A Review of Mollie Hemingway’s Rigged: How The Media, Big Tech and the Democrats Seized Our Elections
What happened in the last election? My interest in this question came from the fact that we weren’t allowed to ask it. It’s like the box in the corner that you tell your kids not to touch while you’re out.
After the 2016 election? Many were questioning the election’s integrity. The Trump win surprised many. But after 2020? You weren’t allowed to say a peep. That alone proves nothing, but it did make me wonder.
It was a most unusual election. Double the number of mail-in ballots as 2016. Half as many voting on Election Day (60% in 2016, 28% in 2020). Half the margin of victory — slim in 2016, slimmer in 2020. The 2016 election came down to 80K votes in Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin. The 2020 election came down to less than 43K votes in Arizona, Georgia, and Wisconsin. If Trump wins those, its 269-269, with the GOP-majority House delegation giving him the victory.
I didn’t come at this issue assuming anything nefarious happened. On the one hand, the Trump campaign made some key PR blunders, and Trump’s disapprovals were a tad high. But the very extended voting season — a two-month period that began before the first debate — the boost in mail-in and absentee ballots combined with the watering down of signature matching standards? If we’re going to make it easier to vote, let’s not also make it easier to cheat.
Then you have Republican poll monitors in Pennsylvania, Georgia and Michigan not being allowed to watch the ballot counting — or being told the vote counting stopped for the night, only to discover it continued for another few hours. Still, I’ve been agnostic on the issue, not sure what to think. After all, every election has irregularities.
Mollie Hemingway Lays Out the Case for a Crooked Election
That’s why I so appreciate Mollie Hemingway’s new book, Rigged: How the Media, Big Tech, and the Democrats Seized Our Elections. It’s long: 332 pages of text. It’s meaty: 85 pages of references. It’s holistic, looking at the big picture — not just the voting machines on election day — and putting recent events in a historical context. Rigged doesn’t refer mainly to the voting, but to the entire process. It’s an engaging and insightful book. When necessary, the technicalities are explained clearly and carefully.
For example, how COVID was used to bring in sweeping changes to the voting process — changes Democrats had been seeking for years but hadn’t been able to accomplish. How Google, Facebook, and Twitter suppressed conservative story lines, labeling them as misinformation, dangerous, or racist. How a huge influx in cash was used not just in the battle for public opinion — that’s fine — but to embed partisan actors into the election administration process. Rigged has ten long chapters. Space will constrain me to the two that really stood out.
Censorship and the Killing of an October Surprise
Google, Facebook, and Twitter have for years been making it harder for right-leaning news stories to go viral. A September 2020 report by Maxim Lott looked at data from Sistrix, which tracks data related to search engine optimization. They found that Google search listing dramatically reduced exposure to right-leaning news sites like Breitbart, Daily Caller, and the Federalist. (And yes, The Stream.)
Since Trump’s 2016 surprise win, Facebook outsourced its “fact-checking” to some media groups (like ABC News), in essence paying them to monitor traffic from rival media groups. Seems like a conflict of interest. It has led to the suppression of stories labelled as “misinformation.” Like “COVID came from a lab leak in Wuhan.” You weren’t allowed to say that, until you were. Facebook stopped censoring such statements the same day President Biden said his Administration would be investigating.
How about Twitter? In 2018, Project Veritas released a video where a former content reviewer agent at Twitter admitted the platform was biased against conservatives. We’re familiar with the trend.
But still, the killing of the October 2020 Hunter Biden laptop story was surprising in terms of the scope of suppression. The New York Post temporarily lost access to their Twitter account. Twitter didn’t even allow the link to be shared. Twitter’s CEO later apologized. Under threats from Congress, Twitter eventually reversed course and allowed the link to be shared.
A month after the election the DOJ announced that Hunter Biden was under criminal investigation. And now, as Eric Cunningham puts it, “Politico is reporting with independent confirmation that, at minimum, parts of the Hunter Biden laptop story are legitimate. It is possible some material that is not was slipped in, but they have confirmation that major portions are legitimate.”
Did it matter? A post-election study Hemingway cites argues that knowledge of the Biden family corruption allegations could have flipped as many as 1 in 6 Biden voters in 7 swing states. In other words, flipped the election.
The Private Takeover of Government Election Offices
The Chan Zuckerberg Initiative gave $419 million to nonprofit groups that would exercise unprecedented influence on the election. These “Zuck Bucks” were funneled through the Center for Tech and Civic Life (CTCL) and the Center for Election Innovation and Research, both run by activist Democrats. These groups distributed millions of dollars in grants to election officials and local governments to “help” them run their elections.
The pretext was the COVID pandemic. In reality, about 1-2% was spent on PPE for election workers. The money went to salaries, computers, car rentals, attorney fees for public records requests, mail-in ballots, and the hiring of activists who were embedded with election officials.
The money came with strings attached. Cities couldn’t use the money to fund outside help unless CTCL approved the plan. And CTCL was highly controlling. After all, they had a network of (left-leaning) “partners” to help with anything: the processing of vote-by-mail applications, whether received via mail or online, the ensuring that all forms and envelopes were understood by voters, notifying voters of rejected ballots and offering to guide them through the curing process, and the sharing of information with voters via social media, email, Internet, and text messaging. CTCL even offered to bring in “experienced” election folk who could “embed with your local staff” in days!
At minimum, you could see how Zuck Bucks would really help with get out the vote efforts. So, it’s fishy that, for example, in Georgia, of the 159 counties that received funding, Trump-voting counties got an average of $1.91 per registered voter, while Biden-voting counties took in an average of $7.13 per voter.
But there’s more. The liberal “partners” would gain a treasure trove of election data in real time. Things like daily updates on which voters were mailing in ballots, and from what counties. Imagine if Karl Rove and his team back in the day weren’t just knocking on doors but working within government election offices. Think that’d be weird? Think there wouldn’t be outrage?
Private money in elections is not new. What’s new is the embedding of private money and partisan actors within the election administration process. In Wisconsin, CTCL’s attempt for control were so great that a local official quit her job right before November. She was replaced by one of CTCL’s “partners.”
Did it work? You betcha. CTCL made a minimal investment in Florida, which moved 2 points in Trump’s direction (a 1% to 3% win for Trump, ’16 vs. ‘20). But CTCL invested enormously in Georgia. That’s where they poured over 10% of their entire (50 state) budget. President Trump went from winning Georgia by 5% in 2016 to losing it by 0.3%. Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, and Arizona likewise were flipped by narrow margins. Funny, those are the 4 states which received the most Zuckerberg money.
Innovative, savvy, effective — and deeply unethical.
The Consent of the Losers
I especially liked how Hemingway ended the book. The epilogue is titled after a quote from The Atlantic’s Yoni Appelbaum, “Democracy depends on the consent of the losers.”
It’s true. Winners are always happy with the election. We need elections that are transparently fair to the losers. Four of our last six presidential elections have led to significant outcries from the losing side. As Hemingway writes, “Long-standing historical concerns about the integrity of elections led to the development of a single Election Day, a secret ballot, and governmental running of elections.” The more we get away from these — including the lack of ID requirement to vote — the more it seems we’re asking for trouble.
Perhaps I’m naïve or overly optimistic, but maybe Rigged can provide a context for people with different political leanings to agree upon commonsense election rules that would allow all parties to be confident in the process.
Dr. Alex Chediak (Ph.D., U.C. Berkeley) is a professor and the author of Thriving at College (Tyndale House, 2011), a roadmap for how students can best navigate the challenges of their college years. His latest book is Beating the College Debt Trap. Learn more about him at www.alexchediak.com or follow him on Twitter (@chediak).