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Election Observations (Gwen Moritz Editor’s Note)

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As we go to press on Thursday, the most likely outcome of last week’s election seems to be Joe Biden elected president by a narrower margin than pollsters had predicted, and continued Republican control of the U.S. Senate and Democratic control of the House. I have traditionally been a fan of divided government, and while I remain disgusted by what the past five years have taught me about the Republican Party’s true nature, I much prefer having Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell obstruct President Biden than enable President Trump.

The stock market doesn’t seem to mind that prospect, either. With the Senate in GOP hands, the 2017 tax cuts that sent billions of dollars to the corporate bottom line will undoubtedly be secure for a couple more years, even as Republicans rediscover their concern about the national debt that was forgotten for four years. (Remember: Congress was planning to borrow $1 trillion in the 2020 fiscal year, even before the pandemic required borrowing $2 trillion more.)

What does the election mean for health care since the future of the Affordable Care Act is on the U.S. Supreme Court’s docket this week? I don’t know. Is it even conceivable that McConnell and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi could come to a compromise on improving or replacing Obamacare, regardless of which president would then need to sign it?

This could change by the time you read this column, but so far the election seems to have proceeded with relatively few problems. Foreign election observers from the Organization for Security & Cooperation in Europe, monitoring their ninth U.S. election since 2002, found no systemic problems that should lead us to doubt the validity of the outcome, even as the outcome was still undetermined.

Of course, President Trump said the opposite, suggesting on Thursday that “illegal and late votes” were being used to “steal the election.” The fact that it is now perfectly predictable that the incumbent president of the United States would undermine the integrity of our elections is disheartening, but commentator Noah Rothman may be right: By spending months complaining about impending voter fraud, without evidence, “he was conditioning us to underreact to his claims of fraud, because they were inevitable. Not a clarion call. Just another weird tweet.”

The genius of our elections is their decentralization. They are conducted at the county level, by local officials answerable to local voters and depended upon by local candidates. Systemic corruption would require the kind of vast conspiracy that makes a conspiracy exceptionally unlikely to succeed.

Last month, the conservative nonprofit Judicial Watch warned ominously that it had found 353 counties in 29 states with voter registration rates exceeding 100% of the voting-age population. Combined, the study concluded that there were perhaps 1.8 million “ghost” voters — very scary indeed.

Except, of course, they are not really voters. They are just registrations that have not been purged when people died or moved. Assuming every statistic in the study was correct, most of the counties flagged had registered voters of 100% to 103% of the eligible population.

And the worst ratios were in the smallest counties. Loving County, Texas, had an estimated 187% as many registered voters as the voting-age population. But the population of Loving County was estimated at 134 as of 2017. The next worst was in Harding County, New Mexico, where the ratio was 177% and the total population is about 625.

For some reason, Judicial Watch did not provide this kind of context.

The only example of “ghost voters” that Judicial Watch found in Arkansas was in Newton County. There the study found the number of registered voters was 103% of the voting-age population. As seems to be the pattern, this is a county that has been losing population.

The Arkansas secretary of state shows Newton County to have 6,582 registered voters, and 4,013 ballots were in last week’s election. In other words, the ghosts didn’t materialize.

I did have a rough night on Tuesday, mainly because the polling professionals once again let me down. I was prepared for the deluge of mail-in ballots — a completely rational response to the continuing pandemic — would make vote-counting take longer, especially in Michigan and Pennsylvania, where Republican legislators refused to allow the counting to begin before Election Day. But I was expecting another “blue wave,” a la 2018, that didn’t materialize.

I foolishly believed that the pollsters who missed the strength of Trump’s appeal in 2016 had fixed their blind spots. I won’t make that mistake again.

Gwen Moritz is the editor of Arkansas Business.
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