The tweets heard ’round the world. Donald Trump and Gregg Phillips reap the whirlwind.

Good Tuesday Austin:

I guess the president-elect does not have a consuming interest in football, so on a lazy, post-Thanksgiving, pre-actually-being-president Sunday afternoon, Donald Trump flexed his twitter finger and tapped out the following:

No biggie, right?

I mean, here he is the duly elected, stunningly, surprisingly big Electoral College winner, and yet he has to suffer through all this blah-blah-blah reporting about how Hillary was building up a sizable, couple of million popular vote margin and now, somebody named Jill Stein, who apparently also ran for president, is mounting an effort to recount the vote in Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and Michigan – states Trump stole in the best sense of the word right out from right under Clinton’s nose in a brazen daylight robbery that should have left the Democrats too shamed and embarrassed to do anything but avert their eyes when somebody says, “Hey, can we count those votes again?”

But, no, instead of allowing the Big Guy to blow off some steam, the media all got on their collective high horses and demanded that Trump back up his preposterous  claim, and, in their new non-normalization mode, competed with one another to most boldly, bravely, forthrightly label the president-elect’s tweet a lie.

Here is the top of the editorial in the New York Times: Donald Trump’s Lies About the Popular Vote

One big fear in the weeks leading up to the presidential election was that Donald Trump would try to delegitimize the results by claiming rampant voter fraud — a bogus specter he had raised throughout the campaign, particularly as his polling numbers got worse.

In that scenario, of course, Mr. Trump was the loser. No one imagined he would say the election was rigged if he won. And yet here we are.

On Sunday, President-elect Trump unleashed a barrage of tweets complaining about calls for recounts or vote audits in several closely contested states, and culminating in this message: “In addition to winning the Electoral College in a landslide, I won the popular vote if you deduct the millions of people who voted illegally.”

This is a lie, part of Mr. Trump’s pattern, stretching back many years, of disregard for indisputable facts. There is no evidence of illegal voting on even a small scale anywhere in the country, let alone a systematic conspiracy involving “millions.” But this is the message that gets hammered relentlessly by right-wing propaganda sites like InfoWars, which is run by a conspiracy theorist who claims the Sandy Hook school massacre was a hoax — and whose absurdities Mr. Trump has often shouted through his megaphone, which will shortly bear the presidential seal. Mr. Trump added more fuel to the fire with the false claim of “serious voter fraud” in California, Virginia and New Hampshire — all states that went for Hillary Clinton.

Let us pause here to make a few points. First InfoWars is Austin’s own Alex Jones’ very popular site. Go Austin!

And this particular bit of what the Times disparages as right-wing propaganda, is an appropriation, or perhaps misappropriation, by Jones of a couple of tweets from Austinite Gregg Phillips, a former Texas Health and Human Services official and founder, CEO and president of AutoGov. Go Austin!

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Phillips is no stranger to controversy.

And here are the tweets that has made him the man of the moment.

 

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The Times editorial linked to Glenn Kessler’s Washington Post fact check on Donald Trump’s bogus claim that millions of people voted illegally for Hillary Clinton

Winning the electoral college is all that counts in the presidential race. But losing the popular vote by such a substantial margin apparently gnaws at Trump. Is there any basis for his claim?

The Facts

The simple answer is no. This is a bogus claim with no documented proof.

Our colleagues at Snopes.com and PundiFact have already examined this claim, back when it was hot in the right-wing blogosphere, not a statement made by a future U.S. president. The whole thing started with a few tweets by Gregg Phillips, a self-described conservative voter fraud specialist, who started making claims even before data on voter history was actually available in most jurisdictions. (It had not even been determined which provisional ballots were valid and would be counted.)

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These claims were then picked up by such purveyors of false facts as Infowars.com, a conspiracy-minded website that, among other things, claims that no one actually died in a massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. One article described Phillips as being affiliated with VoterFraud.org but in reality he says he is the founder of VoteStand.com, supposedly an app that detects vote fraud. Phillips also has claimed that Obamacare is the “biggest voter registration fraud scheme in the history of the world” because it provided opportunities for voter registration.

In any case, Phillips made this claim — and then has declined to provide any evidence to back it up, even though reporters have asked.

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“He said he has chosen not to release more information because he is still working on analyzing the data and verifying its accuracy,” PundiFact reported. “Phillips would also not say what the data is or where it came from, or what methodology he used.”

