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Fri Dec 16, 2016, 03:37 PM

Dr. Krugman, the Russians are convenient, but not the only explanation.

Dear Dr. Krugman:

In your column in today's Times (12/16/16), you explain why you think the Russians hacked the 2016 election. You ask rhetorically: "Does anyone really doubt that [the steady drumbeat of Russian contrived leaks, and the last-minute intervention of the F.B.I.] moved swing-state ballots by at least 1 percent?"

Yes, Dr. Krugman, I really doubt that for two reasons. First, are not-quite-decided voters concentrated in swing states? Are there more easily swayed voters in electorally important states than red and blue states? What the announced election outcome looks like is a precise shift of just enough votes in swing states to move the election from one candidate to the other. Assuming, as I do, that for a good programmer it's easy to interfere with our vote counting equipment, it is the simpler explanation to suspect that vote tampering happened that that 80,000 wooly-headed voters changed their minds at the last minute in swing states, thus evading all the pre-election polls and the exit polls. No doubt Wiwileaked fluff is of great interest to the pundit class and the press, but I doubt it made that much impression on voters who: a) want to see Hillary Clinton arrested or b) find Donald Trump deplorable. If these email innuendos convinced voters to switch candidates, why was the effect so small, and so strategically located?

The second reason I doubt that Russian influence changed the election outcome is that this is not the first time American elections have seen "enormous changes at the last minute." Florida in 2000 was crucial to George W. Bush's election and Ohio in 2004 for his re-election. Vote tampering is not a new phenomenon in American politics, since the days of Tammany Hall and Mayor Daley's Machine. The electronic theft of elections is possible, according to the statisticians, programmers, and election integrity activists who have looked into the matter since 2000. I have no idea who has been tampering with our elections, but it seems reasonable to suppose that it would be easier to do from an American keyboard than a Russian one. I do not have proof of exactly who has been tampering, but it does seem unlikely that the Democratic Party would vigorously raise money to run a presidential candidate for a year in order to hand the election to his or her opponent. Election tampering would give you much greater control over the outcome than simply trying to influence voters, especially since the late email revelations had the excitement and substance of unbuttered popcorn. As long as you despise the voting public, i.e., democracy, election theft is the way to go.

It seems time for the NYTimes to consider election theft as a real possibility, rather than a wild conspiracy theory. As a theory, it explains more than the Russian influence, which is so hard to pin down. It explains why all the polls, pre-election and exit, were wrong. Perhaps there is actual science behind polling in general, and statistically sound prediction in particular. Perhaps if we could bring ourselves to accept polls as real science, especially since we spend increasing amounts of time before elections discussing their findings, we would be forced to the conclusion that someone might have taken a shortcut to election victory. If major journalistic voices are going to take this seriously, now would be the time, before we inaugurate someone we cannot prove was elected.

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