The Briefing, Albert Mohler

Wednesday, November 9, 2022

It’s Wednesday, November 9th, 2022.

I’m Albert Mohler, and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from the Christian worldview.

Part I

So, Do Voting Patterns Change with the Weather? You Probably Guessed that Political Strategists Have an Answer for That

Well, yesterday was election day in the United States, and the poll results are still coming in. Some trends are clear, others are not. But the big issue is that I want to be responsible by not moving towards the discussion of those results until we have enough to have a really good idea that we have the shape of the meaning of the election. There will be some questions that may be open for a matter of days, sad to say. And one of the things we’re going to be looking at is the matter of election integrity and how greater confidence could be built into our system. There’s going to be a lot to talk about there. But in the meantime, we are simply going to look at the meaning of the election with what is known. And that’s not so much from voting or ballot results, but rather from even the conversation going into the election and what did take place on election day.

Here’s a big issue and one you might not have tied to the results of an election. What about the weather? What about rain? If you are a political consultant or a candidate, and especially if you’ve been at this for a long time, you’re well established in the business, you know that weather is a consideration. And as you’re looking at the vote, you need to recognize that it’s not always predictable exactly how weather might play into the equation.

So for instance, if there is a heavy rain in one congressional district during election day, does it help the incumbent? Does it help the Republican? Does it help the Democrat? Well, that all depends because in certain areas, a large turnout would favor the conservative or the incumbent or the Republican. But in another situation that large turnout might be to the advantage of the other party or the other political position. Or for that matter, not the incumbent but the challenger. How do you know? Well, if you are in the business of politics, remember that politics in terms of elections does come down to numbers and somebody is going to have numbers to put to the argument.

Now, for example, with the anticipation that at least some regions of the country might be affected by rain on election day, the New York Times ran an article on election day with a headline asking the question, “Does rain affect turnout on election day?” The answer is, “Cloudy.” And that’s to say it’s not exactly certain, but nonetheless, they still have numbers to put to it.

Yusaku Horiuchi, identified as a Dartmouth College professor of government and a co-author of a 2017 paper showing how weather affects election turnout and choices said, “When the weather is bad, then that actually means the social and maybe the psychological cost of going to the polling station goes up.” We are told that this professor is the co-author of that 2017 paper. “Mr. Horiuchi’s paper was one of many that used county level weather data and voting files to measure the impact of precipitation in elections. The consensus is that one inch of rainfall above the normal rain for the day can decrease voter turnout up to 1%. An inch of snow can decrease turnout by less than half a percent.” Now, do I believe that’s right or wrong? I have no argument to the contrary. I don’t know if it’s right or wrong, but I do think it’s extremely interesting that somebody has already put it to math.

Another researcher, by the way, indicated that he had been stopped by polling officials when he began to ask persons who were voting on a rainy day why they had decided to do so. He was told to stop asking the question. This researcher said to the Times, “I didn’t ask how they’re going to vote. I just said, ‘Why are you here on a rainy day?'” And of course, the only correct answer to that is simply, “I’m here to vote.”

Part II

The Greater the Opportunity for Mischief, The Greater Likelihood Mischief Might Happen and Suspicions Will Rise: On Preserving the Integrity of Voting (and Counting Votes) on Election Day

But now I want to turn to the larger issue of integrity and voting because that has been so much a matter of controversy. If indeed we are a system, as often referred to as democratic, and that means that in the great scheme of things, it’s not undemocratic. It means the people and the consent of the people are what is to be translated into the authority of government. And as you think about that, you understand that if you are going to make elections central to that process, then those elections must be credible. They should be, to use the language that you hear commonly, free and fair elections, honest elections. Integrity is of utmost importance. So much controversy about that.

And that controversy, by the way, doesn’t just go to the rather viral levels of the 2020 presidential election. It actually is something that has a fairly long, if troubling pedigree, in American politics. And that gets to something else, and that is the human beings have an instinct to trust what can be seen, what can be experienced, what can be basically trusted as taking place if controversial in a fairly short amount of time.

Now, that’s to say something that it’s just a moral truism. The more time you give as an opportunity for mischief, the greater is the opportunity that mischief will happen. And so it’s for that reason that America’s electoral tradition has often and indeed almost always come down to something like election day. And even as you’re looking at that, you recognize that that doesn’t mean that coast to coast people knew the results of elections, and that includes even presidential elections that often did take time. And one of the reasons it took time is because there was no modern method of communication. And so as you’re looking at the early major elections in the United States, it took some time for the votes to be tabulated, it took some time for the word to get out.

