In this Political Moment, Avoid Saying This One Phrase

We knew it wouldn’t end on November 3. Yes. The voting would stop. The campaigns would end. But the count would take several days.

Not until mid-day on Saturday did national news networks start to make the call: Joe Biden had won the 2020 presidential election.

After nearly a week, Biden supporters and the even more enthusiastic supporters of his running mate, Kamala Harris, took to the streets to celebrate. But not everyone was so quick to concede.

The current president, Donald Trump, still has not conceded the race and promises to file lawsuits and demand recounts. To date, only a handful Republican senators have acknowledged the election’s results. The normal machinations of transition procedures have not whirred into motion.

The frantic flailings of a defeated man and his followers.

It will take weeks to finally finalize this election and begin the change of administrations in earnest. In the meantime, the airwaves are already rife with misinformation, false information, and conspiracy theories.

Among the more bombastic statements and glaring headlines, a subtle and sinister phrase has crept into the political discourse–one that threatens to do harm not just in the coming weeks but for years to come.

In this political moment we must avoid this phrase: “count every legal vote.”

While the words seem harmless and intuitive–of course we should count every legal vote–inserting the word “legal” implies the widespread presence of illegal votes, which simply is not true.

Several outlets have made this point including the African American Policy Forum which posted a tweet:

The Federal Election chairperson, Ellen Weintraub, said in an interview, “There is no evidence of any kind of voter fraud. There is no evidence of illegal votes being cast.”

Numerous studies and fact-checks (for instance here, here, and here) have shown no widespread or coordinated effort at voter fraud. What issues do arise do not come anywhere near significant enough to influence the outcome of a presidential election.

Justin Levitt, the author of a Brennan Center report on voting fraud, explains how a hyper-focus on bogus claims leech attention away from ensuring voting rights.

These inflated claims are not harmless. Crying “wolf” when the allegations are unsubstantiated distracts attention from real problems that need real solutions. If we can move beyond the fixation on voter fraud, we will be able to focus on the real changes our elections need, from universal registration all the way down to sufficient parking at the poll site.

Justin Levitt, “The Truth about Voter Fraud”

But facts and data often lose out to myths and propaganda.

The “count every legal vote” line injects an element of uncertainty into electoral processes that should be supported and strengthened, not undermined. The phrase sneakily inserts the thought there there might be thousands of “illegal” votes that must be identified and purged.

If that sort of suspicion about elections becomes commonplace, the entire democratic system of governance loses credibility.

There are already too many ways voting has been suppressed in the US–strict voter ID laws, a reduction in polling sites resulting in hours-long lines, disfranchisement of the formerly incarcerated, the repeal of a key provision of the Voting Rights Act.

Confidence in democratic processes does not need to be further eroded by false allegations of voter fraud.

The broader public must not unthinkingly adopt the language of “count every legal vote” because that is and has always been the standard for elections. If voters take the bait and bandy this phrase in everyday conversation, then we have ceded the terms of the debate to the enemies of democracy.

Be careful with your words. Words matter. Language crafts thought and perception. Words even shape the direction of democracy itself.

2 thoughts on “In this Political Moment, Avoid Saying This One Phrase

  1. Hello Jemar,

    As a historian, I would not expect you to understand fraud or security controls. I have worked in CyberSecurity for both Siemens, Microsoft and now IBM for 20+ years including work for state and federal agencies.

    I believe you art a good willed person. The following phrase from your post above is chalk full of issues:

    “ There are already too many ways voting has been suppressed in the US–strict voter ID laws, a reduction in polling sites resulting in hours-long lines, disfranchisement of the formerly incarcerated, the repeal of a key provision of the Voting Rights Act.”

    “ Voter suppression” is the dog whistle of the left. The reality is identity assurance is an important concept that answers “ how do I know you are who you say you are??” NIST is a federal standard that defines levels of assurance. Each level of assurance requires more “factors” to increase the level of assurance that the person behind an electronic ID is in fact who they say they are. It states anyone can create an electronic identity in systems, For a basic example, Facebook and Twitter have is the lowest level of identity proofing. I can create an email with your name in free email service , then create social IDs and tie them to that email.. I can add your picture and the average person would not know the difference.

