Election Fraud and the Bigger Lie

By now, I thought we would have all moved on from this wearisome topic, but Donald Trump and his supporters are nowhere near giving up. Many who lean right seem to be sold on some form of 2020 election illegitimacy.

Last week, Breitbart posted Pollak: The Real ‘Big Lie’ Is That the 2020 Election Was Free and Fair. When it was brought to my attention, I had to respond.

A few things to clarify up front

There had to be some real fraud in the 2020 election. In my own state of Wisconsin, for example, an audit identified 27 possible cases of fraud out of 3 million votes. Assuming other states have similar or worse numbers, some of these cases will turn out to be real fraud. So, let’s clear some fog:

  • There was some fraud in the 2020 election.
  • Almost nobody disputes that!
  • The real question is this: Was there enough fraud and other misconduct in the 2020 election to render it illegitimate, “deeply corrupt,” not “free and fair,” etc.?

Pollak, and many others answer emphatically, yes. It’s supposed to be one of the things that separates real Republicans from RINOs and traitors. It shows which side you’re on, and there are only two choices: the right and the left. Us and Them.

But every chance I get, I encourage people to approach questions like these differently. How about not taking the side of the left or the right, but taking the side of reason and truth and letting that take you where it will? Let’s reject our cultural habit of doing IFF first and evaluating truthfulness later (if ever).

I want to respond to some of Pollak’s statements individually, but first, let’s get factual. There’s way too much opinion out there these days!

All the contested states certified their election results. Most conducted audits and investigations of one sort or another resulting only in minor adjustments to vote totals.

Miscellaneous other facts worth noting

  • The Heritage Foundation has a searchable database of fraud cases. Many grab that top number of “1,328 proven instances” without noticing that these have accumulated since 1979. The database lists 17 fraud convictions in “disposition year” 2020 and 13 for 2021. 2016 alone has 62, and 2011 has a whopping 126. I assume “disposition” is later than “date of vote,” so we don’t have meaningful numbers for the 2020 election cases yet. Still, so far, they’re on track to be about average or less.
  • The possibility that folks might want to cheat during an election didn’t just pop up here in the 21st century. Federal, state, and local authorities have been working to make cheating more difficult for at least 175 years, probably longer (haven’t found anything dated further back than 1845 yet).

Some point-by-point

Pollak is at least clear, so, points for that. His first paragraph:

Democrats and their media satraps are trying to censor anyone who supports what they call the “Big Lie” — the idea that the 2020 presidential election was stolen. But the real “Big Lie” is that the 2020 presidential election was free and fair.

First, the media. These remarks are, at best, distortions. What media are supposed to do is select sources, rejecting those that aren’t credible or that work against the goal of providing the public with good information.

They often fail to do this fairly and often don’t even try. The fact remains that when they filter out clearly counterfactual narratives, they’re doing their job. Nobody owes anybody a spotlight or a megaphone. This is not “censoring.”

Also, where are all the liberals, centrists, or even dissenting conservatives having their say on Breitbart?

Second, the stolen election story. It is, in fact, a Big Lie worthy of the name, and those who promote it deserve to be marginalized. They shouldn’t be “silenced,” but the idea should not be respected as a valid opinion.

Here we run into a major cause of confusion. Many Americans don’t know how to distinguish between fact and opinion. It’s fair to say that the difference isn’t always clear, but frequently—as in this case—it is.

  • If anyone who honestly tries can verify it, it’s a fact.
  • If people who have nothing to gain, and even people who have a lot to lose, accept it as true, there’s a good chance it’s a fact.
  • If it’s only denied by people with strong incentives to deny it, it’s probably a fact.

Those spreading the lie should be marginalized, especially by conservatives. It’s neither “a matter of opinion” nor a harmless notion. It goes against overwhelming evidence and works to weaken confidence in our electoral system. That loss of confidence can only breed future political violence.

Frustration over the perceived illegitimacy of the 2020 election led to the January 6 demonstrations and also motivated the subset of demonstrators who engaged in property damage and violence.

Third, “free and fair” as the bigger lie. Even if it were a lie, “free and fair” is dwarfed by the lie that “the election was stolen,” from the lips of a defeated president who is supposed to be relinquishing his power and legitimizing his successor.

