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Krakenbusting: Moving On After the Statistics Zombies

Election 2020 is finally over, and thankfully many of the wilder conspiracy theories about “the stolen election” (aka “The Big Lie”) are receding into zombie-dom. However, we’re still seeing some more persistent, shall we say, “concerns” about election results that “can’t be right” because “something’s wrong with these numbers” based on amateur statistical analysis and a complete misunderstanding of election night reporting.

So crazy are these “concerns” that we’re compelled to continue trying to quash the Kraken, so to speak. (The term, now an Internet meme, refers to the myriad conspiracy theories about the 2020 election being “stolen” for Biden.)  And of course, that inspired us to sing out…

When numbers don’t look right, tryin’ to wrap your brain ’round it all
and common sense seems light, then who you gonna call? “Krakenbusters!”

We’re not afraid of any Kraken, so let’s do this.

First, we note there are many versions of this “concern” still circulating from videos to faux news shows on OAN, but the common theme goes like this:

Over the course of an extended election result reporting period in November 2020, incrementally released vote tally “dumps” revealed such huge statistical anomalies that it would have been “one in a quadrillion” for those numbers to have randomly occurred.

And a common corollary to that is:

Something absolutely must be wrong with the election results.”

Except now the concerned person no longer tries to explain the supposed anomalies via recourse to theories about “evil election officials” or “evil software” that “stole the election.”

Well, there are two very simple reasons to stop paying attention to this stuff—seriously, ignore this Kraken.

  1. The first reason is that all of these amateur statistical analyses are flawed because of the false assumption that the election results reporting were in random order.

For this and other explanations of why amateurs and even MIT Ph.D level researchers (e.g., researchers from Rutgers) make these mistakes, please see the very readable complete and concise report especially under “Statistical Analysis.” (Source Note: in fairness of full disclosure, we chose RRH Elections, which analyzes elections from a Republican-leaning perspective.)

As that report summarily states, for the “one in a quadrillion” calculation to be correct, votes would have to be counted in random order, so that a vote counted late was no more likely to be for Biden than a vote counted early.  However, this is false, because in the four states in question, absentee votes were counted after Election Day votes.  We cannot make this more clear:

Absentee votes (e.g., ballots returned by mail or hand delivery) were counted after all of the votes cast during normal voting hours.

And the reality is that Biden did better in absentee votes than in Election Day votes.  Matt Parker offers an entertaining and engaging video of simple explanations about math to help sort this out, and it’s a “must see” when you have ~19 minutes to burn.  And Robert VerBruggen published an article in the conservative National Review “The Dumb Statistical Argument in Texas’s Election Lawsuit” that you can listen to or read. It is an equally helpful (and a bit less mathematical) explanation of why these statistics arguments are silliness. Make-believe. Kraken.

  1. The second reason is we now have the final election results to assess as a whole; thus, the reported slow drip results in mid-November are now irrelevant.

With the vote totals complete and certified for weeks now, anyone hungry for data analysis can dig into the final vote tally data in the state of your choice.

  • You can slice it and dice it by county, by precinct, by early vs. Election Day vs. absentee vs. provisional voting.
  • You can correlate with external data about “Republican-leaning” or “Democratic-leaning” or “cat-loving” or “dog-loving.”
  • You can decide for yourself about whether the final numbers smell funny to you, based on the whole enchilada or any slice you like.

However, now it just doesn’t matter what order the individual ballots were counted in, or what order they were reported in, back in mid-November. All of the ballots are there.

You can now toxin-purge yourself of the “where there is smoke there must be fire” feeling, because the “smoke” is mostly confusion, or outright propaganda or simply Kraken, compounded by well-meaning re-tweets.

And then you can finally ask yourself whether you really believe that those official certified vote total numbers were outright made up, despite the extensive and public procedures to double and triple check election results—including re-counts of paper ballots—or whether on balance, you just don’t believe in the “stolen election” stories that now, months later, are not supported by a single shred of actual evidence.

