A Philosopher's Blog

Trump’s Election Integrity Commission

Posted in Ethics, Law, Philosophy, Politics by Michael LaBossiere on July 5, 2017

The Trump regime recently created the Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity and has requested information about voters from the states. As of this writing, 44 states and the District of Columbia have refused to provide all of the requested information. While ensuring the integrity of elections is a laudable goal, there are certainly important concerns about this commission, the motivations behind it, and the true goals.

While speculating about motivations is always problematic, there is adequate information to ground some reasonable explanations as to why Trump has created this commission. While the motivations for creating the commission are distinct from the desirability of its goals, motives are certainly relevant to moral assessment. Also, motivations generally involve goals. To avoid needless repetition, I will consider both motivations and goals at once.

One obvious motivation is Trump’s ego.  Trump infamously claimed, without any evidence, that he lost the popular election because there were 3-5 million illegal votes cast for Hillary Clinton. While Trump seems generally content to dwell within a realm of unsupported claims and untruths, he does have a clear motivation to find some evidence to back up his absurd and unsupported claim. While it might be tempting to dismiss this motivation as lacking in consequences, it would be a rather serious matter. After all, John Locke notes that tyranny occurs “…When the governor, however entitled, makes not the law, but his will, the rule; and his commands and actions are not directed to the preservation of the properties of his people, but the satisfaction of his own ambition, revenge, covetousness, or any other irregular passion.” This can, obviously enough, be countered by arguing that Trump is not acting from “irregular passion” or by arguing that even if he is, the concern about election integrity does serve the good of the people. That is, despite the motivation the act is not tyrannical because of its intended goal. If the true goal is real election integrity, then this reply would be quite reasonable—although Trump’s doing the right thing for the wrong reasons should still be condemned.

A second motivation can be found in the fact that the Republican party has long used the specter of voter fraud to justify polices that are aimed at voter suppression. While voter fraud does occur at a non-zero level, it is just barely above zero. There is also the fact that the usual Republican proposals, such as voter ID, would generally not be effective at countering the voter fraud that does occur. This is not to say that voter fraud should not be considered, just that it occurs at such a microscopic rate that the only rational explanation for the Republican policies is voter suppression targeted at those who they regard as likely to vote for Democrats, such as minority voters. It should be noted that the Democrats need not be regarded as moral saints here; they utilize other morally problematic methods when they can gain an edge.

The creation of the commission helps support the narrative of voter fraud in that some will believe that there must be fraud because otherwise Trump would not have created the commission. The fact that some states have been resisting the commission’s requests is already being spun as evidence that the states are covering up fraud (even though Republican controlled states are also not fully cooperating). The commission does not need to find any actual evidence of meaningful voter fraud to support the narrative—after all, the myth of significant voter fraud has already been embraced without any evidence at all.

While it might be tempting to think that the information being requested by the Trump commission could expose voter fraud, it is important to be clear about the distinction between the accuracy of voter rolls and the existence of voter fraud. This can be illustrated by using an analogy.

Whenever I teach a class, I get a roster of the students who are enrolled in the class. This can be seen as analogous to the list of registered voters. Since students can add or drop my course, the roster I have for the class is often inaccurate. There are sometimes students who think they have enrolled, but have not. There are also those who think they have dropped the class, but who are still enrolled. Likewise, the list of voters is often inaccurate. For example, people move to a new state and legitimately register to vote there while they remain on the list in their old state. As another example, people die and are not automatically removed from the list. There are also various other errors that can occur with any lists of people. Having an inaccurate list is obviously a problem, but it is not the same thing as fraud. To continue the analogy, consider the sort of fraud that occurs in class, namely cheating. If I happen to have an inaccurate roster of those enrolled in my class at the time, it does not follow that students are cheating in my class. Likewise, the voter lists in states could have many inaccuracies, but this does not prove that voter fraud is occurring.

Obviously enough, an inaccurate roster for a class could be used to facilitate cheating and a student lying about being enrolled in the class would be a form of fraud. Likewise, inaccurate voter lists could be exploited to commit fraud. For example, if someone had a list of dead people who are still registered, this information could be used to engage in “ghost voting.” Fortunately, there is no evidence that the problems with the voter lists are being exploited to commit significant fraud. As such, the concerns about the voter lists is rather like that of concerns about the class rosters: they should be accurate, but their inaccuracy does not entail cheating or fraud is taking place.

