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A New Hampshire fact-check: No evidence of illegal, bused-in Bay Staters

Dartmouth College political scientists have declared President "Trump’s claims about a tainted election in New Hampshire are at best unsupported and at worst an intentional mistruth."

Do grasshoppers fart? I’m not sure, and I don’t much need to know, but here’s why the question comes to mind.

I was thinking about the death of facticity in the Age of Trump and it reminded me of an exchange from my earliest days in the scribbling trade known as journalism, when I did my scribbling for The Pine Bluff (Arkansas) Commercial. I had written about a false statement by one of Pine Bluff’s politicians and the next time I saw the fellow he told me that my story was no more than “a grasshopper’s fart in the cosmos” to him. I gather that, if grasshoppers do fart, it is a matter of small importance that changes the world not at all, like my story.

I don’t recall the falsehood that gave rise to that exchange, but the metaphors were much more colorful in my Arkansas days than my Minnesota days. That Pine Bluff politician did, however, stop repeating that particular falsehood, which I took to be a good thing.

Having (arguably) misspent my adult life in scribbling trades, I believe that facticity matters. But the Age of Trump has forced us to acknowledge that it matters much less than it should.

I’m having a hard time making my peace with this. I may be in denial about how factitious things used to be, but denial, as the gag goes, ain’t just a river in Egypt. If you’ll indulge me a couple more paragraphs of general endorsement of facticity, I’ll get to something newish down below.

The rise of Donald Trump and his minions has demonstrated that you can lie, often and recklessly and obviously, and refuse to ever retract or apologize for or even acknowledge your lies, and still win a presidential election in the United States of America, as long as you tell falsehoods that 46.1 percent of voters wish were truths. Unlike that long ago Arkansan, Trump doesn’t even change to new falsehoods when the falseness of his old ones has been pointed out.

We have to care

But if we scribblers stop caring about — or writing about — Trumpian deviations from factual accuracy, we might as well stop scribbling entirely. And at this stage in my life, it’s too late to take up a new trade. So here’s one more fact-check:

Trump, who cannot seem to grasp the concept of “good winner,” continues to claim that his margin of “victory” is really much bigger than it was. He has asserted, without producing any evidence that deserves to be taken seriously, that Hillary Clinton benefited from massive voter fraud. He continues to assert, as if this proves anything, that many dead people are still listed on voter registration lists, and millions more undead people are registered in multiple states.

That may be true, but if so it is no evidence at all of voter fraud. Maybe some states do not promptly clear the registration lists of the names of deceased voters or the names of voters who have moved to another state. But that doesn’t mean those voters voted after they died or moved elsewhere. Trump has never attempted to demonstrate that these still-registered dead people voted — only that they are listed on the rolls. And the same applies to people listed on the rolls in two states.

For some reason that someone who understands the president’s casual relationship with facticity will have to explain, he continues to assert this as evidence of fraud. If Trump ever comes up with proof that a significant number of dead people voted for Hillary Clinton, I will retract this paragraph and apologize, something Trump never does.

A narrow margin in N.H.

But there is one more wrinkle that Trump has more recently asserted and that has been amplified by his minions. That wrinkle is a particular slander against one state, namely New Hampshire, a state that was carried by a very narrow, less than 3,000-vote margin by Hillary Clinton.

It didn’t, of course, affect the outcome of the national election. But, for some reason, Trump started asserting, for example in a post-election meeting with senators that was ostensibly set up to hear the senators’ reaction to his nomination of Judge Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court, that he had been defrauded of a victory in New Hampshire where, he said, “thousands” of people were “brought in on buses” from neighboring Massachusetts to “illegally” vote in New Hampshire.

An actual member of the Federal Election Commission immediately and publicly called on Trump to produce whatever evidence he had to back up this claim. So far, no such evidence from Camp Trump has been forthcoming.

But, soon afterward, senior White House policy adviser Stephen Miller picked up this falsehood on a Sunday when he was suddenly omnipresent on the political talk shows.

‘Widely known’

“I can tell you that this issue of busing voters in to New Hampshire is widely known by anyone who’s worked in New Hampshire politics,” Miller said on ABC’s “This Week” Sunday. “It’s very real; it’s very serious.”

Host George Stephanopoulos asked Miller for evidence to back that up. Miller’s idea of “evidence” was to say that it was just widely, widely known and to just keep asserting it and to boast as further proof that “I’m prepared to go on any show, anywhere, anytime, and repeat it and say the president of the United States is correct, 100 percent.”

The number of shows on which Miller is prepared to say something that his boss likes to hear is, of course, pretty good proof that it must be true. But perhaps shy of proof beyond a reasonable doubt. And, strangely, no one from Team Trump has shown any interest in producing further facts to prove that busloads of Massachusettsians had ridden into New Hampshire and voted fraudulently for Democrats.

