Philip Bump for WaPo:
When Georgia’s secretary of state, Brian Kemp, announced on the weekend before this year’s midterm elections that Democrats in the state had tried to illegally access the state’s voter database, the announcement was treated with a heavy dose of skepticism. In the days that followed, that skepticism seemed increasingly warranted, as reports suggested that the claim by Kemp’s office was at best misinformed and, at worse, willfully disingenuous.
Over the weekend, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported that, as suspected, there was no attempted hack by the Democratic Party — or, for that matter, by anyone. There was a security flaw that had been reported to the state, and the office of the secretary of state appears to have responded by blaming Democrats.
During the midterm elections, the Republican candidate for governor narrowly defeated Democrat Stacey Abrams by 1.4 percentage points, or about 55,000 votes. That Republican candidate, of course, was Brian Kemp.
We’ve seen this pattern before: Last-minute allegations in close races that, only after the fact or only quietly, are shown to be unfounded. The same thing happened this year in Florida, where Democratic Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum was tied to an FBI probe that, it turns out, may not involve him at all. Gillum lost by 0.4 percentage points, or 32,000 votes.
The most obvious example is the election of President Trump in 2016. He is president thanks to thin margins in three states — 11,000 votes in Michigan, 44,000 votes in Wisconsin and 23,000 in Pennsylvania — and thanks, to some extent, to a last-minute announcement by FBI Director James B. Comey about an investigation into Trump’s opponent. Or, perhaps, he’s president because of a coordinated effort on the part of the Russian government to dissuade Democrats and energize Republicans before Election Day, as a new Senate report suggests.
But did these things actually shift the results in these close races? It’s almost impossible to tell — or, more accurately, it’s hard to say conclusively that, had these things not happened, the results would have been different.