Election Reformers as Entertainers?

Last week Paul Krugman had an interesting Economics editorial that by analogy can apply to some election reformers as well: Economists as Entertainers <read>

In general, I agree with Mr. Krugman when it comes to Economics.  Beyond that he has a skill making readable opinion pieces that make single points well, even if they are based on very detailed economic theory or analysis.  This article is a little different in subject, yet makes an important, useful point that applies widely, including to election reformers:

According to researchers in Britain, more than half of the health advice that Dr. Oz gives is either baseless (there’s no evidence for his claims) or wrong (there is evidence, and it contradicts what he says). Julia Belluz at Vox tells us not to be surprised: “He is, after all, in the business of entertainment,” she wrote recently.

But the thing is, there are a lot of Dr. Ozzes out there, including in areas you might not consider the entertainment business…

But I now also suspect that the personality traits you need to be an effective entertainer working with not-so-much-fun subjects like health or monetary policy are inherently at odds with the traits you need to be even halfway competent.

If Dr. Oz were the kind of guy who pores over medical evidence to be sure he knows what he’s talking about, he probably couldn’t project the persona that wins him such a large audience. Similarly, a hired-gun economist who actually knows how to download charts from economic databases probably wouldn’t have the kind of blithe certainty in right-wing dogma that his employers want.

How does this apply to election reformers?

It seems to me, in my experience, that many reformers are always rational and scientific in their approach to any issue, even though they may have biases.  We try hard at CTVotersCount, in posts, and in testimony, to provide honest, accurate and comprehensive information about election issues even when the evidence hurts our case.  (Hopefully, if there is enough evidence against our position we will change our position, if the weight of accumulated evidence points away from our past position.)

Yet, we run into others who frequently tout things that are unproven, untrue, and contrary to evidence.  For example:

  • Legislators and advocates that ignore the evidence of electronic vulnerability to claim that Internet voting is safe. Despite of the evidence of hacking of business and government; despite the opposition of security experts and computer scientists, including those at Homeland Security, National Institute of Standards and Technology, and Department of Defense studies; despite the fact that online banking is safe only because banks pay billions annual to reimburse for theft.
  • Advocates that claim that early voting will increase turnout, when it actually decreases turnout. (There are reasons to be for and against early voting, but turnout is not a reason to be for it.)
  • Advocates for Voter ID who claim, despite evidence to the contrary, that there is a lot of votER fraud.  Despite several witch hunts after every election, votER fraud is very very low.
  • Advocates for absentee/mail-in voting that claim that no votER fraud means that such voting is safe. They ignore and deny the actual evidence of frequent multiple-ballot votING fraud, that is accomplished by mail.
  • Advocates for the National Popular Vote Agreement that claim, for no reason, that fraud and suppression will not increase in all states, just as we have seen in some swing states, if we go to a popular vote without a uniform, enforceable voting system to match.
  • Advocates for the National Popular Vote Agreement who claim there could be a recount after a popular vote, when half of states have no recount law, all laws are based on close state votes – not close national votes, and that there is no body to declare and manage a nationwide recount.

Just some of the examples analogous to Paul Krugman’s Economic Entertainers.  Yet, we have a hard time calling them Entertainers.  Some are incompetent, some deluded, and others we might call advocates or lobbyists for hire.

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