    With voting, all registration is remote. The fact that a bureaucrat says that is no evidence of fraud is really meaningless. It only takes on meaning if you know the controls in place to detect fraud, In cyber security we call that “false security.” A small example, you have anti-virus on your computer right ??? Does it give you a big “green” status that all is OK? Viruses are designed to change constantly and go “undetected” so your virus system may say “there is no evidence of a virus” on this system . All the while, a virus is there on your system undetected, Additional tools that the average citizen does not have are needed to to track nefarious communication from your device to “command and control” servers that the virus may communicate to.

    So with election fraud, it is in the same exact situation, there are serious vulnerabilities in the system that can easily be exploited, The fact that you and other Democrats have been evangelizing that requiring government ID to vote as an example of voter suppression is appalling . How hard did the black community and woman fight for the right to vote ?? How bloody was revolution that even created our nation and the subsequent Constitution? Is it not worth ensuring that only those who qualify to vote should vote? Should we stop requiring government ID to board planes? Is it “travel suppression” or is it enduring safe use of the travel system ??? Think on this … your party whined for 4 years that Russians interfered with our election by social media disinformation and exposing private DNC data. Yet you fight a control that would increase confidence in elections??? You and others who argue this point have no integrity in doing so. And my sense is that you are a person who values integrity,

    Fraud can occur at distinct points in any process:

    1) when an identity is created . In other words, the created ID was not the “real person.”

    2) when an identity is used. Identity take over. A bad actor uses a good actors identity to perform a task.

    With Election fraud, these are the gaps that could easily be exploited.

    1) breaches: the identity data necessary to perform election fraud is readily available on the web and dark web. Social security IDs, addresses, phone numbers, email addresses

    2) There is little to no validation that person who initiated the request is in fact the person. I registered my wife to vote, completed the whole process, without her involvement. Fortunately, I did it with her permission but a fraudster doesn’t need your or my permission.

    3) Do you know what “checks” are completed on submitted data ? Are the checks uniform in every jurisdiction? Are there “data quality” issues ? Given my experience with state and local governments who often have aged systems siloed per agency, it is very possible that data checks are not done or are incomplete. These are open questions for me.

    4) Mail in Votes: Once a vote is sent to an address, anyone on the other side of that address can complete that ballot and mail it in. I received my wife’s ballot, filled it for her, again with her permission. She signed and dropped it off. Her signature is the only “identity proof.” So back to voter suppression …. how does an elections department validate the signature if no signature is on file ?? And why would a signature be on file if there is no government ID? This is a completely broken process that would fail every CyberSecurity standard our own federal government has for “identity assurance.” Check out the NIST standards for Fed Ramp.

    5) In Person voting:

    A) In California we had polling available for 3 days, including two weekend days. You accuse that there are reduced polling sites. Does that necessarily mean reduced capacity ? No, it depends on the size of the site and hours of availability. Moreover, this is a great candidate for federal / Starr funding.; Are you advocating for it ?? It took 10 minutes from the time I arrived to the time I turned in my vote. And this has been my experience for 30 years. There is no good reason people need to wait hours in line.

    B) My mail in ballot envelopes was damaged so i chose to vote in person. I walked up to the administrator to get a new ballot, She asked for 3 pieces to of data; 1) my name 2) birthdate 3) address. I gave her it and she gave me a ballot, She had no proof I was who I said I was, That data can be found ok me or you in one query of the regular internet or purchased off the dark web. If I so desired, i can find it on you easily.

    Requiring in person voting with validated government ID with high fidelity water marks is a higher standard of “identity assurance.” The fact that you and your party fights against it cheapens the very voting right your ancestors bled to achieve snf created the lack of trust in elections.

    Your positions in this pose and your party are the very reason “count ever legal vote” is even a phrase.,

    Kind Regards,

    Jon Ruiz

  2. Did she give you a ballot or a provisional ballot? If you didn’t bring in the damaged ballot, the clerk should have given you a provisional ballot. If you did bring in the spoiled ballot, the spoiled ballot was your proof of identity. If you were given a provisional ballot, there would be additional checks at the elections office. And if it was found that there was a mailed-in ballot with the same identity or that the person had already voted, there should be a criminal investigation.

    By the way, I was trained as an engineer and have many years experience in computer systems. I have been very unimpressed by the vast majority of the cybersecurity “experts” that I have dealt with.

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