Occam’s razor and election fraud

I’m hardly the first to think about the relationship between Occam’s razor and election fraud. But a recent movie release has prompted a lot of 2020 claims to resurface (again). As I explained to the Associated Press:

There’s no evidence a massive ballot harvesting scheme dumped a large amount of votes for one candidate into drop boxes, and if there were, it would likely be caught quickly, according to Derek Muller, a law professor at the University of Iowa.

“Once you get just a few people involved, people start to reveal the scheme because it unravels pretty quickly,” he said.

Absentee ballots are also verified by signature and tracked closely, often with an option for voters themselves to see where their ballot is at any given time. That process safeguards against anyone who tries to illegally cast extra ballots, according to Barry Burden, a University of Wisconsin-Madison political science professor and the director of the Elections Research Project.

“It seems impossible in that system for a nefarious actor to dump lots of ballots that were never requested by voters and were never issued by election officials,” Burden said.

From the reports I’ve seen, I’m amazed at how quickly even extremely small-scale ballot fraud, or even potentially-permissible ballot harvesting, is caught. Consider a scheme in Arizona in the 2020 primary, where two people handled a total of five ballots. Or six people in a local California election involved in the casting of four fraudulent votes. Or a recent plot in Philadelphia where 39 ballots were sent to a single post office box before they were detected (before they could be cast). Even the notorious North Carolina 9th Congressional District election in 2018 had likely fewer than 1000 fraudulent votes (albeit one of the largest episodes in recent history), and the scheme was stopped days after the election with gobs of witnesses, testimony, and evidence.

In short, even small-scale voting fraud operations appear to get exposed. Now, it’s entirely possible (and, frankly, non-falsifiable) that other fraud happens without being exposed. And it’s a reason I’m more sympathetic to prophylactic measures that get at some of the concerns that are tougher to detect.

But think about the size and scope of the allegations here. Fraud at scale is impossible to keep a secret. The notion that thousands of political operatives across several states handling hundreds of thousands of ballots, and able to so expertly cover their tracks in one of the greatest conspiracies in American history, defies logic. It’s a mission that would make Seal Team Six look like a kindergarten classroom. Respectfully, no political campaign in North America is remotely this competent. Add to it the fact that the rumors swirling about for months (not approaching years), so far, has yielded nothing that has enticed even the most aggressive prosecutor in any of many states.

And so, to Occam’s razor: there are much simpler explanations than a vast interstate extensive conspiracy to commit fraud at scale, from innocent reasons, to misunderstanding data, to, frankly, willfully misrepresenting the facts to profit off the public.

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