It has often been suggested that the first national or presidential election to be basically telegraphed across the entire country at the same time was the 1860 election of Abraham Lincoln to his first term as president of the United States. Why that election? It is because by that time there were telegraph cables or there were train networks that were able rather quickly to get the word from the east coast all the way to the west coast. And yes, that did make a decisive difference.

Even as you look at our constitutional system for, say electing a president of the United States, it is not an instantaneous process. For one thing, we have the electoral college, the electors of the college are actually elected in the national presidential election. They have to gather. They gather in Washington DC, they cast their votes. And we saw that of course play out very much on a national stage. It happens every presidential election cycle, but with particular controversy of course in the 2020 cycle.

But in the Maine, over the course of the last century or so, the big expectation has been that the election comes down to election day. And that has meant in the Maine that Americans have gone to polling places. They have stood in line along with fellow citizens. They have gone to local electoral sites where they are assigned to vote, where they are registered to vote, and there they cast their votes sometimes by writing on paper, sometimes through a mechanical system more recently with digital technology.

But the digital technology was promised to deliver votes even faster results, even more speedily and with even more accuracy. The problem is that in recent years, we’ve actually gotten worse at this as a nation rather than better. Now, the first thing we need to say is that some of this is no one’s fault. In more recent years, particularly in the 2020 election, it was at least partly the fault of a virus.

Several states have been experimenting with mail in ballots or expanded absentee balloting, or for that matter other forms of digital balloting. But that just underlines the fact that it is the states that are assigned to the responsibility by the constitution to manage the elections. And thus, state election laws have a very great deal to do, indeed almost everything to do in one sense, with how votes are actually placed and how they are tabulated, how they are recorded. You have local election officials. Mostly you also have in most jurisdictions a county clerk. You have others who have this responsibility, sometimes a supervisor of elections. And furthermore, it is the state government that bears the responsibility to establish the laws that set how the elections are to take place state by state.

Now, there is a good constitutional protection in the fact that we are looking not at a federal system of elections, but at the states. One of the protections there is something we need to think about. And that is that if you centralize authority or you centralize the mechanism for voting, ask yourself the question, do you increase or decrease the opportunity for distortion or for fraud or for some kind of criminal activity? And the answer is, you are likely to lower that risk of evil behavior, so to speak, if you distribute the responsibility rather than concentrate it. That’s the reason why a distributed constitutional form of government is less likely to concentrate evil than say a dictatorship or a totalitarian form of government.

It’s one of the reasons why you don’t want one banker counting all the money alone in a room. You want several people in the room counting the money together. You want several signatures or sets of initials on the form. And that’s just a matter of human nature. This is something that the Christian worldview affirms. You don’t want to put more responsibility in the hands of fewer people when the integrity of something like an election is actually better served by putting more authority in the hands of a greater number of people.

Part III

Another Casualty of COVID? The Weakening of American Confidence in the Political Process in a Post-Pandemic World?

But I want to go back to election day because that tradition in the United States has helped to build confidence in elections because Americans go to the polls together. They can see each other at the polls. They can see how the voting is taking place. They can have a pretty good idea, at least in our local precinct, at least in our own local voting place, there have been a lot of voters out today.

I can see a lot of cars in the parking lot. I can see a lot of Americans lined up in this electoral process. There’s just a certain amount of confidence that is put into the system by the fact that Americans go to vote and they know that at some point when the polls close state by state, jurisdiction by jurisdiction, the counting is going to be well underway by people who should be trusted to be able to conduct the count. And the count’s going to be called into the state and the state is going to report it to the media and to the national government. And thus, over a course of hours, there should be a pretty good idea of how Americans state by state, district by district, even location by location have voted. What is the signal voters have sent? Who will be representing us in offices high and low?

Now, I pointed to the virus, the COVID-19 virus, the Coronavirus of course, as one of the culprits behind the modern confusion because in the situation of the COVID-,19 pandemic electoral officials state by state had to come up with and sometimes to improvise how voters would have the opportunity to vote, most importantly, in the 2020 electoral process. And remember that in most states, that included a primary election. And then later of course, the state supervised participation in the national election. And that meant that in some states, ballots were simply mailed to all registered voters. In other states you had drop-off boxes, you had mail-in ballots. You had all kinds of mechanisms put into place.