The Monkey Cagers

So three political scientists who contribute to the “Monkey Cage” blog on the Washington Post website volunteered to do some actual research that might shed light on the alarming claim. The three are all based at Dartmouth College, which is, until Trump or Miller can show otherwise, actually in the Granite State of New Hampshire, which might give them an extra iota of credibility on the matter.

And that’s the piece that set off my rant of this morning, because the steps they took to actually investigate the claim were so darn reasonable and based on actual research. Here’s what they did:

They looked to see if there were unusually large upticks in turnout, especially in New Hampshire districts close to Massachusetts, that might suggest thousands of illegal Bay Staters voted there illegally. But no, there weren’t such upticks.

Noting that New Hampshire also had a closely contested Senate race (and Trump had also asserted that the voter fraud operation had cost incumbent Republican Sen. Kelly Ayotte her re-election), the Monkey Cagers looked for districts in which support for Sen. Ayotte might have shown dramatic downturns that would be consistent with the theory of busloads of Massachusetts Democrats coming in. But no, they couldn’t find any.

New Hampshire allows voters who have recently moved in from Massachusetts, and who might not yet have obtained a New Hampshire driver’s license, to use a Massachusetts driver’s license as proof of identity. And the polling places keep a record of those instances. So the Monkey Cagers looked to see if there was an uptick in voters using Mass. driver’s licenses that could be correlated to any change in support or opposition to Ayotte. They found none.

If the bused-in Mass. cheaters had turned the tide against Ayotte and Trump, you would expect to find that voting places near the Mass. border would be strongholds of support for Ayotte’s opponent (the Democratic Senate nominee, then-Gov. now-Sen. Maggie Hassan). They found:

In fact, New Hampshire towns near the Massachusetts border tended to favor Ayotte, not oppose her.

Their final conclusion:

We find no evidence to support the assertions of large-scale voter fraud that have been forthcoming from the Trump administration.

Because of these results and a total lack of photographic evidence of buses infiltrating New Hampshire on Election Day 2016, we believe that Trump’s claims about a tainted election in New Hampshire are at best unsupported and at worst an intentional mistruth.

Everything tended to undermine

Don’t you just love the tone of that final assessment. “At best unsupported … .” That Dartmouth gang takes facts seriously. They acknowledge that they haven’t literally proven the busloads story false. But they took investigative steps that would either tend to support or tend to undermine the veracity of the busloads-of- voting-fraudsters claim. And everything tended to undermine. So they rate the silly claim “at best unsupported” by the actual evidence.

Don’t you wish our new president and his minions would show similar humility about what they assert. And don’t you wish they would show a similar caution about checking things about before announcing their “findings” to the world.

There was another expression I picked up in my fondly recalled Arkansas years. It was a hunting metaphor for an idea or an effort that wasn’t going anywhere, like the idea that Massachusetts regularly ships “thousands” of illegal voters into New Hampshire by the busful, and somehow they leave no trace. The expression was: “That dog won’t hunt.”

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Comments (11)

  1. Submitted by Harris Goldstein on 03/03/2017 - 08:55 am.

    Strategic Value

    The false narrative of massive voter fraud is and will be used to justify massive voter suppression.

  2. Submitted by Neal Rovick on 03/03/2017 - 09:36 am.

    In the interest of power

    ….The military presence in the city only added to the feeling of imminent threat. Putin has spent months warning his subjects that those protesting against his rule are merely agents of western-sponsored revolution.

    Nashi, a pro-Kremlin youth group formed in the wake of pro-democracy revolutions in Georgia and Ukraine, was deployed in force in the evening to counter that supposed threat. Tens of thousands of its members gathered in wet snow outside the walls of the Kremlin and adjacent streets, cheering as they listened to Putin declare victory over his unidentified enemies.

    That was not the only role they were called on to play. One activist standing in front of two dozen buses carrying the names of various Russian towns told the Guardian he had been bussed in from outside Moscow to vote in the capital.

    Communist party candidate Gennady Zyuganov, who received around 17% of votes, told reporters after the polls closed that he will not recognize the election result, calling it “illegitimate, unfair and intransparent”.

    His campaign chief, Ivan Melnikov, claimed authorities set up numerous additional polling stations and alleged that hundreds of thousands of voters cast ballots at the ones in Moscow alone in an apparent attempt to rig the vote.

    Billionaire candidate Mikhail Prokhorov said on Channel One television after the vote that authorities kept his observers away from some polling stations and were beaten on two occasions.

    Oksana Dmitriyeva, a Duma deputy from Just Russia party, tweeted that they were witnessing “numerous cases of observers being expelled from polling stations” across St. Petersburg just before the vote count.

    Mikhail, 28, who voted for the first time against Putin, casting his ballot instead for Zyuganov, said: “Of course they won’t be clean. The last election showed us everything.”

    Natalya, a 49-year-old accountant, said: “It’s obvious that Putin will win.” She would not say who she voted for, instead explaining that she “voted against Putin”. “Of course he’ll win – but I wanted our leaders to know that not all of Moscow is for them, that we’re not all empty.”