This is not to say that the defects of the current system should be ignored or tolerated—the system does need a major overhaul. However, Trump’s commission does not seem aimed at assisting the states improve their registration systems nor aimed at ensuring that the elections are conducted with integrity. Rather, this seems to be part of Trump’s theater of fraud.

 

 

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16 Responses

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  1. DH said, on July 5, 2017 at 7:42 pm

    This hardly warrants a response, Mike. Once again, you are allowing your passion and your hatred for Trump to cloud your academic sense of logic and discourse.

    “While speculating about motivations is always problematic, there is adequate information to ground some reasonable explanations as to why Trump has created this commission.”

    The “adequate information”, I suspect, is little more than “I hate Trump”.

    “While Trump seems generally content to dwell within a realm of unsupported claims and untruths, he does have a clear motivation to find some evidence to back up his absurd and unsupported claim”

    You, of all people, should know full well that an absence of evidence does not in any way prove innocence or guilt. I’ve posted before several reasons why there may not be evidence of voter fraud – and one very obvious possibility is that no one in the government wants to look. If there has been voter fraud consistently over the last several elections, it would throw our government into a state of confusion. Was Obama a legitimate president? Was Bush? If it can be proven that they were elected fraudulently, what would that mean for all the laws and executive orders they passed?

    “A second motivation can be found in the fact that the Republican party has long used the specter of voter fraud to justify polices that are aimed at voter suppression.”

    Oh, PLEASE. Stop parroting left-wing talking points as though they were facts and go back to your roots as a philosopher, a logician, and a critical thinker.

    This is yet another reason that you are clearly a part of the problem in this country – you have an education, you are published in your field, you are a professional logician and you have the credentials to be respected as a critical thinker – yet you are acting like an ignorant teenager agreeing with her facebook friends, with little more than consensus to back up your claims. And people believe you, and parrot the same talking points believing that they don’t HAVE to think, because you’ve done it for them.

    “There is also the fact that the usual Republican proposals, such as voter ID, would generally not be effective at countering the voter fraud that does occur”

    The FACT that it “would generally not be effective”? “FACT”? Don’t you mean the “OPINION”? Facts are tested and proven, otherwise they are hypotheses and opinions. Was it a FACT that Obamacare would lower premiums for average Americans by over $2,000? Or was the FACT that which was proven after the legislation was passed? Is it a FACT that the current health bill will raise premiums even more? Some think so, but not the authors. How can we arrive at those FACTS?

    “Whenever I teach a class, I get a roster of the students who are enrolled in the class.”.

    Me too. It is up to me to take attendance and compare the attendance to the roster, and report any discrepancies to the Dean. Don’t you? Sometimes I have a student who has been assigned to a different section, but prefers to be in my section – so they just come. They hope to slip through the cracks and thwart the system – regardless of the fact that the department chair goes to great lengths to ensure that class numbers are balanced, and that everyone who is attending class belongs there and everyone who belongs there is attending.

    The class rosters are as accurate as they can be at the beginning of a semester, but then they are altered during “drop-add” to reflect changes in schedules, and vetted again after a few weeks to make sure that students are showing up in the right place and, if they are not, they are healthy and OK. Should we not bother with this, and just let the classes roll as they develop? Similarly, should we not vet our voter registration rolls, and continually monitor them for accuracy – cleaning out the names of people who have died or moved away, and eliminating those who are voting illegally – whether the number is miniscule or significant?

    “As such, the concerns about the voter lists is rather like that of concerns about the class rosters: they should be accurate, but their inaccuracy does not entail cheating or fraud is taking place.”

    True. Nor does it mean that cheating or fraud are NOT taking place. It is incumbent upon us as educators and as participants in a political system to make sure that system works properly.

    “Fortunately, there is no evidence that the problems with the voter lists are being exploited to commit significant fraud.”