Which lie is “bigger”?

The “lie” that the election was free and fair

The lie that the election was stolen

Encourages acceptance of illegal or unethical behavior that prevented voters from exercising their rights.

Encourages belief that our electoral system is broken and rights must be defended by other means.

Promoted by judges, media, and politicians at various levels.

Promoted by media, various politicians, and a President of the United States.

Results in victims accepting leaders as legitimate even though they really aren’t.

Results in victims refusing to accept leaders as legitimate, though they really are.

Impacts the future by potentially allowing misconduct to increase.

Impacts the future by potentially ending peaceful transitions of power entirely.

Overlooks cases of media unfairness and election worker misconduct and/or fraud.

Overlooks numerous court rulings, decisions by legally authorized county and state officials, and the results of numerous audits.

Trump’s lie is far bigger because of the quality and quantity of evidence it rejects, the potential damage, and who is telling it.

“We should not do what Democrats did after 2016, and spend four years chasing conspiracy theories.”

Is he unaware of the irony here? There was some Democrat silliness after 2016. There was some investigation of entirely plausible potential crimes by the President. That’s not “chasing conspiracy theories.” In 2020 and 21 we have most of the Republican base, nearly all of the right wing punditry and news media, numerous congressmen and senators, and the former president himself defining themselves by conspiracy theories. But I agree with Pollak on this point: “we should not.”

“As I wrote in my ebook, Neither Free nor Fair: The 2020 U.S. Presidential Election …”

He’s selling something. That’s a clue.

“Voters were denied the ‘absolute’ right to a secret ballot [through flawed vote-by-mail systems].”

The mail-in vote issues have been greatly exaggerated. Some states made quick changes in order to try to enable voters to participate in the midst of quarantine, and some of the results were messy. But which is worse, “flawed vote-by-mail systems” or no ability to vote at all?

“American voters knew, as they went to the polls, that the left would not accept Trump’s re-election peacefully. Left-wing radicals posted online plans to ‘disrupt’ the country in the event that Trump claimed to have won a close election.”

What voters knew, if they were paying attention at all, was that a few “left-wing radicals” talked about resistance while a sitting President spread the narrative for months that, if he lost, it was going to be due to cheating and unreliable mail-in voting.

So, yes, some on the left were afraid he would try to steal the election and said some extreme things. They must feel pretty vindicated now, since Trump actually did attempt to steal the election after he lost!

“The 2020 presidential election was deeply corrupt.”

Again, numerous audits, investigations, and court cases—many decided by Trump-appointed judges—say otherwise.

So far, all the hard evidence indicates that the 2020 election was about as free and fair as elections in the U.S. ever are—which is pretty free and fair! The claim that Donald Trump was robbed of victory through fraud is a deceit worthy of the term The Big Lie, and “free and fair” isn’t a lie at all.

For further reading

I recommend the well sourced and well-reasoned work of the factchecking crew at The Dispatch. A sample of relevant Fact Checks:

915 reads

There are 9 Comments

Bert Perry's picture

Aaron, I don't believe that an ex post facto survey could prove the things that are claimed because quite frankly, after the votes and recounts are done, the paper trail to any particular ballot is deliberately obscured to keep a secret ballot.

That said, when we're talking about only 1300 or so convictions, I simultaneously remember times where independent auditors have found hundreds or thousands of apparently impermissible votes in a single election in a single state--things like known felons voting, known non-citizens voting, and the like.  And hence it at least gives the strong indication that the reason we have 1300 instead of tens of thousands of convictions for illegal voting because prosecutors aren't taking up the cases.

And thus the logic becomes "well, we didn't look for problems, therefore we don't find problems, therefore there is no problem"--nice tautology, but I don't know that it proves anything.

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

Ken Brown's picture


Thank you for providing this helpful compendium of resources to refute the baseless claims of widespread voter fraud.  I will be directing people to your work on this.  Still, if folks take the approach, as many do, that "I can't prove widespread fraud, but I know it happened", then unfortunately no amount of sound reasoning and established fact will change their minds.  I'm not surprised that worldings think that way, but I'm grieved that so many Christians do.  My concern is not primarily political, but spiritual.  Conspiratorial thinking that cannot be changed by logic and facts harms Gospel credibility.