It’s certainly rather odd that Phillips would make such a claim before he had verified whether it was true. He did not respond to a query from The Fact Checker after Trump tweeted, although he gleefully celebrated anger at his claim.

The Pinocchio Test

Simply put, there is no evidence that “millions of people” voted illegally in the election.

Now that Trump is on the verge of becoming president, he needs to be more careful about making wild allegations with little basis in fact, especially if the claim emerged from a handful of tweets and conspiracy-minded websites. He will quickly find that such statements will undermine his authority on other matters.

Four Pinocchios

Same story from PolitiFact.

From PolitiFact:

Phillips would not provide any additional information when asked by PolitiFact. He said he has chosen not to release more information because he is still working on analyzing the data and verifying its accuracy. Phillips would also not say what the data is or where it came from, or what methodology he used.

Phillips said he would release the information publicly once he is finally finished.

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Richard Hasen, an election law expert at the University of California, Irvine, called Phillips’ claim “fake news.”

“There is no credible evidence I have seen to show large numbers of noncitizens voting in U.S. elections anywhere,” Hasen said. “The idea that 3 million noncitizens could have illegally voted in our elections without being detected is obscenely ludicrous.”

Our ruling

Reports claim 3 million “illegal aliens” cast votes in this year’s election.

The articles point back to tweets from Gregg Phillips, who has worked for the Republican Party and has a voter fraud reporting app. But Phillips will not provide any evidence to support his claim, which happens to be undermined by publicly available information.

If Phillips does release a more detailed report, we will consider that information. But for now, this claim is inaccurate. We rate it False.

The Trump Transition Team, in the meantime, pointed reporters to a 2014 Monkey Cage piece by two academics in the Washington Post, Could non-citizens decide the November election?

 

Here are the authors and the abstract of their findings.

Jesse Richman is Associate Professor of Political Science and International Studies at Old Dominion University, and Director of the ODU Social Science Research Center. David Earnest is Associate Professor of Political Science and International Studies at Old Dominion University, and Associate Dean for Research & Graduate Studies in the College of Arts and Letters

In spite of substantial public controversy, very little reliable data exists concerning the frequency with which non-citizen immigrants participate in United States elections. Although such participation is a violation of election laws in most parts of the United States, enforcement depends principally on disclosure of citizenship status at the time of voter registration. This study examines participation rates by non-citizens using a nationally representative sample that includes non-citizen immigrants. We find that some non-citizens participate in U.S. elections, and that this participation has been large enough to change meaningful election outcomes including Electoral College votes, and Congressional elections. Non-citizen votes likely gave Senate Democrats the pivotal 60th vote needed to overcome filibusters in order to pass health care reform and other Obama administration priorities in the 111th Congress.

So non-citizen voting enabled Obama to pass Obamacare. Well, that doesn’t seem particularly trivial.

From the Post story.

Could control of the Senate in 2014 be decided by illegal votes cast by non-citizens? Some argue that incidents of voting by non-citizens are so rare as to be inconsequential, with efforts to block fraud a screen for an agenda to prevent poor and minority voters from exercising the franchise, while others define such incidents as a threat to democracy itself. Both sides depend more heavily on anecdotes than data.

In a forthcoming article in the journal Electoral Studies, we bring real data from big social science survey datasets to bear on the question of whether, to what extent, and for whom non-citizens vote in U.S. elections. Most non-citizens do not register, let alone vote. But enough do that their participation can change the outcome of close races.

Our data comes from the Cooperative Congressional Election Study (CCES). Its large number of observations (32,800 in 2008 and 55,400 in 2010) provide sufficient samples of the non-immigrant sub-population, with 339 non-citizen respondents in 2008 and 489 in 2010. For the 2008 CCES, we also attempted to match respondents to voter files so that we could verify whether they actually voted.

How many non-citizens participate in U.S. elections? More than 14 percent of non-citizens in both the 2008 and 2010 samples indicated that they were registered to vote. Furthermore, some of these non-citizens voted. Our best guess, based upon extrapolations from the portion of the sample with a verified vote, is that 6.4 percent of non-citizens voted in 2008 and 2.2 percent of non-citizens voted in 2010.

