Ignore the Slogans. What the 2020 “Election” Lacked was Credibility
No one won the election because what we held was not an election
By now, more than ten months after its occurrence, millions of words have been written about the 2020 Presidential election. While some have been excellent and insightful, most have been written to push exotic narratives or catchy slogans. Those may be great ways to motivate activists, but they’re lousy ways to understand what truly happened—much less to fix the underlying problem.
In this essay, I hope to do better.
The question is not whether Biden won, but what Biden won.
Let’s cut to the chase. The 2020 election lacked credibility. Whatever it was that America held on November 3, it was emphatically not a free-and-fair election designed to determine the will of the American people. As a result, there’s insufficient data to support any claims that either candidate “won the election.”
I’ll get back to that controversial assertion later. Before we get there, it’s important to understand that it doesn’t serve either of the prevailing narratives or any of the popular slogans. If what we held was not an election, then by definition Biden didn’t win the election and no one stole the election from Trump.
The folks fighting over those narratives are all asking the wrong question. Did Biden win? Of course he won! He’s holding the prize! But that’s not what’s relevant—or at the very least, it’s not what should be relevant. The real question is: “What did Biden win?”
It’s far beyond time to retire the bumper sticker slogans about legality, legitimacy, and theft.
I have no idea what “legitimacy” means or why anyone thinks it matters. My best guess is that it’s the opposite of “mandate.” A President enters office claiming, “the voters gave me a mandate to pursue the policies I want to pursue.” Opponents retort, “no, you lack legitimacy in office.” The President then pursues whatever policies he can enact within the political climate of the moment. Discussions of legitimacy are both meaningless and worthless.
Theft (as in, for example, “Stop the Steal”) is just as easily dismissed. For an election to be stolen , three things must have been true. First, there must have been a free and fair election. Second, enough illegitimate ballots must have been added to the mix to swing the result. Third, it’s possible to identify, isolate, and remove the illegitimate ballots. The problem here lies in the first step: The procedures employed in the 2020 election were so badly flawed that no underlying free and fair election can possibly be extracted from the data.
That core data problem, however, serves no powerful narrative. If America held an illegitimate election on Donald Trump’s watch that selected Joe Biden as its next President, neither candidate emerges looking good. Nor do any of the officials whose job included running credible elections—or the reporters whose job included uncovering government malfeasance. Nearly everyone in a position of power is thus motivated to pretend that the procedures in place for the 2020 election were at least largely acceptable.
As things stand, the data are sufficiently robust to establish that tens of millions of Americans preferred each of the candidates. The procedures were probably good enough to support the assertion that the thirty-eight states reporting victory margins in excess of 10% cast their electoral votes for the true choice of their citizens. For most of the remaining twelve states—and thus for the electoral college—the data are inconclusive. While I happen to believe that Trump would have won handily had we held a free-and-fair election, that’s strictly my personal opinion. The date necessary to determine whether I’m right or wrong are unavailable.
Next, legality. The argument about legality is important but overplayed. Every legal system incorporates a simple bedrock principle: If the government does it, it’s legal. Many Americans confuse that point because our legal system gives one part of the government (the courts) the right to second guess other parts of the government (executives and legislatures). That separation of powers does nothing to undermine the general rule. The government gets to decide what’s legal, and the government’s first rule is that if the government did it, it’s legal. When it came to the 2020 election, the states certified the results, no court overturned them, Congress counted the votes, and the Chief Justice administered the oath of office. The legality of Biden’s Presidency is thus unassailable. Any illegalities or improprieties now discovered may lead to fines or incarceration for individuals, nothing more.
The presumption of legality, however, provides no useful information about credibility. Assessments of credibility, in turn, hinge on a more basic question: What is an election? There’s no way to determine whether a set of procedures can credibly produce anything unless you’re clear about what it is you’re trying to produce.
An election is a measurement instrument.
A well-designed election should measure public sentiment, across eligible voters, on a narrow, clear question, at a fixed point in time. For our presidential elections, the clear question is: Who should assume the Presidency at the end of the current term? So far, so good. From there, however, things go downhill fast. The fixed point in time, long ago set at the first Tuesday of November in every fourth year, has expanded into many weeks.