Keep up the good work. 

Dan Miller's picture

I see no reason to be confident either way as to whether the 2020 election was legitimate. My perspective is:

1. There should absolutely be voter ID. If you can't be bothered to get an ID, then you shouldn't be voting.

2. I do not know if the election was fair (with a basically correct count) or unfair (with deliberate and election changing cheating).

3. We should all hope that it was unfair. That is, I shutter to think that the majority of our electorate was stupid enough to have chosen Biden. That's pathetic that we are at this point as a nation.

4. Since this election the liberals have been pushing hard for the type of things that will prevent legitimate elections in the next one. Obviously both sides want voter laws that help their side win. But the liberals seem to know that no voter ID, etc. will help them.

Bert Perry's picture

Especially his point #1.  If you don't have an official ID (drivers' license or state ID card, the latter are often free), you cannot get a decent job, you cannot contract credit, you cannot purchase a home or rent an apartment , you cannot get medical insurance....unless you're on government aid or earning your livelihood through crime.

Why, precisely, would we want to allow people who are so disengaged from our society (or acting against its interests) to vote? 

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

Aaron Blumer's picture


One of the thoughts I wrestled with as I was writing this, but that didn't make it into the post, is that one reason people are seeing the situation so differently is because of what's happening upstream. What I mean by upstream is deciding how to decide. So we have differences in what we've decided happened or didn't happen or might have happened, but I think we've also got differences in how we've decided to decide.

In my own case I've decided that I'm going to be as evidence-based as possible. In practical terms, that means if there isn't high quality evidence, I'm pretty confident it didn't happen.

But many are coming at this from a very different angle to begin with. They decided ahead of time that there was going to be a lot of cheating and fraud and so forth, and that the left was going to find a way to rip the election away from the rightful winner. So with that as a starting point, absence of evidence isn't persuasive. They want proof that this fraud didn't happen. But I want proof that it did. 

So what I'm saying is that we're starting in different places and approaching a conclusion from different directions. It wouldn't be fair to say opposite directions, because I never thought Republicans were going to engage in large amounts of voter fraud in order to steal the election either. It's just really not that easy to do.

So the different direction I'm coming from is a point that I think is just better informed about how elections work and the general difficulty of doing anything massive at all one way or the other.

It's clear to me that there is not really much ambiguity in the situation. It's not like all the election officials who are Democrats were in favor of certifying and all the Republicans were against it. It's not like all county and state level Republicans believe there was cheating and all Democrats believe there wasn't. The pattern is more like the more focused a Republican official is on national politics the more he or she leans toward fraud stories, but the more focused the official is on local concerns the less likely they are to believe that very much fraud happened.

To me that's very significant.

Part of my starting point is the conviction that the people closest to where the work gets done are the ones with the most realistic view of the scale of things when it comes to fraud.

And of course I have to answer Dan's point number three... If voters had actually had a better alternative to Biden, the point would be valid. As it was, not so much.

Oh, and plus one for voter ID also. I'm all for that. 

Views expressed are always my own and not my employer's, my church's, my family's, my neighbors', or my pets'. The house plants have authorized me to speak for them, however, and they always agree with me.

G. N. Barkman's picture

I believe Aaron is correct in this evaluation.  I wish I could be as sanguine as he is about assuming elections are fair unless fraud can be proved (as opposed to demanding fairness be proved).  As he says, this is an assumption, and all things being equal, a good assumption.  But are all things equal?

What continues to bother me is that nearly all the "innocent mistakes" which are unavoidable in any election with more than 150 million voters, seem to favor of Democrats.  I've raised this issue before, and nobody has given a satisfactory answer.  If the mistakes are truly innocent, half should favor Republicans, and half Democrats.  If the mistakes nearly always favor Democrats, it looks like somebody is cheating.  If that is true (an assumption based upon the above observation), we have no way of knowing how much success the Left had in undetected cheating, either because it occurred in precincts where election officials are all Democrats, or is impossible to trace once the ballots are cast.  I believe this fuels wide-spread suspicion.  Add the observation that it is Democrats who consistently oppose efforts to eliminate opportunities to cheat like voter ID and vote harvesting.  Why this animus against anti-fraud measures?  Until nearly air-tight controls are implemented, suspicions regarding stolen elections will continue.  To some, it appears that Conservatives have to win by several points to be guaranteed enough votes to overcome cheating which tips the scales in close elections in favor of Liberals.