Because non-citizens tended to favor Democrats (Obama won more than 80 percent of the votes of non-citizens in the 2008 CCES sample), we find that this participation was large enough to plausibly account for Democratic victories in a few close elections. Non-citizen votes could have given Senate Democrats the pivotal 60th vote needed to overcome filibusters in order to pass health-care reform and other Obama administration priorities in the 111th Congress. Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) won election in 2008 with a victory margin of 312 votes. Votes cast by just 0.65 percent of Minnesota non-citizens could account for this margin. It is also possible that non-citizen votes were responsible for Obama’s 2008 victory in North Carolina. Obama won the state by 14,177 votes, so a turnout by 5.1 percent of North Carolina’s adult non-citizens would have provided this victory margin.

We also find that one of the favorite policies advocated by conservatives to prevent voter fraud appears strikingly ineffective. Nearly three quarters of the non-citizens who indicated they were asked to provide photo identification at the polls claimed to have subsequently voted.

An alternative approach to reducing non-citizen turnout might emphasize public information. Unlike other populations, including naturalized citizens, education is not associated with higher participation among non-citizens. In 2008, non-citizens with less than a college degree were significantly more likely to cast a validated vote, and no non-citizens with a college degree or higher cast a validated vote. This hints at a link between non-citizen voting and lack of awareness about legal barriers.

The Post piece provoked considerable hubbub.

As the paper noted: The post occasioned three rebuttals (here, here, and here) as well as a response from the authors. Subsequently, another peer-reviewed article argued that the findings reported in this post (and affiliated article) were biased and that the authors’ data do not provide evidence of non-citizen voting in U.S. elections.

Here is the abstract of one rebuttal, which, like the original, appeared in the journal, Electoral Studies Volume 40, December 2015, Pages 409–410

The perils of cherry picking low frequency events in large sample surveys

 The advent of large sample surveys, such as the Cooperative Congressional Election Study (CCES), has opened the possibility of measuring very low frequency events, characteristics, and behaviors in the population. This paper documents how low-level measurement error for survey questions generally agreed to be highly reliable can lead to large prediction errors in large sample surveys, such as the CCES. The example for this analysis is Richman et al. (2014), which presents a biased estimate of the rate at which non-citizens voted in recent elections. The results, we show, are completely accounted for by very low frequency measurement error; further, the likely percent of non-citizen voters in recent US elections is 0.

Zero? Wow. Really?

And here is the response from Earnest and Richman to the rebuttal of their original piece.

Although our estimates of non-citizen registration and voting are higher than previous estimates, this should not be surprising. To our knowledge, ours is the first study to use survey data to estimate non-citizen voting, while other studies have relied upon incidents of detected vote fraud. Estimates of illegal behavior based upon survey data are frequently higher than estimates based upon detection rates. For example, survey-based estimates indicate that more than six percent of the U.S. population over age 12 uses marijuana on at least a monthly basis — a rate more than 15 times the annual arrest rate.

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A final criticism concerns how we communicated our findings rather than the findings themselves. As our colleagues have colorfully suggested, our post “contributed to the circus” rather than made sense of it, and they question whether we intended “to provide fuel to the conspiracy theorists” who suspect widespread voter fraud. Ahlquist and Gehlbach even criticize the title of our post, which was not our proposed title.  (Editor’s note: Most guest post titles are written by whichever of the main Monkey Cage contributors handles the submitted post.) We trust that our colleagues do not mean to suggest that authors should self-censor findings that speak to contentious debates.

Reading the back and forth between Richman and Earnest and their critics, it seemed to me their thesis remained alive and well, thought fiercely contended. But, watching the coverage yesterday, the media generally was treating it as soundly debunked, and I’m not sure why.

Snopes also examined the claim that three million non-citizens voted illegally in the 2016 presidential election. and rated it “unproven.”

Phillips offers no evidence whatsoever to back up the claim that he “verified” more than three million non-citizen votes. Nor does he divulge his data sources or methodology, much less explain how it was possible to “verify” three million fraudulent votes within five days of a national election. In point of fact, Phillips bluntly refuses to share this information with journalists, claiming it will be released “in open form to the American people”:

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Phillips, who also founded the technology consulting firm Autogov and served as managing director of Newt Gingrich’s Winning Our Future super PAC during the 2012 presidential campaign, is no stranger to voter fraud controversies. He was quoted in a 30 October 2013 Breitbart article (which described Phillips as a “voter integrity activist”) characterizing Obamacare as “the biggest voter registration fraud scheme in the history of the world.” Per the requirements of the National Voter Registration Act (NVRA), Obamacare health insurance exchange web sites provide voter registration services to customers. While some observers have complained that the exchanges are inadequate to the task of signing up new voters and have actually failed to register millions of eligible people, according to a 2014 MSNBC report, others, Gregg Phillips among them, argue the opposite — that Obamacare has opened the floodgates for millions to register illegally.

