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News Flash: Minnesota billboard scares people for political purposes

We now have a billboard in our fair state saying Minnesota is “#1 in voter fraud.”  Let’s go to the number, shall we?  According to the Star Tribune, the evidence for the claim comes from,

Dan McGrath, executive director of Minnesota Majority, referred to a study the group did of convictions of felons voting illegally in the 2008 election. At the time of the report in October of 2011, there were 113 convictions.McGrath said the number is now more than 200, and that is the most for any state for one election since Missouri in 1936.

200 illegal voters?  Here’s me being controversial: so what? I base my massive indifference to this trumped up fear to two things:

▪   Statewide elections are unlikely to be decided by two hundred votes.

▪   The idea that the 200 votes swayed the election rests on the premise that all 200 illegal votes were cast the same way. If they were closer to a 60-40 split, we’re talking about a mere 80 vote difference.

▪   Here’s where I’m going to make you mad, because here’s where I make my students mad. If you only win by 200 votes, it means that the voting public was largely indifferent to your victory. I mean, if lost by 180 votes and 200 people illegally voted against me, I’d be relieved that I don’t have to be a politician understandably upset. But elections are not designed for the self esteem of the people running, elections are designed to try to pick the candidate the matches the preference of the voters. No electoral system does this perfectly, and indeed, in multi-candidate elections, our system is comparatively pretty terrible (a sane candidate selection process would have seen John McCain int he White House in 2000 by survey data I have seen because a majority of Americans preferred him to any other single candidate head-to-head).  Here’s the catch, we have other problems in the world, and so we cannot spend time parsing, re-parsing and agonizing over what everyone really means when they vote for a candidate. We estimate on the winner as best we can given the desire to be fast and fair as best we can. If it would really be so awful that a candidate be selected, then they shouldn’t get within smelling distance of winning. If a candidate is beloved by all, no amount of voting error is going to  sway the results. If both candidates are close, then the loser between the two should have done more to distinguish themselves. If the two candidates are close because the state is highly polarized in an almost even split, then selecting one candidate or the other is not going to solve your problems anyway.  Generally speaking, two candidates who finish close to one another in an election are palatable to a majority of people, hence the closeness of the election. We would expect that in such close elections, most people would shrug their shoulders at who won and who lost, and that partisans would think that losing would be a calamity, a fraud, and wonder where the outrage was. There’s no outrage because most people have stable jobs, an education, a family, a stable mortgage payments, some set of investments with long-term stability, and yes, even a relatively stable tax bill. So why would they be outraged when they could be other more fun things like happy, in love, intrigued, laughing, or satisfied?

In essence what do I think about voter fraud in Minnesota? Meh. I’m sure a little bit happens. I’m sure a little bit of error in counting happens. I doubt it changes very much, and if it doesn’t change very much I don’t very much care. Because principles that I might hold that get me outraged simply because of their violation even if they have no consequences whatsoever not only seems to me an unhealthy thing for one’s disposition. Not every political issue is life or death, there’s no need for a revolution, and most political change moves at a gloriously boring pace. I say, huzzah! Stop being outraged, people moved by random-slightly misleading billboard. You can be happy. No that it doesn’t really matter and that 200 felons voting when they aren’t supposed to (the fact that it seems like a violation of their rights that they cannot vote is a discussion for different day and is a separate issue). Go find some drink you really like and really enjoy it. And remember, it will be sold tomorrow and at basically the same price no matter who sits in our political offices… something one cannot say about something as simple as Coca-Cola in many fledgling democracies around the world.

This post was written by Steven Maloney and originally published on Cows and Graveyards. Follow Steven on Twitter: @stevenmaloney.

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Comments (9)

  1. Submitted by Ross Williams on 07/02/2012 - 10:28 am.

    Math Challenged

    “If they were closer to a 60-40 split, we’re talking about a mere 80 vote difference.”

    No, it would be a 40 vote difference with 120 votes for one candidate and 80 for the other.

    There is however a larger problem here. Felons voting is hardly the only “voter fraud” that takes place in the country. Claiming that Minnesota is “#1 in voter fraud” based solely on that measure is, well, fraud.

  2. Submitted by Pat Berg since 2011 on 07/02/2012 - 11:06 am.

    Non-scientists don’t understand.

    There is no such thing as a perfect measurement. And that’s all an election is – an election is one kind of a measurement.

    In any measurement system, the ideal is to get as close as possible to an accurate measurement while accepting that a “perfect measurement” is not going to happen. And that furthermore, because it is not going to happen, efforts to achieve “perfection” represent wasted effort and resources.

    Good practices (such as those we already have in Minnesota) get us statistically very close. Post-election audits have established how good our elections already are.

    But for the people ignorant of measurement technology (since it is, after all, part of that horrible thing called “science”), I’m afraid close will never be good enough, no matter how much damage is done in efforts to achieve the unattainable goal of “perfection”.

  3. Submitted by Chad Davis on 07/02/2012 - 11:44 am.

    It may be worth noting that not only is it not any type of “voter fraud” if a convicted felon votes its also not even a crime at all if a convicted felon votes.

    • Submitted by Neal Krasnoff on 07/04/2012 - 11:22 am.


      201.014 ELIGIBILITY TO VOTE.
      Subdivision 1. Requirements. Except as provided in subdivision 2, an individual who meets the
      following requirements at the time of an election is eligible to vote. The individual must:
      (a) Be 18 years of age or older;
      (b) Be a citizen of the United States; and
      (c) Maintain residence in Minnesota for 20 days immediately preceding the election.
      Subd. 2. Not eligible. The following individuals are not eligible to vote. Any individual:
      (a) Convicted of treason or any felony whose civil rights have not been restored;
      (b) Under a guardianship in which the court order revokes the ward’s right to vote; or
      (c) Found by a court of law to be legally incompetent.
      Subd. 3. Penalty. Any individual who votes who knowingly is not eligible to vote is guilty of a

      Minnesota Statutes.

  4. Submitted by Virginia Martin on 07/02/2012 - 11:55 am.

    voter fraud

    Excerpted and edited from another web site.
    This is an attempt by MN Majority to limit Minnesotans right to vote as much as possible.
    More than 160 Minnesota felons have been charged with voting illegally since the 2008 election, when 2.8 million people voted; 2.1 million voted in 2010. Out of nearly 5 million votes cast, around 160 felons voted.
    That’s 0.0032% of all votes cast. But maybe MN Majority means excluding the 2008 votes. That raises the percentage to 0.0076% of all votes cast.

  5. Submitted by Virginia Martin on 07/02/2012 - 12:06 pm.

    Process of eliminating so called voter fraud

    The cumbersome process that will have to be adopted, and no details have been spelled out, will be costly and difficult to implement. It will cost an estimated $25.42 million to implement and each election year it will there will be an additional cost added to our current costs of elections.
    For about 160 people! What a bargain. Only about 16,000 per felon.

    • Submitted by Pat Berg since 2011 on 07/02/2012 - 01:26 pm.

      An exercise in futility

      As noted above, there will never be such thing as a :”perfect election”. We will never succeed in completely eliminating “voter fraud”.

      The law of diminishing returns is at play here. We can come very close (and we have ALREADY come very close, as detailed in your previous post). But elections will never be “perfect”.

      Efforts to make them so are a wasteful use of our money – to about the tune of $16,000 per supposed violator.

  6. Submitted by Thomas Swift on 07/02/2012 - 04:45 pm.


    I can’t help but believe that Senator* Al Franken takes umbrage with your casual dismissal of 200 votes, or the felon community.


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