President Trump has been promoting wild conspiracy theories about election fraud since 2016. Like so many of his outrages, this has numbed the public and caused the absurdity to recede into the background of events. It is therefore easy to miss the fact that the conspiracy theory Trump has begun circulating over the last several days is vastly crazier than the ones he used to promote. It’s as if, Spaceship Trump, last seen leaving Earth for the moon, it has now reached distant galaxies.
Trump’s old election conspiracy theory centered on mail balloting, which he deemed rife with fraud, unless it was being done by Republicans. His new theory is that the election was stolen because a left-wing software firm connected to Hugo Chavez and George Soros maliciously stole hundreds of thousands of votes in the middle of the night. Trump has been spreading the claim on Twitter the last several days:
Trump “has become personally obsessed with the baseless Dominion claims and has asked campaign officials as well as national security officials in the government about the company,” reports the Washington Post.
Rudy Giuliani, who Trump has entrusted with running his election challenge operation, explained the theory this weekend on Fox News. I am quoting the entire explanation because it is intricate, sweeping, and utterly, utterly bonkers:
“It’s way beyond what people think, including a very, very dangerous foreign company that did the votes in 27 states, a company that’s not American, a company that’s foreign, a company that has close, close ties with Venezuela and, therefore, China and uses a Venezuelan company software that’s been used to steal elections in other countries.”
“I mean, I don’t think people have any idea of the dimension of the national security problem that Dominion creates. This Dominion company is a radical-left company. One of the people there is a big supporter of antifa and has written horrible things about the president for the last three or four years. And, the software that they use is done by a company called Smartmatic, a company that was founded by [Hugo] Chávez and by Chávez’s two allies, who still own it. And it’s been used to cheat in elections in South America. It was banned by the United States several — about a decade ago. It’s come back now as a subcontractor to other companies. It sort of hides in the weeds. But Dominion sends everything to Smartmatic. Can you believe it? Our votes are sent overseas. They are sent to someplace else, some other country. Why do they leave our country?”
“And this company had — and this company has tried-and-true methods for fixing elections by calling a halt to the voting when you’re running too far behind. They have done that in prior elections. Now, what happened on election night? He [Trump] was ahead by 800,000 votes in Pennsylvania. Impossible to catch up, unless you’re cheating, and same thing in Michigan, Wisconsin. He was ahead in all those states by numbers that, in prior times — and I can show this to you — networks would have called for him. But they didn’t call it for him.”
Now, you don’t need to familiarize yourself with every detail in this story to understand that the general contours are completely implausible.
First, the “mystery” Giuliani purports to solve — that Trump took the lead in several states on Election Night, only for subsequent voting to thrust Biden ahead of him — is not a mystery at all. As voting experts have explained for months, Republicans voted primarily on Election Day, while Democrats were voting disproportionately by mail. States like Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin tabulated Election Day ballots first. Republicans in those states refused to allow early tabulation of mail-in voting, precisely because Trump wanted to seize the early voting lead so that he could discredit the election. Trump’s initial “lead” is not a mystery at all. It’s exactly what the experts forecast and exactly what his Republican allies engineered.
Second, while it is possible to hack an individual ballot machine, it is not possible to hack the voting totals en masse. The Department of Homeland Security has a rumor control site debunking various conspiracy theories, mainly promoted by the president and his allies, which explains that ballot tabulation is simply not vulnerable to this kind of hacking:
State processes include robust chain-of-custody procedures, auditable logs, and canvass processes. The vast majority of votes cast in this election will be cast on paper ballots or using machines that produce a paper audit trail, which allow for tabulation audits to be conducted from the paper record in the event any issues emerge with the voting system software, audit logs, or tabulation. These canvass and certification procedures are also generally conducted in the public eye, as political party representatives and other observers are typically allowed to be present, to add an additional layer of verification. This means voting system software is not a single point of failure and such systems are subject to multiple audits to ensure accuracy and reliability. For example, some counties conduct multiple audits, including a post-election logic and accuracy test of the voting system, and a bipartisan hand count of paper ballots.
Third, Giuliani is arguing not only that ballot machines in numerous states were hacked, but that the software is designed to manipulate totals. And this software was created by an international conspiracy including George Soros, the Chinese Communist Party, and Hugo Chavez (who died in 2013). Glenn Kessler slogs through Giuliani’s six-degrees-of-Kevin-Bacon conspiracy web — in short, he is stringing together a combination of tenuous associations (Person X once served on a corporate board with a partner of Person Y) and completely imaginary ones.
But the key facet to this claim is that Dominion software is not just vulnerable to mass hacking but designed to engineer it. What you have to ask yourself is, why have 27 states, many of them controlled by Republicans, turned their elections over to a communist-controlled software program designed to manufacture Democratic votes? And one that, according to Giuliani, has been engaged in a systematic international vote fraud scheme for the better part of two decades? For that matter, if the Chavista-China-Soros conspiracy is able to manipulate voting totals through its Dominion software, why didn’t they produce the handful of votes they needed to stop Donald Trump in 2016? Or, for that matter, to throw a few more Senate races the Democrats way?
It’s worth recalling that, just a few weeks ago, Giuliani allegations of serious misconduct by Joe Biden that large segments of the commentariat deemed substantive enough to demand reporters cover respectfully. Now he is raving about a secret communist computer program to control the U.S. government. And he has been deputized to make this claim on behalf of the man who is, for the next two months, the president of the United States.
This post has been updated.