    As the polls closed, opposition activists began to discuss the results, expected as they were. There were no gasps of surprise or even raised eyebrows as the numbers attested to Putin’s first-round win. Some laughed. The mood was neither angry, nor downtrodden, nor particularly excited. The film script had run its course.

    The evening ended with a quote from Stanislav Govorukhin, Putin’s campaign chief and, appropriately, one of Russia’s most celebrated film directors. Speaking to the online news portal, he said: “These were the cleanest elections in all of Russia’s history.”

  3. Submitted by Ray Schoch on 03/03/2017 - 09:52 am.

    Hunting dogs

    I believe Mr. Goldstein is correct, though the definition of “massive” might be open to some partisan interpretation.

    For what it’s worth, rural Missourians of half a century ago—when I was introduced to local rural colloquialisms in counties west of the St. Louis metro—used the same hunting dog metaphor, so it’s not just limited to Arkansas. In this context, it might be a lot easier for both writers and readers to simply say, “Trump lied, again. This time it was about ‘…x…’” Not “misspoke,” or “was in error,” which grants the speaker a certain amount of leeway because the assumption we used to make, before the Age of Trump, was that the speaker was, in most cases, making at least some minimal effort to tell the truth, with “truth” being defined as something factual and verifiable. Mr. Trump has demonstrated that assumption to be a false one, to the detriment of presidential politics, not to mention domestic and foreign policy.

    It’s astonishing to me that a headline saying “The President Lied about …x…’” is not only possible, but, only weeks into the Trump presidency, might be considered unremarkable and mundane, akin to “Sun Rises in East.” It’s gonna be a long four years, and, if the Democrats (or some magical third party that doesn’t yet exist) continue to spin their wheels, perhaps a much longer time span.

  4. Submitted by Roy Everson on 03/03/2017 - 09:54 am.

    Fact check Pearl Harbor

    What happens when national disaster strikes? The belief in false flags is sure to skyrocket. If Trump had announced the attack on Pearl Harbor I might find Hirohito’s POV worthy of debate.

  5. Submitted by Rachel Kahler on 03/03/2017 - 10:32 am.

    Lies are useful

    It doesn’t matter if it wasn’t true, or even if it was a blatant lie. And the odds are that it was a blatant lie. Why are the odds in the favor of a lie? Because if you’re in the position of having to refute it, you’ve already lost the argument. Just ask the people who just KNOW that the Bowling Green Massacre happened.

  6. Submitted by Mark Voorhees on 03/03/2017 - 11:00 am.

    Calling him out

    Why can’t the journalist in the room call out the lie when they hear it or demand justification? I realize this may be too simplistic but we have to call out the speaker as an outright liar. If we wait to research the falsehood, it will be the grasshopper fart in the cosmos.

  7. Submitted by Ilya Gutman on 03/03/2017 - 04:40 pm.

    Why am I?

    Why am I again finding myself in a position that may look like I am defending Trump while I am not? It is silly of him to dispute the voting numbers because he won the presidency fair and square. What difference does it make now, as another politician liked to point out? But here I am, saying again pretty much what I have said many times before.

    The Age of Trump has not brought us more lies – it just let the media talk about that much more in reference to a specific person they dislike, to say the least. Trump’s lies are petty and inconsequential but they are picked apart by the media with great pleasure. Obama’s lies, on the other hand, brought us many problems but not many people want to remember that. Clinton’s lies were equally outrageous (landing under fire, not wanting to use two devices) but, again, media preferred to largely ignore them.

    And even in this specific example about voting in New Hampshire, I do not remember many people showing equal disdain for Stein’s attempts to recount votes in the three states that were, coincidentally, all won by Trump (of course, all for the sake of voters and justice). Clinton’s campaign even joined in… How was that situation different? Aren’t Democrats promoting an idea of massive voters’ suppression?

  8. Submitted by Howard Schneider on 03/03/2017 - 08:37 pm.

    voter fraud and lies

    Voter Fraud
    Following up White House advisor Stephen Miller’s claim that Kris Kobach, Kansas Secretary of State, can provide facts and data regarding voter fraud, CNN anchor Kate Bolduan invited him on her program. Here is a link:

    Quite lame… or worse? Laugh or cry?

    I spoke with Kobach’s staff today and learned that it will be another week or so before they complete the report. It is late because of new states joining this effort.

    I worked for 35+ years as a social science researcher in non-profits and county government. These guys seriously don’t know s_ _ _ from shinola.

    My representative in CD 2 is Jason Lewis. He has claimed in a Strib letter and on 1130 radio that he has sent out four newsletters to everyone for whom they have an email. There are no newsletters. When I called his office, staff seemed confused about this. My most generous understanding is that Lewis and staff call an email letter (addressed to Dear Friend) a newsletter. And I was hoping for Jason’s Jottings Vol 1, No’s 1,2,3, & 4. Silly me.

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