Analysis by Daniel Dale, CNN
There is no honest denying of the fact that New York City’s Board of Elections is a problem-plagued, patronage-ridden organization that just made a major mistake.
But there is also no honest pretending that this mistake — accidentally including 135,000 test votes in a preliminary tally of real votes in the city’s Democratic mayoral primary — does anything to support the lie that Donald Trump was the real winner of the 2020 presidential election.
In the hours since the New York City board admitted the Tuesday results were wrong, Trump himself and various Trump allies have vaguely suggested that the error lends credence to their insistence that the 2020 presidential results were marred by outcome-changing fraud, errors or irregularities.
It does not. Obviously. And if the New York City mess gives “an opening to 2020 deniers,” as some journalists argued, it’s only an opening to make typically bad arguments.
Embarrassing — but quickly spotted
The New York City error was highly embarrassing. It was also spotted within hours. It has nothing in common with the elaborate vote-rigging schemes that Trump and some of his supporters have alleged for months even though they were long ago debunked by recounts, experts, Trump administration officials, and both Democratic and Republican elections officials.
Donald Trump Jr. tweeted on Wednesday: “Let me get this straight? You can be off by 135,000 votes in a New York City mayoral primary alone but if someone loses the White House by less than 45,000 across multiple states in a presidential election you can’t have any questions. Seems legit… if you live in China.”
You’re certainly allowed to have questions about any presidential election. What you get mocked and criticized for doing is sowing doubt about the integrity of America’s democratic process by asking questions that have already been answered, for floating possibilities that have no basis in reality, and for making declarations that have already been disproven.
Steve Cortes, a Newsmax host and former Trump campaign adviser, tweeted on Tuesday: “Wait…I’ve been told that elections are perfect and that anyone who challenges official results is a conspiracy freak who must be de-platformed? Oh, and also, Trump won.”
Nobody is a “conspiracy freak” for pointing out actual election problems. Rather, people like Cortes have been rightly called conspiracy theorists for deploying laughably feeble arguments and irrelevant factoids in support of their false assertion that Trump was the real winner.
And while someone, somewhere might have claimed that “elections are perfect,” leading experts made much more nuanced assertions in 2020: election fraud is rare; errors occur but get noticed and corrected; there is no evidence for claims that the 2020 presidential election was rigged or stolen.
Rick Hasen, a University of California, Irvine professor of law and political science who is one of the country’s most prominent elections experts, wrote in the Los Angeles Times in September 2020: “Let’s admit this now: We are not going to have a perfect election in November. We never have perfect elections.”
Hasen correctly said then, more than a month before Election Day, that “there may be isolated instances of fraud, or of things that initially look like fraud but turn out to be election administrator error.” He argued, though, that “this doesn’t mean we won’t have a fair election overall, and we should not allow cynical political operatives to parlay small-bore errors into a full-scale attack on the integrity of the November vote.”
One sort-of similarity
The New York City reporting error on Tuesday was more egregious than any results-related error that occurred during the 2020 presidential election. If it has to be compared to something in that 2020 election, though, that something is probably the situation in Antrim County, Michigan. (The Washington Post’s Philip Bump also invoked the Antrim County situation in writing about the New York City situation.)
In Antrim County, human error resulted in unofficial public results, published the morning after Election Day, that inaccurately showed Biden winning in the Republican-leaning community. The inaccuracy was quickly spotted, the flawed results were taken down, and, after some additional struggles by the county, the totals were corrected.
Subsequent investigations, including one led by Michigan Republicans, have confirmed that nothing nefarious happened. But the county’s mistakes spawned an easily debunked conspiracy theory, promoted by Trump himself, that it was a computer system used around the country that switched Trump votes to Biden votes.
Does the New York City mess give Antrim County conspiracy theorists “an opening”? In a reasonable world, it would actually help puncture their nonsense — demonstrating, once more, that mistakes happen in all sorts of elections for reasons of incompetence alone.
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