The real travesty, however, has been the deconstruction of the term “across the eligible voters.” In theory, an ideal election would collect ballots from every eligible voter—and only eligible voters.1 It’s unlikely that any large, high-stakes election has ever achieved this ideal. In the real world, there are inevitably eligible voters who miss the opportunity to cast their votes and ineligible voters who cast ballots. For a real-world election to retain its credibility, it must incorporate procedures that minimize both problems. Unfortunately, all procedures that minimize the number of eligible voters unable to vote simultaneously create openings for more ineligible voters—and vice versa. The trick is to find the appropriate balance.
This situation is hardly unusual. In fact, it’s rampant in everyday experience. Anything that makes it harder to sneak in where you don’t belong also complicates entry for those who do belong. Walls, doors, velvet ropes, ID checks, and ticket sales are all obvious examples. They create entry lines and impose burdens even on those who have every right to enter.
In somewhat more technical terms, an ineligible voter who casts a vote represents a “false positive” (or in statistics, a Type I error). An eligible voter unable to cast a vote represents a “false negative” (or in statistics, a Type II error). There’s a large and deep scientific literature addressing the tradeoffs between them. The central message of that literature, however, is straightforward: Any system prone to both false positives and false negatives must incorporate some sort of balancing test.
It’s easy to zero out one of the problems if you simply ignore the other: If you admit everyone , you’ll never turn away a ticket-holder (zero false negatives), but you may find yourself overrun with freeloaders (many false positives). If you turn everyone away, you won’t have any crashers (zero false positives), but you won’t have a party, either (many false negatives).
When it comes to elections, we tend to use terms like “access,” “suppression,” and “fraud.” Ideally (once again), we’d like every eligible voter to have access to a ballot while preventing anyone from casting a fraudulent ballot—but we can’t guarantee both at the same time. If, for example, we left stacks of ballots on every street corner, in every shopping mall, in every mailbox, and available on-line through prominent links added to every website, we could pretty much guarantee universal access. We’d have zero control, however, over fraud.
On the flip side, we could also require multiple points of biometric validation coupled with individualized interrogations to ensure an absence of coercion and bribery as preconditions for casting a vote. If applied competently, those procedures could eliminate fraud entirely. They would also, however, deter the participation of many eligible voters.
Any election retaining any credibility must thus lie somewhere between these two extremes. Appropriate procedures must ensure that every eligible voter has a reasonable opportunity to cast a vote—but they must also incorporate reasonable verification requirements to deter fraud. That’s where the American electoral system has broken down—and why the 2020 election in particular lacked credibility.
Our public policy spigot is stuck in the “increase access” position.
The last time America acknowledged a crisis in our electoral system was the mid-20th c. Jim Crow laws had the intent and effect of disenfranchising almost all black citizens in the offending states. That crisis was clearly one of suppression, not of fraud. The solution to this suppression crisis was obvious: Increase access. The 24th Amendment (1964) and the Voting Rights Act (1965) dismantled the most offensive of those laws, rapidly reducing suppression and increasing access.
As happens all too often in public policy, however, the message got garbled. Rather than learning that the solution to a suppression crisis is increased access, far too many people concluded that it’s always great to increase access. We turned the spigot all the way towards “increased access,” and left it running for 55+ years.
This approach is beyond wrong; it’s absurd and offensive. There’s a reason that cars have both gas and brake pedal: Sometimes you want to speed up and sometimes you want to slow down. The same is true in elections: Sometimes you want to increase access and sometimes you want to decrease fraud. The suggestion—which President Biden has been promoting—that anything useful in reducing fraud is a recurrence of Jim Crow is like suggesting that putting your foot on the brake makes it impossible for you to reach your destination. Sure, if you never take your foot off the brake you’re not going anywhere—but if braking stops you from slamming into a truck, it’s a critical part of ensuring a successful journey.
In America today, there’s no serious case to be made that we face a suppression crisis. Yes, there will always be individual anecdotes of people wrongly denied the ballot. There will also be people for whom any required effort is a deterrent. But it’s deeply offensive to suggest that voting rights are infringed unless casting a vote is effortless.
America does, however, face a fraud crisis. Our voting procedures have gone so overboard towards access that they’ve eliminated almost every check that might prevent fraud. In 2020, those procedures placed as many as 90 million ballots in broad circulation, for weeks, with zero custodial oversight. Many states expanded the rules about who could handle, collect, complete, and submit ballots, while reducing validation requirements and adversarial observations during tabulation.
