THE HARVARD STUDY
Cooke's argument begins with a reference to a recent study which, he says, ranks U.S. electoral integrity as "the lowest in all developed nations in this world." That is factually incorrect. The report he is talking about is the Electoral Integrity Project's 2015 Year in Elections report. It ranks the United States as the lowest among long-standing democracies, not lowest among developed nations. There are dozens of developed nations which ranked lower than the United States for electoral integrity.
Still, you're probably thinking, being ranked the lowest among long-standing democracies is bad enough, right? Maybe, but consider the bigger picture.
Imagine a child is enrolled in an extremely competitive and challenging school, and has managed to make it to the last year. They are about to graduate, and their final grades come in. Alas, the parents find out that they are ranked the lowest in their class. The following dialogue ensues:
Parent: I don't understand this! How can you be the worst in your class? It's a disgrace. You're a failure! You are wasting your life away!
Child: But I'm graduating!
Parent: What a joke! This diploma is meaningless. It's not valid. You haven't learned enough. You haven't really made it!
Child: But I have good grades!
Child: My GPA is a 3.2. It's a B. Actually, last year I got an A. You know it's a really competitive program, right? And I've faced a lot of disadvantages that other students haven't had to deal with.I hope we can all agree that the parent was wrong. The lowest score is not necessarily a bad, or even mediocre, score. Despite being the lowest among established democracies, U.S. electoral integrity received a high mark, the equivalent of a B, despite the fact that the United States faces challenges that most of the higher-ranking nations do not face: an enormous, widely heterogeneous population divided into many states, each with different voting processes. (The biggest concerns about U.S. electoral integrity were about campaign finance regulation and gerrymandering--both of which are particularly difficult problems to manage because of the enormity and diversity of the population.)
It is also important to realize that the report in question is based on subjective perceptions of 40 experts worldwide. It is not a comprehensive or objective analysis. Furthermore, it is only based on the elections from 2012 and 2014. The United States scored higher in previous reports, and--like the student in my fictional scenario--recently earned an A.
So, yeah, based on expert opinion with respect to the 2012 and 2014 elections, America's electoral integrity is . . . good. It's not great. It has problems. But it's good.
HAS IT GOTTEN WORSE?
Cooke's second point is that, as bad as it was in the past (or as good as it was in the past, if you want to be more accurate), the current election was worse. To make this case, he presents a list of complaints supported by a series of visual images of Websites reporting on election issues. The alleged problems can be divided into two main categories.
Problem 1: The media announced the nominee the night before "six key states" had a chance to vote.
Were the six states voting on June 7 all key states? Surely Cooke was exaggerating by saying "six key states." Nobody would claim that North and South Dakota were key states. Montana and New Mexico? Likely not. New Jersey? Maybe. California? Arguably yes, though the role of California in this election is debatable, as I will discuss shortly.
The point is, key states or not, why did the Associated Press announce a presumptive nominee the night before so many people voted?
The explanation is straightforward. Over the weekend (on June 4th and 5th), Clinton won over 40 pledged delegates in the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico. Then, on Monday, June 6th, the Associated Press got confirmation from additional superdelegates that they were, without reservation or qualification, going to vote for Hillary at the convention in July. With the new pledged and unpledged delegates behind her, Clinton's numbers were enough to make her the presumptive nominee. That is newsworthy, and it happened on June 6th, a day before California's vote. (Lots of people voted early in California, but let's say that doesn't matter.)
Now, maybe it's not always a good idea to report whatever is newsworthy. The AP certainly could have waited a day, but it wouldn't have helped Bernie.
Bernie needed a ridiculously large win on June 7th to get the majority of pledged delegates. Without that, he had virtually no hope of winning over a significant number of Clinton's superdelegates. So, the AP was technically correct. Clinton had clinched the nomination. She was the presumptive nominee on June 6th. Furthermore, as Jeff Weaver even admitted, the AP's Monday announcement was just as likely to lower the turnout for Clinton as it was to lower the turnout for Bernie. I imagine it did more to lower the turnout for Hillary, because a lot of Bernie's supporters seem to be motivated by a desire to be heard despite the official outcome.