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In the absence of supporting data, however, he has really made no case at all. The “three million non-citizens” figure may just as well have been plucked out of thin air.

I talked to Phillips for about an hour yesterday afternoon.

Phillips is a board member of the organization True the Vote, a Houston-based, right of center group devoted to voter integrity.

Clearly, Phillips in his tweets overstated what he could prove right now. But, he said, that doesn’t mean that he is plucking the number out of thin air. He is ball-parking what he expects to find when he does an analysis of True the Vote’s extraordinary 50-state, 180-odd million registered voter database, which it is now updating following the November election.

Phillips also dramatically underestimated the impact his tweets would have.

Phillips:

When did a tweet become news? I’m just like a guy. I’m an ordinary guy. There are  billions of tweets every single day and because somebody picked it up, made something of something I wrote, all of a sudden the president-elect is talking about me? No he’s not referring to me. He’s not referring to our  information. He’s not referring to our analysis. He was referring to a  Washington Post story from 2014 and, the idea all of a sudden a tweet is news – it’s not news, I mean, I didn’t testify in court.

Seriously, is a tweet really news? Isn’t everything on Twitter fake?

In fact, I think that it was Phillips’ tweet that Trump was picking up on and responding to – and that the Presidential Transition Team subsequently cited the Washington Post piece to buttress his claim because that was better than referring reporters to the president-elect’s likely original source – Alex Jones’s InfoWars.

 

What apparently happened here is that Phillips tweets his heart’s desire, but Alex Jones, without ever having any contact with Phillips, picks it up and maybe dresses it up a little, not mentioning that what he is citing is is just based on a couple of tweets, and, for good measure, attaching some bogus organizational affiliation to Phillips.

Alex Jones has a huge audience and then, as is often the case, the Drudge Report picks up what InfoWars reports, and, then well, it can’t escape Trump’s attention, with or without a helpful  nudge from Roger Stone.

 

And, Phillips was simply not prepared for the whirlwind that followed Trump’s Sunday afternoon tweet.

People figure I must have the ear of the president. I’m sitting at home with my granddaughter. What?

So Phillips tweets an overstatement of what he was able to prove at this point in time. He did not intend for his tweet to reach a mass audience, let alone the president-elect. But suddenly he was besieged by a media that was now pinning the president’s lies on his disinformation, and demanding that he put up or shut up.

Phillips:

We’ve been working on this project since 2009. we approached the Department of Justice with some of our findings.

I am going to stand by the numbers. The numbers are accurate. I am going to do exactly what I said I’m going to do. I’m going to release all the information  whether it turns out I’m  right or wrong, whatever comes out of our final analysis and all the hard work of going through this stuff. I’m  going to come out and say either I was wrong or I was right. I’m going to come out and do that.

But, what really unnerved Phillips was the Twitter venom directed his way after he was identified as the president-elect’s apparent inspiration.

In the last couple of days I’ve beeen called a Nazi, a Russian, a traitor, an asshole, a racist, all on Twitter. I’m none of the above, none. I’m truly just an ordinary guy.

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After talking to Phillips I called Catherine Engelbrecht, the founder of True the Vote, and we spoke for another hour.

Here is how True the Vote describes itself.

True the Vote was established in 2009, after a small group of volunteers worked at our local polls and witnessed firsthand both the need for well-trained election workers and blatant, undeniable acts of election fraud. Since then, we’ve continued to grow – and  now we’re a national organization, providing comprehensive, state-specific programs of education, research, and support for volunteers in all 50 states.  We have empowered fellow citizens, increased public awareness, advocated for continued election improvements and reforms, and spoken out about the misleading messaging of those who insist voter fraud does not exist. It does. 

As you read through the pages of our website, we hope you will gain a better understanding of who we are and what we do. Our purpose is really very simple – to remind voters that they are the safeguards of our representative democracy. Together, we can ensure that our voting process truly does reflect the will of the People. Together, we can True the Vote. 

