Why the 2020 Election Wasn’t Stolen

image credit: Thomas Ferguson, Paul Jorgensen, and Jie Chen

published by Chand Bellur
January 30, 2021 at 6:52 p.m.
  • After a contentious 2020 Presidential campaign season, recent polling reveals only 65% of voters believe the election was legitimate.
  • Controversy over the 2020 election led to a deadly insurrection, resulting in five deaths and hundreds of injuries.
  • Countless government agencies, independent observers, and cybersecurity experts agree that the 2020 election was the most secure in history.
  • Numerous political science studies demonstrate that campaign funding can influence elections, providing little motive for illegal election meddling.

2020 Election: Fear and Loathing in America

The 2020 election is one that will live on in infamy. Although the Associated Press called the election in favor of Joe Biden and Kamala Harris on November 7, 2020, election challenges persisted until shortly before the inauguration.

The contentious election resulted from years of misinformation and conspiracy theories, primarily propagated on the Internet. Although Twitter has gone to great lengths to put the genie back in the bottle by permanently banning Donald Trump, Facebook, YouTube, and other tech corporations opt for largely symbolic gestures, such as temporary bans or labeling content as false and misleading.

Due to restrictions on public gatherings, many voters opted to mail in ballots. Most states accepted mail in ballots postmarked by election day. As people who believe in science and follow stay-at-home advisories tend to vote for Biden, the bulk of mail-in ballots favored the former Vice President. Those who favored Donald Trump preferred to vote in person on election day. Trump discouraged the use of mail-in ballots in favor of in-person voting, influencing many of his followers to head to the polls on election day.

Early on election night, Donald Trump appeared to have a big lead, as in-person votes dominated the overall count. As the night progressed, more mail-in ballots were delivered and counted. It became clear that Biden won the election. As the days and weeks wore on, countless counts, recounts, and audits revealed Joe Biden to be the United States’ legitimate President-elect.

Despite numerous audits, checks, and verifications, to little surprise, Trump didn’t accept the election results. A team of legal experts, led by former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani, concocted outlandish conspiracy theories about the election. This increased doubt about the election, as the alt-right forged more perverse speculations on social media and YouTube.

Doubts about the election reached a fever pitch on January 6, 2020. Shortly after a Trump event, which cast doubt on the election and encouraged violent rebellion, a group of hundreds of Trump supporters stormed the Capitol in the first-ever insurrection attempt in US history. The resulting violence claimed five lives, with hundreds injured. Most of the insurrectionists were allowed to go home, with the FBI later rounding up a fraction of the perpetrators.

Audits Reveal Free and Fair Election

Both during and after the election, unprecedented surveillance mounted to ensure electoral integrity. After the 2016 election, where Russian interference may have influenced outcomes, officials, activists, and ordinary people put the 2020 polls under tight scrutiny.

Shortly after the 2020 election, the Cybersecurity & Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) issued a press release affirming the election’s integrity. The agency contends that tests and certification of voting systems ensured accurate results. The group goes so far as to claim the 2020 election was the most secure in US History:

“The November 3rd election was the most secure in American history. Right now, across the country, election officials are reviewing and double checking the entire election process prior to finalizing the result. “

Despite rigorous election monitoring, about 35% of voters don’t believe the election was fair. Egged on by conspiracy theories spread by Trump allies, a significant faction of Americans believe that Biden stole the election. Although candidates can win elections by merely spending more money, this divisive conspiracy theory persists, aided by social media and misleading firebrands.

There was some voter fraud; however, it was minimal and had no impact on election outcomes. One of the few convicted of voter fraud is a Trump supporter who engaged in illegal activities to benefit the former President. The Pennsylvania man used his deceased mother’s identity to cast a ballot for Trump. This and a handful of other cases demonstrate the lack and rarity of voter fraud in US elections. According to Pennsylvania election authorities, this was the only instance of voter fraud they found in 2020:

“In the hundreds of calls we received and the hundreds of visits we made, we only found one instance of malfeasance, and that was Mr. Bartman”

No Motive to Rig Election

Rigging elections is risky and can carry stiff penalties; however, individual voter fraud is considered a petty crime. In many states, unqualified or multiple voting attempts only warrant a small fine and the possibility of imprisonment. This is mainly due to the minimal impact of individual voter fraud on elections.

More widespread voter fraud, such as tampering with a voting machine, garners stiffer penalties. In most states, sabotaging voting machines is a felony.

The truth is, there’s no need to engage in criminal conspiracies to rig elections. Campaign contributions and budgets have far more influence over election outcomes than widespread election meddling. The relationship between money and elections is strong enough for political scientists to predict outcomes based on campaign finance.

Thomas Ferguson, Paul Jorgensen, and Jie Chen studied how money influences US Congressional elections. The team concluded that campaign finance is directly proportional to votes:

“The conclusion has to be that spending by major political parties is indeed, at first sight, strongly related to the proportion of votes they win and has been for as long as we have data. We consider this finding, in its own right, to be a significant result. If the pattern had been noticed a generation ago, discussions of politics and money might have taken a different turn.” 

Critics of theories touting the power of money in politics claim a few exceptions where advertising didn’t make a difference. While these cases are true, campaign finance funds more than advertising. With the proper reserves, candidates can employ staff and travel extensively, doing the rigorous groundwork to build support and win elections.

Biden Won Because His Campain Spent More

Although most data depicting how money influences voting pertains to Senate and House races, Presidential races are also subject to monetary influence. After all, the race for the highest office involves the most considerable sums of money.

According to Federal Election Commission filings, the Biden for President Campaign Committee spent an astounding $272,860,139 on the 2020 campaign compared to Trump’s $208,652,007.

The 2016 election doesn’t fit this pattern until you account for free publicity. Although Hillary outspent Trump by almost twice as much, networks like FOX News, CNN, MSNBC, and countless online venues gave Trump billions of dollars in free coverage. Estimates of free media coverage for Trump range from $2 billion to $5 billion.

CNN’s president, Jeff Zucker, was the executive producer for The Apprentice, the show that turned Donald Trump into a reality TV star. Throughout the 2016 campaign, the network was laser-focused on creating media about Trump.

Though much of the coverage was negative, this served to encourage his base, which viewed CNN as a bully and purveyor of “fake news”. Trump is known for favoring both positive and negative publicity. Trump’s policies, such as lowering corporate tax rates, benefitted CNN and its parent company, WarnerMedia. Although such collaboration isn’t criminal, it helped Donald Trump win an election while spending almost half as much as his opponent.

The 2020 elections were fair, accurate, and secure. In fact, with Russian hacking still in mind, the effort to ensure election integrity was overwhelming. Few would dare to rig the election behind the scenes, with so many watching. This isn’t even necessary, as campaign funding seems to be the key to winning elections. There’s no need to rig elections with clandestine conspiracies. They’re influenced and won, in the open, with campaign contributions, outside advertising, and sometimes even free media coverage.

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