Mulhall column: Our Electile Dysfunction
An axiom of American life is the steady, onward march of technology.
Not a decade has gone by in my lifetime that did not usher in exponential technological improvement and unimagined innovation with all the adaptations necessary to keep up.
Then came election night 2020.
Move over Russia. America is back.
Recall, if you will, the 2016 election. By about 11 p.m., if you stayed up that late, the outcome was clear. Though official certification was weeks away, everyone knew the result.
Back then, when the polls had Hillary Clinton up, web technologies detailed the election balance with near real-time results. Elaborate electoral maps showed the voting outcomes of every state right down to the county.
Looking at county electoral maps of states I’d never even been to, I wondered whether a precinct-by-precinct breakdown might be possible, or even — perish the thought — a house-by-house one.
We had come a long way from Tim Russert’s whiteboard.
My tolerance for network election coverage tapped out about a decade ago, so last week I returned to the web sources that did the yeoman’s work in 2016 only to find that the detailed breakdowns of the election just weren’t there.
Web developers didn’t all get COVID, nor did poll workers forget protocols.
So what changed?
While some game shows can tabulate millions of votes over a commercial break, the ordinarily punctual presidential election results didn’t materialize even as midnight approached, and Wednesday morning we all woke up to a Bush vs. Gore, Florida-style vote count in not one but seven states.
Despite the 2016 election’s technological polish, accusations of Russian interference in the U.S. voting process began immediately and lasted four years, yet everything about this election has now been mostly accepted, as though everyone woke up last Saturday to a world in which even the hint of election fraud was silliness.
There is one technological improvement worth noting, however, and that’s polling.
In the run-up to the election, polls had Joe Biden ahead by 10% nationwide.
By election night, however, Biden’s lead had narrowed, and not just by a little.
Pundits declared the pollsters biased, and for good reason. Actual election results were much closer or flat wrong, or so it seemed on election night.
A friend even wrote, “Note to self: During the next election cycle remember to verify public opinion polls by also consulting a pile of steaming entrails from a recently sacrificed goat.”
I found this clever, so I wrote, “As a friend of mine intimated, pollsters might get more accurate results studying a steaming pile of goat entrails.”
Yes, I borrowed liberally from my friend, but I avoided plagiarism.
Plagiarism, of course, was enough to squash Biden’s 1987 presidential bid; plagiarism and his very unfortunate insistence that he’d graduated at the top of his 1968 Syracuse Law School class.
Of course, 33 years is a long time to change your ways — if, that is, you change them. And if not, well maybe that’s OK, too. Wait long enough and those to whom such things matter just forget or die.
In the end, polls ended up getting it right, at least as things stand now, and Biden was the first to say he’s won by “more votes than any presidential ticket has gotten in the history of the United States of America,” and however that’s possible, he sure sounds more like his predecessor than anyone will admit.
Yes, of all the things you can say about the 2020 presidential election, perhaps the most accurate is that when it comes to mucking up electoral veracity, Russia doesn’t hold a candle to America.
Mitch Mulhall is a husband, father and longtime Roaring Fork Valley resident. His column appears monthly in the Post Independent and at postindependent.com.
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