    There is no evidence being reported in the left-wing news that you read. Here’s an article that claims the opposite:

    http://thefederalist.com/2016/10/13/voter-fraud-real-heres-proof/

    I have plenty of other links to share, but once I’ve reached more than one my post gets hung up in “moderation” until you’ve posted two or three subsequent essays, so I will leave it to you to follow the links. If you would like more, perhaps I will post a reply with the links spelled out so they don’t get flagged.

    In the article I did post, there are plenty of links to respected and scholarly sources that will at least counter your argument that “there is no evidence”. Again, try some critical thinking – it would do you well and perhaps help your students.

    You do say one truth – that both Democrats and Republicans alike put spin on this issue to suit their own ends, and try to maneuver and gerrymander in morally questionable ways in order to suppress the vote of the opposition – but your passion and blinders seem to want to forgive the Democrats and punish the Republicans because, in general, you are a supporter of the left-wing, and specifically, you hate Trump.

    I do agree that Trump is likely pursuing this end to feed his own ego, but it is a non-starter except in the eyes of the “I Hate Trump” crowd. Trump won in the Electoral College, and that is the law of the land. You and he should both let it go.

    How about a post on the ethics of a pre-emptive surgical strike in North Korea? That would be a little bit more relevant, don’t you think?

  2. TJB said, on July 5, 2017 at 7:52 pm

    Trump “regime”?

    When I searched for “Obama regime” in your search bar I got this: “Sorry, no posts matched your criteria, please try and search again.”

    • Michael LaBossiere said, on July 6, 2017 at 5:10 pm

      I think Trump would like “regime.” It makes him sound like a king. The Obama regime is now over.

      • TJB said, on July 6, 2017 at 11:03 pm

        Do you really believe Trump’s ego is bigger than Obama’s?

        • Michael LaBossiere said, on July 7, 2017 at 4:38 pm

          Interesting question. Trump puts his name in big gold letters on his property and talks relentlessly about himself. But perhaps Trump’s ego is a like a chihuahua (small but very loud) and Obama’s is like a nuclear submarine (huge, yet quiet).

          • TJB said, on July 7, 2017 at 6:51 pm

            One example:

            “I think that I’m a better speechwriter than my speechwriters. I know more about policies on any particular issue than my policy directors. And I’ll tell you right now that I’m gonna think I’m a better political director than my political director.”

  3. TJB said, on July 5, 2017 at 10:58 pm

    At least half of the country believes that a fairly large number of non-citizens vote. Seems reasonable to find out what the numbers actually are.

    • Michael LaBossiere said, on July 6, 2017 at 5:13 pm

      The credible research shows that those people are wrong in their belief. Elections seem to be fairly well “policed” for fraud and allegations of fraud are investigated. They just almost always amount to nothing. The real voter problem in the US is lack of participation. That is, the problem is not that people are voting in a fraudulent manner, it is that they are not voting.

      • TJB said, on July 6, 2017 at 11:01 pm

        As far as I know there is only one peer reviewed study on non-citizens voting, and you dismissed it.

  4. TJB said, on July 6, 2017 at 10:46 am

    Good analogy. Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.

    The Philadelphia Police Department last year wrote a grand total of 10 jaywalking tickets.

    By the logic of the Left, that means that illegal street-crossings are so vanishingly rare in the City of Brotherly Love that they are practically nonexistent.

    “That points to the absurdity of their position, And in this case [illegal voting], it’s a felony.”

    “There you go,” said Old Dominion University political science professor Jesse Richman. “We might as well drop jaywalking from the books.”

    Richman, who has studied voter fraud, said the jaywalking analogy is a good one. It is impossible to say how many illegal ballots are cast each election because authorities mostly do not look for it. It usually only arises in the instances where people recognize illegal voters and alert authorities.

    http://www.lifezette.com/polizette/liberals-use-flawed-logic-to-dismiss-voter-fraud/

    • WTP said, on July 6, 2017 at 1:35 pm

      It doesn’t take a PhD in philosophy or a significant amount of education to understand these things. It does take a good bit of brain power to conjure up excuses, disingenuous explanations, and other forms of sophistry to deny them. Having a PhD in philosophy or other form of higher education can provide cover for accusations of bias.

  5. Anonymous said, on July 6, 2017 at 7:01 pm

    the last three comments I posted to this blog do not show up. Have I been blocked?