Of course, the general concern here is that the media has worked in Hillary's favor throughout the election. According to the Electoral Integrity Project's 2015 report, the role of the media is one of the biggest problems in elections throughout the world. But did Bernie really get it worse? It is easy to conclude that your favored candidate has gotten it worse, because you are more likely to notice and remember all the bias against them. Yet, every candidate has been the victim of negative media bias. We can't trust our subjective impressions to conclude which candidate has had it the worst. Fortunately, we don't have to. There have been two studies of media bias in the current primary (one and two), and both conclude that Hillary has suffered the most. The media's effect on Bernie's campaign has been net positive. Not so for Hillary.
Problem 2: The voting process is severely compromised
There is more legitimate room for concern here. We can and should be critical of flaws in the system. We can and should push to improve the voting process. I appreciate all of the attention that this is getting, and I don't see the Democratic Party trying to ignore it. In fact, the DNC filed a lawsuit in Arizona, and Clinton's campaign was critical of the massive purging in Brooklyn (especially considering that those voters were very likely to have voted for her)..
Cooke says that millions of California voters have been "denied voting rights" because "their ballots haven't even been counted yet." Yet, the reason they haven't been counted yet is because California is an extremely large state and the process is extremely thorough. This is not a denial of voting rights. It is a painstaking attempt to guarantee them.
Cooke says that longstanding Democrats have been bumped off voter rolls, but the evidence here is almost entirely anecdotal. Somebody knows somebody whose brother's wife says she was bumped. That's pretty much worth ignoring. In fact, according to one of the articles Cooke flashes on screen, a woman appeared before a court and complained that she was bumped from the Democratic Party, only to have the court reveal that she actually bumped herself when she registered with the DMV.
There have also been complaints about unaffiliated voters having trouble voting for a Democrat in the semi-open California primary. The complaint here is just that some people didn't bother to find out how to vote properly. There's no evidence that the information was withheld, or that people were misled. Some people just didn't bother to figure out how to vote.
Then there are the complaints about long waiting periods. People had to wait in long lines, sometimes because the number of polling stations were reduced, or because they were understaffed. Some people had to wait an hour, maybe more, because the polling stations didn't have enough ballots.
Polling stations have to manage their resources. They calculate what they need based on expected turnout. If the turnout is more than they expected, there will be delays. This is unfortunate, and it can even mean that fewer people will end up voting. That is terrible, and should be avoided. I think we all agree on that, but it is not evidence of fraud.
Cooke also complains about voting machines. There's an unreliable video of a touchscreen machine that seems to refuse to register a vote for Sanders. And Cooke presents a screenshot from True Democratic Party, which looks like one of the least reputable (but perhaps most amusing) sources out there. The article makes highly suspicious claims and vague arguments without any factual support. If you look at other articles on the Website, you will learn that the moon has a magic portal and that the pyramids in Egypt were built by giants. So, yeah. Okay.
But What About The Exit Polls?
The final claim Cooke makes is one that has been used by a lot of Bernie's supporters to suggest that all the accusations of tampering are legit. It's the claim that exit polls, which are a "benchmark" for electoral integrity, have been way off. And yet, this report was based on a comparison of election results with unadjusted exit polls. Of course unadjusted exit polls are going to be off. The adjustment process is necessary to make exit polls meaningful in the first place. (Here's a rundown of how exit polls work, if you want more info.)
Imagine this scenario: Two voting districts have vastly different population sizes. One district has 100,000 voters. The other district has 10,000 voters. Let's say exit polls are taken in both districts, and the same sample size (100 voters) is used for each poll. To simplify, let's say that the large district overwhelmingly votes for Clinton, and the smaller district overwhelmingly votes for Sanders. The exit polls reflect this: 100 polled say they voted for Clinton, and 100 voted say they voted for Sanders. If you look at unadjusted results--that is, if you look at the exit polls without looking at the populations they represent--then it looks like Clinton and Sanders each got 50 percent of the vote. They each got 100 out of 200 polled. But if you adjust to the number of actual votes cast, you realize that Clinton got about 100,000 and Sanders only got about 10,000.