These undisputed actions all arose before election day. They arose whether or not any of the more exotic theories about fraudulent tabulations are ever proved. In fact, Time Magazine proudly trumpeted the steps that a “conspiracy” had taken to put them in place as a means of “fortifying” the election. Perhaps more to the point, the American civic leaders who participated in this conspiracy were so wedded to the goal of increased access that they considered their work as having touched upon “every aspect” of the election. It apparently never occurred to them that fraud prevention is also relevant.
Each step that they took to increase access simultaneously invited fraud. While that doesn’t necessarily mean that any fraud occurred, it emphatically created a high-stakes contest with few rules for participation, few procedures capable of detecting cheating, and minimal penalties for those caught cheating. In other words, a system designed to promote fraud could hardly have done better.
Unlike legality, which must be disproved, credibility must be proved.
At this point, it’s worth recalling that credibility is not a legal concept. No one has to prove anything to call a procedure’s credibility into question. It’s more than enough that common sense and life experience scream against trusting a process designed to encourage cheating. No rational being should place any credibility on the 2020 election.
Furthermore, it’s clear which side was responsible for more of the cheating. Democrats pushed hard for all of the procedural innovations, always championing the cause of increased access. In fact, the Time article clarified that today’s Democrats have deconstructed the term “election” to mean a process that maximizes the number of ballots collected. If that’s your goal, the nearly 160 million ballots collected in 2020 reflects an excellent effort—and any procedure capable of reducing fraud represents a step in the wrong direction.
What happened during the 2020 “election” is clear: Democratic operatives, along with some anti-Trump Republican factions, worked to maximize the number of ballots collected. They broadcast messages designed to increase “participation” and “turnout” with zero concern for fraud. Many Americans availed themselves of those procedures to cast legitimate votes. Many others availed themselves of these procedures to commit what was almost certainly massive fraud. There was never any reasonable prospect for detecting and eliminating all of this fraud without simultaneously purging valid ballots.
Worst of all, the total absence of credibility was evident long before the first ballot was tallied. Computer hacks, if they occurred, were mere gloss. Statistical anomalies in the ballot tallies merely demonstrate that the readily predictable occurred as predicted. Neither one sits at the core of the story.
Neither party wants to tell the true story of the 2020 Presidential election.
On Donald Trump’s watch—and despite Trump’s own warnings—the U.S. failed to hold anything that might reasonably resemble a free-and-fair election. Trump deployed an internally incoherent strategy of letting the sham go forward and counting on institutions he distrusted to reveal the truth. Not surprisingly, Trump’s strategy failed. Meanwhile, Biden’s team redefined “election” to lose all meaning, staged a bit of performance art designed to maximize the number of ballots collected, and declared the outcome legal. That strategy succeeded.
Biden won not because America’s voters wanted him to become President. That much remains both unknown and unknowable given the data. Biden won because his team deployed a superior strategy far better attuned to an “election” whose goal was maximizing ballots collected rather than measuring public sentiment.
As a result of his strategic victory, Joe Biden was legally inaugurated as the 46th President of the United States. Unlike his 45 predecessors, however, the country he was inaugurated to lead is neither a free society nor a constitutional republic, and its electoral procedures lack any plausible sense of credibility.
As I’ve written in great detail in The New Civil War and elsewhere, it won’t be easy to restore the American republic and the freedom of American society. If we don’t tackle election integrity, however, we’ll never again have a free and fair election—greatly complicating the broader challenge of an American restoration.
For more information about Bruce D. Abramson & American Restorationism, visit: www.BruceDAbramson.com
To learn more about how America’s elites destroyed the republic, see: The New Civil War: Exposing Elites, Fighting Utopian Leftism, and Restoring America (RealClear Publishing, 2021).
To learn more about the ideology driving today’s anti-American leftism, see: American Restoration: Winning America’s Second Civil War (Kindle, 2019).
There’s an entire literature describing what an optimal election might achieve, including Ken Arrow’s famous work showing that a combination of desirable effects cannot be achieved simultaneously. That literature raises a distinct-if-not-entirely-unrelated sense of optimality, of the sort relevant to discussions about ranked choice voting and other alternative voting systems. The present discussion focuses entirely on the definition of an ideal voter base.