Truly, this has become a remarkable battle to kill the cray-cray conspiracy theories, but that’s why we’re compelled into duty as Krakenbusters.

I hope you join me in moving ahead into 2021 and onward.

Kraken aside, while the 2020 Election was not stolen, there is plenty of work to be done to make U.S. elections more verifiable, accurate, secure, and transparent. Current election technology and practices are far from perfect, and far from well understood let alone well trusted. However, we’re working on it, and hope you’ll continue to support that work.

EJS

Election-Stealing Voting Machines Theories: Secret Decoder Ring, Appendices

After Points

In my just concluded 3-part series, I provided some plain talk about the nonsense of several kinds of theories about elections stolen via voting machines. However, I didn’t cover two important related points: 1) what our adversaries can do to attack our democratic elections, and 2) what you, the reader can do to help. Read more

Election-Stealing Voting Machines Theories: Secret Decoder Ring, Part 3

Part 3 of 3

I’m back again with my final entry in the Secret Decoder Ring series that you can use to decode and discard pretty much any theory along the lines of “Election 2020 Stolen via Fancy Technology.” Like all good trilogies, this Part 3 builds on the other two, and as a result is shorter! (But with an appendix, of course.)

  • In Part 1, I explained how it is reasonable to worry about conspiracies of election officials to steal an election, but not reasonable to worry about them using complicated tech as the means to do so. Much easier methods (methods less likely to get detected as well) are available.
  • In Part 2, we looked at the variation in which the election officials are honest, but the voting system software is crooked, built by Evil Software creators at voting system vendors, to intentionally steal elections under the noses of the honest election officials. In many walks of life, Evil Software is a real concern, but in the specific cases of elections, there are specific audit processes done specifically to detect and correct when Evil Software (or just buggy software, of which there is a lot) has produced a wrong election result.

Here in this final part, l cover the next variant: where the evil doers are neither election officials nor voting system vendors, but nation state adversaries who have the ability to hack the election technology and steal the election.

That’s probably the sexiest story, and in some ways the most credible, because we know that we really do have nation state adversaries intent on messing with US elections, and who have previously attacked election infrastructure (voter registration systems).

It’s also credible because it’s now widely understood that voting systems are in fact easy to hack. How not? The central brains of a voting system, the election management system (EMS) is just ordinary software running on a Windows PC.

Even if the voting system software were completely free of security vulnerabilities (which is not the case, as many tests and inspections have shown), the underlying Windows software has vulnerabilities that enable it to be hacked, and then attack the software running on it, whether EMS or ballot counting software.

Again, the issue is not the potential for such attacks, but the ability for attackers to succeed and not get caught, to succeed in stealthily stealing an election. Would those expert level hackers be able to do that?

Here is the common sense reason to be skeptical of these stories.

All these hypothetical hacks are just means to inject Evil Software into voting systems. Just as in Part 2, it’s really hard for Evil Software to not get caught, when honest election officials are checking the work of the software (from honest voting system vendors) by auditing the paper ballots, in order to detect malfunction whether Evil or otherwise.

Everything in Part 2 applies here as well. It just doesn’t matter whether the hypothetical Evil Software was built-in by evil voting system vendors, or injected later (via a successful hack, or cyber attack) by nefarious hackers of foreign nations. Either way, Evil Software has to read minds and predict the future, in order to not get caught during pre-election testing or post-tabulation audits.

Those pre- and post- checks do not protect us from the existence of Evil Software (there can always be Evil Software), but these checks do protect us from Evil Software not being detected even as it successfully steals an election. So yes, we face world class computer hackers; however, they cannot hack paper ballots (or the manual process of auditing those ballots.)  Given that extra fact from election-land, you can use your common sense to realize that when our election officials perform their paper-ballot duties properly, the best hackers in the world cannot get away with an undetected and uncorrected exploit.

And that’s it for the big three myths about elections stolen via technology.

But wait, there’s some more: an appendix (coming soon) with two more sober points: 1) what our adversaries can do to attack our democratic elections, and 2) what you, the reader can do to help.

EJS