G. N. Barkman

Paul J. Scharf's picture

Personally, I claim no expertise on elections.

I have neither the time nor the interest in trying to discern what happened in November.

Furthermore, even if there were "absolute proof" that the election was stolen, I do not foresee that anything would be done about it. 

That being said, I think that any honest person would have to admit that this election cycle had numerous bizarre elements and twists and turns.

Also, I will feel much more confident that Wisconsin's elections are "free and fair" the next time this does not happen in a statewide contesthttps://www.jsonline.com/story/news/2020/11/04/play-play-wild-overnight-...

Church Ministries Representative, serving in the Midwest, for The Friends of Israel Gospel Ministry 

dgszweda's picture


I would say that much of the different views that people had were based on the importance they placed on certain elements.  For example, many people viewed the fact that a state had a large portion of votes going toward Trump and then overnight it switch to Biden.  So those individuals placed a lot of importance on the fact that this sounds "fishy".  It further played into their suspicion.

Aaron Blumer's picture


Paul J. Scharf wrote:

Personally, I claim no expertise on elections.

...Also, I will feel much more confident that Wisconsin's elections are "free and fair" the next time this does not happen in a statewide contesthttps://www.jsonline.com/story/news/2020/11/04/play-play-wild-overnight-...

I think every American should find out how elections work in their state... though it's similar in all of them, best I can tell. I'm not saying every detail of how they work, but a basic outline. (Here's a very basic one for Wis.: https://myvote.wi.gov/en-us/How-Your-Vote-Gets-Counted)

In the case of Wisconsin, the state senator for our area (Republican) was formerly (and maybe currently?) chair of the Assembly Elections and Campaigns Committee. Her take on election integrity in Wis. was very helpful to me in the early weeks after election day. While she would not denounce the stolen election story (to my disappointment), she seemed indignant at the idea that there was widespread fraud in Wis. She's worked in elections for a lot of years and put a lot of work into it. Later, as things got more and more politicized in the national sense, she was batting more for reform in Wisconsin. But in her letters to constituents it was never clear to me if she wanted reform to stop fraud or wanted reform to stop false allegations of fraud.

Either way, tightening the ship is a good idea, and I have not doubt that progress will continue... though the legislature in Wis. seems a bit extreme in some of what it seems to be trying to do at the moment. I don't know what Evers will sign or what they can mange a veto-override for.

dgszweda wrote:


I would say that much of the different views that people had were based on the importance they placed on certain elements.  For example, many people viewed the fact that a state had a large portion of votes going toward Trump and then overnight it switch to Biden.  So those individuals placed a lot of importance on the fact that this sounds "fishy".  It further played into their suspicion.

Part of Trump's strategy seems to have been to claim victory early so that when all the absentee and other mail ballots got counted later (which always takes longer) it would look like he was robbed. But whether this was calculated or not, it was the effect. By badmouthing mail in votes months, he ensured that his own supporters would overwhelmingly vote in person rather than by mail. So, of course, he had a lead early in many areas then lost that lead when his non-supporters' overwhelmingly mail-in votes were tallied.

It's not evidence of anything sinister. It's just common sense... and long-known fact as far as the slowness of mail-vote tabulations piece is concerned.

Two things absolutely no one should see as evidence of shenanigans:

  • The later mailed vote tallies swinging away from Trump (for reasons already explained: intentionally or not, he ensured that this would happen)
  • That a very large number of unprovable reports of fraud/misconduct poured in during and after election day

About that second bullet, Trump and his supporters worked for months to ensure that people sympathetic to him would expect there to be cheating. Then, as soon as things looked iffy/like he was losing, he used his position as President to call for reports of fraud. There was no way that was going to have any result other than an huge flood of reports and tips from his many passionate fans.

It would have really been weird if there was not a huge number of reports/rumors/stories/affadavits after the propaganda campaign and public appeal for them. People just aren't like that... anywhere on the political spectrum.

Views expressed are always my own and not my employer's, my church's, my family's, my neighbors', or my pets'. The house plants have authorized me to speak for them, however, and they always agree with me.

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