results was prompted after a public hearing featuring a man named David Clements, who insisted a fraud investigation would be successful. A review by NPR found that Clements participated in 63 events in 25 states largely aimed at raising false or unsubstantiated allegations of fraud. He was one of four individuals who alone had participated in 308 events in 45 states during this period. Figure each event lasted at least an hour and (for a quick calculation) attracted 100 attendees and that’s over 30,000 hours of wasted attendee time – excluding travel time etc. Over 1,280 days of 24 hour time lost to these events.

Of the four men included in NPR’s analysis, there’s one worth mentioning separately: MyPillow CEO Mike Lindell. Lindell has participated in 44 events in 19 states, as part of his sustained effort to prove Trump’s election was stolen. It has included the production and release of a series of films purporting to show rampant fraud (unsuccessfully) and countless media appearances.

Last August, Lindell indulged in a particularly unnecessary waste of time, a ‘cyber symposium’ held in South Dakota where he promised attendees he would provide evidence of foreign interference in the count. votes of 2020. He hasn’t.

What he did do is bring maybe 100 or 200 people to South Dakota for three days of discussing voter fraud, much of which involved him sitting on stage talking about things. It was covered live by a right-wing media service with, at one point, tens of thousands of people wasting their time watching from a distance. A number of outlets stuck around long enough to learn that nothing new would be revealed; others wrote debunkings of Lindell’s claims from the remote stream.

A few months ago, the wasted time index received a new entrant: the release of the film “2000 Mules” by Trump ally Dinesh D’Souza. The film purports to show evidence of an effort to collect and submit illegal ballots in the 2020 election, though it completely fails in this task (showing precisely zero demonstrable cases of illegal voting).

Making the movie itself involved a decent amount of time and money, certainly. But consider the time and money wasted watching it. At launch, streaming cost nearly $30, though that’s now been discounted slightly. Salem Media Group, an executive producer on the film, claims that a million people have watched “2000 Mules” by May 12, another claim that might be taken with a grain of salt. But if that number is accurate so far, that means 90 million minutes spent watching D’Souza’s utterly unconvincing film. This is the equivalent of 171 full years of human life.

It’s just the real watching of the movie. The group that provided D’Souza with the data around which he centers the film is called True the Vote. Its leaders have testified before several state legislatures, including in Wisconsin and Arizona. Its focus on proving alleged fraud predates 2020, but “2000 Mules” has injected True the Vote rhetoric widely into the right-wing political conversation. This month, True the Vote leaders attended a conference of conservative law enforcement officials where fraud was a central topic. A number of sheriffs in attendance indicated that they had made or would make rooting out suspected fraud a central part of their job – which almost certainly means more time and money wasted.

There is no evidence of significant fraud in any recent national election, 2020 or otherwise. There was no reason to believe that the 2020 contest would be tainted by fraud, even then. The fact that so many people spent so much time trying to prove that the fraud happened without success only reinforces that the initial skepticism with which the fraud claims were handled was the correct position.

Yet some continue to spend time and energy pointing out the continuing lack of evidence. Officials at the state level (as in Michigan) have invested hours and enormous costs to strengthen their election security. Washington Post fact-checkers have written dozens of articles debunking these claims; PolitiFact wrote even more.

This month, one of the most robust efforts to single out Trump’s false fraud allegations was released by a group of longtime voices within Republican and Conservative politics. Over a span of 70 pages, the group elevates and then dismantles a wave of claims made by Trump allies, primarily those raised in the immediate post-election effort to win cases in court. It is thorough, detailed, non-partisan – and an expenditure of time and money that does little more than reinforce the fact that reality understood is indeed reality. In other words, it’s a huge investment of time that shouldn’t have been invested.

An email to the group that produced the report asking how much time and energy went into creating it was not returned at the time of publication. Fair enough. We’ve all wasted more than enough resources on this nonsense already.