  6. CoffeeTime said, on July 7, 2017 at 6:13 am

    As so often, I am struck by how bias introduces inaccuracies to factual statements in the process of re-telling, and false factoids spread.

    The requested information, from the commission’s letter, is “the publicly-available voter roll data for [name of State], including, if publicly available under the laws of your state, the full first and last names of all registrants, middle names or initials if available, addresses, dates of birth, political party (if recorded in your state), last four digits of social security number if available, voter history (elections voted in) from 2006 onward, active/inactive status, cancelled status, information regarding any felony convictions, information regarding voter registration in another state, information regarding military status, and overseas citizen information.”

    Note that the commission asked only for “publicly-available voter roll data”, “publicly available under the laws” of each state. The letter specifically makes the point that the commission will make all data provided available to the public themselves, as a further warning not to provide other data. While not all responses from the states in the CNN list are unambiguous, most essentially say “we will release all publicly-available data, though we note that not all of the fields in the list are publicly-available”. These responses have therefore not refused to provide the requested information.

    The CNN headline from the link reads “Forty-four states and DC have refused to give certain voter information to Trump commission”. It’s not clear to me whether the CNN headline is technically true. Is it correct to characterise the states who say “we will release publicly-available data only” as “refusing”, even when they refer to data not requested?

    Your sentence reads “44 states and the District of Columbia have refused to provide all of the requested information”. Your sentence is technically false. The commission requested only publicly-available data. States’ laws vary; data not public in a state was not requested. The CNN list shows most of the comments as clearly agreeing to release the publicly-available data. For example “While my office is required to provide public records to this Commission, as we would to any other person or entity, I assure the voters of Utah that we will only provide information that is otherwise available to the public.” This is not a refusal; this is agreement. The data that is not publicly-available was specifically not requested.

    Both the CNN commentary and yours fail to mention the other requests in the letter – for state authorities to submit their recommendations on federal election laws, information technology security and vulnerabilities, laws, policies, or other issues that can hinder their ability to ensure integrity, information regarding instances of voter fraud or registration fraud, convictions for election-related crimes, recommendations for preventing voter intimidation or disenfranchisement, or any other issues they want to raise.

    As for the substantive issue of the commission itself, I don’t expect it to yield any surprises, and since its information will be public and widely scrutinised, it is hard to see how it can introduce falsehoods credibly. Certainly, since even a request for basic, publicly-available data generates so much criticism, it will need to justify every word of its conclusions.

    • Michael LaBossiere said, on July 7, 2017 at 4:50 pm

      True, it could be claimed that the states are not actually refusing to hand over nonpublic information if the quote is accurate. To use an analogy, if a homeless person asks you to give them all the money you can spare, if you give them nothing because you believe that you cannot spare any, then you have not refused them.

  7. WTP said, on July 7, 2017 at 9:03 am

    since even a request for basic, publicly-available data generates so much criticism, it will need to justify every word of its conclusions

    Why isn’t the onus of justification on those who generate unfounded criticism? Why must the burden of being super, super perfect be on the commission based on the actions of critics who, let’s be honest here, will never be satiated anyway? The media, especially CNN, and the critics, and in this little world the purported philosopher who runs this blog, are the ones who need to be held accountable for their misstatements, sophistry, and disingenuous arguments.

    I have been commenting on this blog for close to ten years. I challenge anyone here to point to a statement that I have made in all that time (here or anywhere for that matter) that is anywhere near as misleading, disingenuous, or purposely misleading as anything Mike has said in just this one post. Sure you can argue with me about details and perspectives, but I don’t think you will find one case where I have purposely tried to mislead the argument. Nor have I run from an argument. Nor played the clown nose to avoid one. Yet to Mike I’m something of a pariah.

    There’s a saying in the legal profession…If the facts are on your side, argue the facts. If the law is on your side, argue the law. If neither the facts nor the law are on your side, pound the table.… Similar to pounding the table, a retreat to pearl clutching, self-defined propriety, while simultaneously insulting those who express other ideas, is what those who cannot debate will retreat to. They will never acknowledge error. Their egos will not permit it. I’ve seen it from conservative bloggers in the #NeverTrump crowd as well. See one Patterico for example…

    http://patterico.com/

    They are legion.


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