Walter Olson on Election Fraud

2020 election voter suppression cato institute

Walter Olson with Juliette Sellgren

In the past and still today, many people claim that 2016, 2018, and 2020 elections were marred by illegal votes and voter suppression. Juliette Sellgren and Walter Olson address the myths and realities of US election fraud.
Walter Olson is the author of several books and a senior fellow at the Cato Institute's Center for Constitutional Studies. Today, we talk about the United States' 2020 presidential election and the increasing fears of election fraud. He talks to us about the different types of election fraud, the actual reality of election fraud, and voter suppression.

And don't miss Great Antidote Deep Dive on this episode, where you'll find even more to explore!

Want to explore more?
Walter Olson, My Year's Worth of Election Law Writing, at the Cato Institute blog
Pierre Lemieux, Epistemologies, Economics, and Conspiracies, at EconLog
George Washington's Farewell Address 

Transcript of conversation

Juliette Sellgren:
"Science is the great antidote to the poison of enthusiasm and superstition." Hi, I'm Juliette Sellgren and this is my podcast, The Great Antidote, named for Adam Smith, brought to you by Liberty Fund. 
Welcome back. If you at all followed the presidential election of 2020, or even if you were just alive during that time, you almost definitely heard claims of voter fraud or voter suppression coming from both sides. With another election coming up in 2022, I anticipate similar claims to reappear. Politicians at all levels of government have repeatedly claimed that the 2016, 2018, and 2020 elections were marred by large numbers of people voting illegally. Today, on May 18th, 2022, I'm excited to be talking to Walter Olson to address the myths and realities of election fraud. Walter Olson is a senior fellow at the Cato Institute's Center for Constitutional Studies and the author of several books. Welcome to the podcast.

Walter Olson:
Hi, thanks for having me on.

Juliette Sellgren:
Before we jump in, what is the most important thing that people my age or in my generation should know that we don't?

Walter Olson:
The best writing on this I've seen recently was by my friend, Megan McArdle, who writes for the Washington Post, and she's got a bunch of great advice, such as pay people their compliments while they're alive instead of afterward. But the one that stuck with me was go to the party, even if you're tired, even if it's tempting to stay home and watch Netflix, especially when you're young, go out to the party because it will be boring nine times out of 10, and then that 10th time, you'll meet someone.

Juliette Sellgren:
That is a good response. So let's jump in. My first question is kind of easy, kind of a blanket question. What constitutes voter fraud?

Walter Olson:
Not as easy to pin down as you might think, because there's a lot of voter irregularity that is not voter fraud. And here you have, because elections are full of rules, one topic I've been writing about is when is it okay to take someone else's ballot and put it in the mailbox? Well, it depends on what state you're in. In general though, even if you are violating the law of your state, it doesn't mean that you're committing voter fraud because it doesn't mean that someone is voting who wasn't entitled to, it doesn't mean that someone has manufactured a vote.
Voter fraud is this narrower concept often involving people who are not qualified to vote, people who have misrepresented things in order to register. Is it photo fraud when someone who has residences in two states takes a very convenient approach to which state they're in, depending on which state has the interesting election this year? And all of us tend to know some people who have done that. Well again, you're close to a gray area there because there you're getting closer to the line of votes that should not have been cast rather than just votes that violated some tech technical rule.
And yet, you would have to interrogate the frame of mind. Maybe they did identify more with their vacation house that week. Very hard to prove, and because it's hard to prove, it's hard to poise.

Juliette Sellgren:
And the fear that the election has been stolen has seemingly clearly intensified since 2016, where pretty much every election is followed by accusations that the winner was elected fraudulently or voters were suppressed or something. But before we talk about the recent elections, I kind of want to explore the past a little bit. I recently read this quote in the National Geographic that says, "Gone are the days when bribes and voting by voice were commonplace at the polls. Today, secret ballots and improved security measures have largely insured fair outcomes in elections." Was fraud in elections really prevalent in the past and is it true that it's basically non-existent today?

Walter Olson:
There's a lot to unpack in both house of that, because if you look at American history, there was a lot of stuff that would set our hair on end now. There was intimidation, where people were physically prevented from coming to the polls. People know about the race line, but it was also true that you could just be on the wrong side of a party dispute and they would beat you up, or they would physically block the roads to keep you from going to the polling place or many other things. Ballot boxes being stuffed, well we think of that as, I guess if you've seen old Hollywood films, there was some reference to the fact that yeah, right down to the lifetimes of our maybe grandparents, this was a very genuine problem in which there were some corrupt places, some of them cities, some of them small towns and counties, where you could not count on an honest vote being calculated.
And so yeah, American history has a lot of very ghastly episodes on this to the point where one place to start in talking about current fraud issues is gratitude that we aren't in a lot of the places we were in the 19th and the first half of the 20th century.

