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The Trump legal team’s latest voter fraud Hail Mary

A handful of congressional Republicans called on President Trump to produce evidence of widespread election fraud after Trump baselessly claimed he had won. (Video: The Washington Post)

Debunking President Trump’s and his allies’ myriad, baseless voter fraud allegations is basically a game of whack-a-mole at this point. They pop up repeatedly and haphazardly, but they’re rather easy to knock down, often with just a couple minutes and the Google machine. That’s both a good thing — in that this misinformation is eminently combatable — and a bad thing — because such specious theories are still being pursued, despite the carcasses of the many debunked predecessors failing to dissuade both their perpetrators and their adherents.

But few of these theories are as dubious as one that cropped up this weekend.

Appearing on the credulous airwaves of Maria Bartiromo’s Sunday morning Fox News show, Michael Flynn’s lawyer Sidney Powell lodged a novel theory: The fact that many voters voted for Joe Biden but not in other races is indicative of fraud.

“We have identified at least 450,000 ballots in the key states that miraculously only have a mark for Joe Biden on them, and no other candidate,” Powell said.

Here are the GOP and Trump campaign’s allegations of election irregularities. So far, none has been proved.

Bartiromo was intrigued.

“You have a list of numbers of ballots with only Joe Biden on the ticket,” Bartiromo said. “You say it’s 98,000 ballots in Pennsylvania, 80,000 to 90,000 in Georgia, another 42,000 in Arizona, 69,000-to 115,000 in Michigan and 62,000 in Wisconsin.”

The numbers reported by Bartiromo and Powell match the ones promoted on Twitter the day before by a former Breitbart News journalist.

“Sidney, if this is true, this appears systemic,” Bartiromo continued. “Where is the Department of Justice? Where is the [attorney general], William P. Barr? If this is so obvious, then why aren’t we seeing massive government investigation?”

Members of Trump’s campaign on Sunday amplified Powell’s theory on social media.

Indeed, if it was so obvious, it would be worth looking into. But it’s also obviously unremarkable.

Americans have a long and demonstrated history of voting for president and skipping all or much of the rest of the ballot. It’s a practice known as undervoting. And to the extent we can analyze the data from the 2020 election, it doesn’t appear in any way unique.

The 450,000 ballots identified as voting only for Biden are in five states. The total number of votes recorded in those states right now is about 24 million. That means less than 2 percent of people would have cast ballots for Biden and skipped the rest of the ballot.

A relevant comparison to past elections is when people vote for president but skip the other high-profile races on the ballot. In Georgia in 2016, for instance, the presidential race included more than 200,000 more votes than the state’s Senate race — nearly 5 percent of all voters in the state. In Florida, the gap was 120,000 votes. In Ohio, it was 122,000. It was also more than 110,000 in Pennsylvania. (Pennsylvania at the time also had straight-ticket voting, but has since eliminated it, which would logically lead to more undervotes.)

There is also routinely an even bigger imbalance further downballot, where the number of votes cast for House seats is 10 million or more fewer than for president, nationwide.

Just because people didn’t vote for Senate, of course, doesn’t mean they skipped the rest of the ballot, too. But to the extent people vote for president and decide to skip the other highest-profile race on the ballot, it’s telling.

And the number of people who vote for president but not for Senate and House is very likely significantly larger than even those numbers suggest. Another reality of our elections is that not only do some people vote only for president, but also some vote in the other races while skipping the presidential contest.

This was at issue following the 2000 election, after analysts probed Florida for evidence that people’s intended votes for president might not have properly recorded. One 2002 study from the World Bank and the University of Missouri at Kansas City found that, on average, more than 2 percent of ballots don’t include recorded votes for president. The Washington Post’s Philip Bump ran the numbers in 33 states and the District of Columbia and found that in 2012, 0.9 percent of all ballots cast didn’t include a vote for president. In 2016, it was 2 percent — perhaps reflective of the historically unpopular major-party nominees.

So even the gap between total votes for president and Senate in some of these states probably undersells how many people voted only for president. The smaller numbers of people who cast ballots for Senate in some of these states in 2016 could include a substantial number who skipped the presidential race, which would mean even more people casting ballots for president but not other races.

There are also major logical problems with this argument. Chief among them is that, if you’re going to commit such massive fraud, why would you stop at the presidential race? The Senate is, well, kind of important, and it’s looking likely to remain under GOP control. This theory would require that the fraudsters decided that only the presidential race was worth their time. (Perhaps it’s easier just to change one vote, the argument might go, but if you’re going to go to the trouble, maybe go for the gold?)

And in case you’re wondering how seriously Powell has considered her arguments, you need only look at what she said next. After making the above point and citing “a massive and coordinated effort to steal this election,” she pointed to a specific race.

“I think Doug Collins had the race stolen from him,” Powell said, referring to the Republican Georgia congressman who ran in the state’s multicandidate open special election for Senate.

But Collins failed to make the Georgia runoff not by 80,000 or 90,000 votes, but by about 300,000 — about six percentage points. And the candidate he failed to catch was not a Democrat but a Republican: appointed Sen. Kelly Loeffler. Collins finished more than 600,000 votes — about 13 percentage points — behind the Democrat, Raphael Warnock.

For Collins to have had the race stolen from him, it would have required either it to have been stolen from him by a Republican or with a minimum of more than 1 in 8 Georgia votes being fraudulent.

What’s more, Powell said this shortly after explicitly pointing to alleged fraud in which the fraudsters skipped the down-ballot races. It’s a complete non sequitur. For it to be true, there would have to have been multiple distinct massive fraud efforts combining to account for many hundreds of thousands of votes in one state alone.

It’s just not a serious or logically coherent allegation, and the fact that Powell included it would seem to say plenty about the rest of what she said.

Democrats on Nov. 8 criticized President Trump for not conceding to President-elect Joe Biden, while some Republicans defended challenges in the courts. (Video: The Washington Post)