And the reality is, Americans, many Americans said, “We like this process and thus we want to continue this process.” And thus there is also a political dimension to this district by district, state by state, party by party there were people who said, “Look, we think this is to our advantage or this is to our disadvantage.” But the point is this, the more abstract the process of voting becomes, the more days or even weeks that are involved in voting, well, you have a greater risk that there will be a loss of confidence in the integrity of the voting system and in the signal that voters are sending. Voters want the satisfaction of knowing soon after election day, how exactly did we vote? Who will lead us? Who is going to sit in Congress? What does this mean?

But this gets to something else, which is the realization that there’s no particular reason why those alternative forms of voting should lead to a greater difficulty in tabulating the vote. And so you have several states that have taken the step of saying, “Look, you can send in those ballots beginning on this date” and then there will be what is sometimes known as pre canvassing or early canvassing. And what that means is not even in all cases that the votes are counted then, but that the ballots are verified, that sometimes the envelopes are opened, the ballots are stacked, or in some similar process, everything is made ready so that the votes that were cast by these alternative means can be counted at the very same time as the votes that are tabulated on election day. And that means that in some states, you’re going to have results from all kinds of different forms of voting that are nonetheless going to come out pretty much as they would have soon after, if not in the evening of election day.

But then you have some other states. And Pennsylvania right now is in the bullseye of this situation. In the state of Pennsylvania, the state law is that nothing can be done with those mailed in ballots until the polls close on election day. And that means that in Pennsylvania, it might be a long time before we have any real knowledge of how the electoral results are going to turn out.

Now, I just want to say it’s a matter of moral reflection that that is not a good sign of a strengthening process of an electoral democracy. That is a sign of a problem. If citizens grow increasingly frustrated that the electoral results are taking so long to come in, you also have something else. And that is the opportunity for citizens to believe that there is a greater opportunity for malfeasance and for misconduct and misbehavior.

Now, when it comes to the opportunity for corruption in elections, we need to recognize this isn’t new. Accusations go back to the early stages of the American republic. But governments have understood that it is a moral responsibility to decrease the opportunity for such malfeasance and to increased confidence in the voting system. Now, in our current political climate, quite frankly, there are those who are sowing seeds of suspicion, but there are also those who are not doing enough to eliminate opportunities for suspicion.

In Robert Caro’s magisterial biography of Lyndon Baines Johnson, you can look at one of Johnson’s senatorial elections and basically come to the inescapable conclusion that people kept the polls open with ballots coming in even from people who apparently did not exist in order to get enough votes to clinch a Johnson victory. Or let’s just say that the best case scenario is that there seemed to be something of a miracle at the last minute in which an awful lot of people turned out to have voted overwhelmingly for Lyndon Baines Johnson even if, and I say this intentionally, they didn’t know they had done so.

There were accusations of fraud in the 1960 US presidential election, particularly located in Chicago with a focus on an unusual pattern of votes that had advantaged the Democratic candidate John F. Kennedy, even at the same time that there seemed to be a strange agreement between democratic officials in the city of Chicago and members of the Kennedy family and their associates. It was then credited to Richard M. Nixon that he did not challenge the results of that extremely close 1960 presidential election. And that might have been one reason why voters had greater confidence in Nixon that explained his victory in 1968.

But then again, if you mention Richard Nixon, you have to talk about the Watergate controversy and scandal and the fact that that also had to do with an election, which is why we need as many eyes as possible on a process that is done accurately, but as quickly as possible without working in even more opportunity for not only misconduct to happen, but even for the seeds of suspicion to be sown.

Americans had the right to expect that within a relatively short amount of time after they vote on election day, there should be a confident reporting of the results from the election in a way that satisfies a democratic impulse and fortifies voter confidence.

And on The Briefing today, I just also want to encourage us all not to rush to the conclusion that we know what the results are until we are actually given results. Don’t trust polling data, wait for the tabulation of the votes. And even if we’re going to be waiting longer than we believe is morally right, we still have to wait for the numbers to come in. And then of course, the arguments continue.

Part IV

Voter ID Law Creates "Unique Obstacles" for Transgender Voters’: USA Today Offers Yet Another Analysis Fueled by Ideology

Meanwhile, there’s so much for us to talk about, but on the theme of the election and angles, you might not have expected USA Today. No failure here on their part, they always bring some of the most amazingly pro LGBTQ stories. I would not just say you can imagine. I’ll go further and say those you could not imagine.

