Voter fraud and what does a vote tell us?

It took some time, but a winner clearly emerged from the election. Despite concerns about potential foreign interference, voter fraud, and voter intimidation, the Department of Homeland Security declared this “the most secure [election] in American history.” It went on to say that “[t]here is no evidence that any voting system deleted or lost votes, changed votes, or was in any way compromised.” Fears about “poll watchers” scaring away voters didn’t materialize. This election was a remarkable example of how we as a people, even in the midst of intense partisan rancor, still value our institutions. I am grateful to live in this country. I’m grateful to have a long history of functioning democracy.

We have plenty of work to do, still. There are people who struggle to vote and it should be easier. This election is proof that making voting easier does not increase voter fraud. Perhaps those who want to make it easier could spend less time talking about the lack of widespread voter fraud and more time talking about the safeguards in place. I have learned a great deal about that in the last couple weeks and it has been enlightening. There were cases of voter fraud, but they were limited and we caught them.

I also want to take a moment to talk about what a vote means. While reading about the vote on election day, I came across one reporter who discussed what this vote will tell us about America. That idea stuck with me. What can we tell from a presidential vote? Can we tell anything?

People have always tried to cast light on the darkness in every society. In ancient China, priests carved symbols – precursors to modern Chinese characters – on turtle shells. Then they would heat a stick and touch it to the shells. When the shell broke, the crack would pass through various symbols and those symbols would be interpreted to make decisions. In Greece, people would travel to an oracle and ask for guidance. The guidance was often cryptic and could be interpreted in a number of ways.

Today, we have votes. While some of the analysis of votes is more scientific than reading turtle shells, there’s plenty of errors and plenty of just plain bad analysis. One story political experts completely missed this year was the huge swing Latino voters made to Republicans. The story told about Republican immigration rhetoric and how Latinos react was clearly wrong. One they got right was the “red mirage,” the lead Republicans had in the vote on Election night, which shrank or disappeared completely in the following days. The story about Democrats voting by mail in large numbers and Republicans waiting until election day was demonstrably correct.

Experts can tease some interesting information out of statistics connected to voting. So why are they sometimes so wrong? A huge reason is because one vote is a miniscule amount of information. Even over the course of a lifetime, a person will only vote for president about a dozen times. Statistics doesn’t work well with those kinds of numbers. We try to read the turtle shells, to decipher the oracle’s words, but the reality is that the information simply isn’t there.

I think there is also a relationship lesson in this. You cannot know a person’s heart based on who they voted for every 4 years. It simply isn’t enough information. Stop trying. Stop judging. If you proclaim love, then love.

I’m not saying this is easy or that I’ve got it down. It’s hard. And loving someone doesn’t mean you overlook harmful actions and words. Call those out. Help people see they ways in which their decisions affect others. But ending relationships and communication with someone because they voted for a different presidential candidate than you is petty. We are better than that. Societies don’t collapse because we keep talking to each other. They collapse when we stop.