Engelbrecht said it will be some time into the new year before True the Vote will, as completely as it possibly can, have updated its 50-state database and that Phillips and others will analyze it looking for flaws – dead people on the rolls, duplicate registrations and non-citizen voters, who they will ferret out by triangulating against other databases.
It is, she said, an unprecedented effort.

We’ve been very quiet for a very long time and we have watched the degradation of the data wash across the rolls in waves and it was hard to know when to jump in because it just consistently been getting worse and so we’ve been very thoughtful about what and how that approach would look like.

We are going to take our time.

Engelbrecht said she felt for Phillips since the tweets.

When reporters demanded that she react to his tweets, Engelbrecht, who is not on Twitter, said her initial reply was, “First of all, time out. Really?”

At the end of the day he is on my board, he is my friend, he is a rock-solid individual and I stand by him and I stand by what he said and that’s it.

We put out a statement saying we support president-elect Trump’s comment about the potential that millions of votes were illegally cast.

This isn’t  huge number in the  grand scheme of things, but we have to be grown up about the process of election integrity and the importance of securing it. Third World nations have better processes than we do. We are the only industrialized nation in the world that doesn’t use voter ID as a standard.

Engelbrecht says that the tweet by Phillips and Trump provoked so much reaction because they “really hit this chord, that we’re all kind of scared, especially coming out of this election cycle, which was admittedly something like we’ve never seen. I think it hits this really deep chord in all of us that we want it to  be a Pixar movie, where everything is OK in the end and you know  we can play rough but in the end we’re Americans and nothing really really bad can really happen because somehow we just kind of have happy endings. But the dirty little secret is there has been fraud all over the place and it’s institutionalized.’

“Do I think it’s true (what Phillips and Trump tweeted)? Absolutely.”

Here is the rest of today’s New York Times editorial:

And why is Mr. Trump so hung up on the popular vote in the first place? After all, he won where it counts — in the Electoral College. And yet, in the three weeks since his victory, Mr. Trump has already admitted at least twice that he would prefer the presidency be determined by the popular vote, and not by 538 electors. It’s clear he feels threatened by Mrs. Clinton’s popular-vote lead — now more than 2.3 million and expected to exceed 2.5 million; as a percentage of the electorate, that is a wider margin than five presidents enjoyed. With support for third-party candidates added in, 54 percent of voters rejected Mr. Trump.

So maybe his touchiness is understandable. Like most people, Mr. Trump senses the fundamental unfairness of awarding the presidency to the loser of the popular vote. In fact, he made that argument himself, back on election night in 2012, calling the Electoral College “a disaster for democracy” when he believed, incorrectly, that President Obama would lose the popular vote and still win re-election. (In recent weeks he’s changed his tune, calling it a “genius” idea.) What Mr. Trump may not know, given his lack of interest in American history, is that the Electoral College was designed specifically to enhance the influence of white voters in Southern states, which were allowed to factor in their large slave populations.

Today the Electoral College continues to give an outsized benefit to smaller and less populous states — a Wyoming resident’s vote weighs 3.6 times more than a Californian’s. So the less populous states will never agree to amend it out of the Constitution. But states may allocate their electoral votes however they choose, and that opens the door to greater equity without changing the Constitution — namely, the National Popular Vote interstate compact. This is an agreement among a group of states to award all their electoral votes to the winner of the national popular vote. Eleven states and the District of Columbia have already adopted it, representing 165 electoral votes. The compact would take effect once states representing a majority of electoral votes, currently 270, signed on — ensuring that the national popular-vote winner became president.

We can’t expect Mr. Trump to throw his weight behind this initiative, given his new support for the Electoral College. But if he’s truly worried about the legitimacy of the 2016 election, why doesn’t he call for a recount?

This is a truly fatuous argument. Trump won. Why would he ask for a recount? What is the history of winners demanding recounts? And a recount is a recount, not an examination of the citizenship of every voter, which is the only way his fraud claim could be answered and satisfied.

But let’s just suppose that on Sunday, Hillary Clinton had tweeted, “Would have won Electoral College but for GOP voter suppression in key states.”

And what if it turned out that calculation was based on informed but unprovable estimates by some voting rights activists.

Would the Times Editorial Board have written a scolding editorial, Hillary Clinton’s lies about the electoral college

I don’t think so.

 

 

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