Here’s a headline that ran yesterday. “ID laws create obstacles for transgender voter.” Now, this turns out to be a matter of far greater significance in worldview terms than you might think, because what we see here is an article by Cady Stanton telling us that LGBTQ voters, and in particular transgender voters, have some particular challenges when it comes to voting and matching the name that is on the registration and the ID that might be required jurisdiction by jurisdiction.

It turns out they say there is an injustice here because a particular difficulty is presented to transgender voters. The article states, “Among the 878,300 transgender adults in the US who are eligible to vote in midterm elections.” I’m going to stop there. I’m just going to stop there. How in the world does any sane human being know that that number is 878,300? The fact is no sane, intellectually honest American knows any such number. USA Today runs that number as if there is a list somewhere of registered transgender voters in the United States. I assure you there is not. But what there is polling and surveyed data that comes down to percentages, and they have just translated that into numbers. I’m going to say, I’ll just say it out loud, that is intellectually dishonest. It is media manipulation. But then again, I repeat myself, it’s USA Today.

Following their own logic and their own invented numbers, they say that 414,000 of them, 47% live in one of the 31 states that both conduct their elections primarily in person and have a voter ID law, that according to the report. Well, what is the report? From whom does the report come? It comes from the Williams Institute. That’s a very, very well-known pro LGBTQ think tank.

This is another problem we see. USA Today is just the worst at this, but other major media take these kinds of reports coming from think tanks that come from a particular ideological position and present them as if, Yes, it’s just a matter of scientific truth that we know there are 878,300 transgender adults in the US registered to vote. The Williams Institute told us so. Just understand what’s going on here.

Later in the article we read, “Wynne Nowland, a transgender advocate said the fear of being outed as transgender or facing discrimination when voting with an ID that doesn’t match one’s gender can be intimidating.” Now, I have no doubt whatsoever that this can be problematic, but you simply note how this is set up. There is no right way to deal with this according to the logic of this article. Even if you buy the entire sexual and gender revolution, you still have a problem, and that is that there will be some form of ID.

Now, maybe you’re insinuating, “Let’s just give up on ID altogether,” but no one really means that. No one expects that to have anything to do with reality when you’re checking in at an airport or trying to get on a plane. No one really wants that when it comes to, say identifying people who are going to work within the school system where their children or students. No, we have to have some form of identification. And furthermore, this article says that it’s a problem even if people are recognized as transgender or are not recognized as transgender. Again, in some sense this has to be recognized as manufactured news.

But there are two other issues that are related here that I think really are important. For one thing, you have the reality that when it comes to, say, what should, let’s just say you try to buy the revolution, what should be the function of ID and how should persons be listed on ID? Well, it turns out that this article makes clear that there’s really no way to resolve that issue. And then we come to understand from a Christian perspective, well, that is because identity really is, and we understand why according to scripture, identity really is tied to gender in a way that can never fundamentally honestly be disconnected.

Furthermore, if you follow the logic of the transgender movement, then an individual has a right to claim whatever transgender, non-gender, non-binary identity the individual may feel/perceived or claim at the time. How is a voter registration system supposed to keep up with that?

But there’s one other dimension before we close on this issue, and it comes down to this, “The challenges presented by voter ID laws also don’t affect all transgender voters in the same manner. Transgender people who are people of color, young adults, students, people with low incomes and people with disabilities are overrepresented among those who may face barriers voting in the midterms according to the Williams Institute.” Now, again, you just look at that and you recognize we have several ideological problems here. One of them is the problem, which comes out of critical theory, known as intersectionality, which is to say you add together different forms of oppression and you simply end up with a compound that is greater than others are experiencing who might be oppressed, but they’re not oppressed this much.

But you look at some of these categories, and again, we are told that among the people who are particularly challenged are young adults. Well, that is an interesting issue here. How exactly does it make sense that young adults are discriminated against when it comes to voting? Well, the only claim that makes sense in the context of this article is that many of them are not yet registered to vote. They might not have transportation that would fit with some of the other categories here, but the bottom line is that really has nothing to do with the transgender issue at all, until in making an ideological argument you decide, “Well, let’s throw that into.”

Well, here we are the day after the election. Over the course of today and the next several days, we’re going to know a lot more about how voters made decisions. And we’re going to know a lot more about what we should be thinking about talking about. But until now, let’s hope that Americans gain confidence in the electoral system. Let’s hope that it works this year in such a way that we have a gain in confidence and not furthered loss.

Thanks for listening to The Briefing.

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I’ll meet you again tomorrow for The Briefing.

R. Albert Mohler, Jr.

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