Juliette Sellgren:
So then, I guess what really is the technology? When did the change occur to get from when you were getting beat up and when there were bribes and all that stuff, and like the age of Jim Crow where a lot of minorities were just completely basically barred from voting by other citizens. What changed?

Walter Olson:
You're talking here about dozens of changes, some of them legal, some of them in the enforcement of laws that were on the books all along because of course it's always been illegal to beat up someone because of the way they were going to vote. The question is whether that was enforced or not. But also, technology matters and the 20th century in particular saw a move toward voting machines and then toward better voting machines. Now voting machines have come under a lot of suspicion. We can get to that about whether or not somehow someone could hack them so as to change votes remotely, even from some other country.
I think that those fears tend to be overblown, but one of the things that machines did was simply, as with double entry bookkeeping, often create two ways of checking a number. And to the extent that you've got one register of how many votes that were kept by people on sign in, and then another register of how many votes worth the machine is keeping, step by step it becomes harder to tamp with it. Not impossible, especially in the early stages, but harder. And one of the reasons why the system I think has improved further in recent decades is that you now have a better developed, I'm not going to call it a science, but a better developed art of general kind of auditing and let me offer one example of this.

Walter Olson:
The people who are involved in election watching, whether they be political scientists or campaign consultants, or whatever, have strong incentive to want to find out if there has been skullduggery in an election and 10,000 votes have been dropped in that don't correspond to actual people. And so they look at certain indicators and numbers. And let me offer an example again, because it will bring us around to the 2020 election. There were concerns that a state like Pennsylvania might have had a lot of suspicion, certainly there were attempts to raise a lot of suspicion. And one of the things that was available from the first 24 hours was the question of, "Okay, how did turnout in each county or smaller community behave compared with four years earlier?" In turn, it went up a lot, but did it go up more in some counties than others? Did the Republican democratic margin of votes change a lot in one county, but not in other and similar counties? Did it change in some way that was reflected only on some lines of the ballot, such as president, but not in others, such as town councils?

Walter Olson:
And again, a lot of ways of tampering with the system become much harder if you have to try to get around these things, if you have to try to simulate ballots so that you're voting for all of the different posts and somehow plausibly voting in ways that won't be noticed as bizarre for the lower level posts. Again, each of these auditing methods, even the ones that look irrelevant, will catch certain types of skullduggery. And that's why very early on, before the former president started most of his PR campaign about the election has been stolen, the election's been stolen, using these rule of thumb type of checks, the voting experts that I know generally looked at these things and said, "There sure are not suspicious patterns in Philadelphia," for example. The Republican suspicion is always the votes are being stolen in Philadelphia. Well, Trump did better in Philadelphia, which is in line with his doing better in big cities in general while he was losing ground in the suburbs.

Walter Olson:
Again, those indicia of something bizarre going on were telling a tale of no indications of fraud and so the litigation that resulted over a period of weeks and months, which was consistently lost by the challengers, was a little more understandable. Likewise, when there was an irregularity, and there was one county in Michigan that misreported its vote in an informal way. The machines didn't malfunction, the machines were fine, but the human factor meant that someone transmitted the wrong numbers. That immediately jumped out and everyone could see that county had misreported and it was corrected within hours. It was a small county in upstate Michigan.
And the conspiracy theories, well I guess this is a topic of its own, but each of the areas that I've talked about, whether it be Pennsylvania ballot stuffing or that Michigan county, once the conspiracy theories started up, they are still going a year or two later about both of those. And there's nothing to either of those cases. It's just possible for people to talk themselves into, talk themselves way out on a limb as far as maybe this was the peak or revelation at some massive voter fraud system. We know more about voter fraud. I mean, let me talk about areas where it's still, to some extent, a problem.
There have been examples. There was one in New Jersey, for example, and there was one in North Carolina, and each of them was somewhat different. Usually it involves access to a rogue local official or an extremely unprincipled single person. In North Carolina, the person was, I think a candidate, and the election actually had to be invalidated because they were going out and collecting ballots in large numbers and then doing bad things. In New Jersey, or is it Pennsylvania? I should have this at my [inaudible 00:13:20], but it was a case where it was a very low turnout party primary, which by the way, the evidence is that those are more vulnerable to theft because the turnout is so low that there are often just not many people stopping by over the day, other than the person running the polls. And in that case, the person used the long absences in which no one was walking in to go in and the election official himself pretended to be a voter again, and again, and again.
You kind of have everyone in on the plot or else that sort of thing doesn't work. But again, when you're talking about a very low turnout party primary election where only a couple dozen people may show up over the course of the day, you might be able to escape for that long without being watched. Move to a more typical situation in which you would have to count on 12 different people not noticing that something funny was going on, and a couple of them might be members of the opposite party. And that's fairly typical in American election setups, which is that you've got multiple people in the room and you offer the option for the other party to have an observer. Those were adopted because by and large they work very well at scaring people out of the practices that once went on in larger number.
And it also ties in with a point that is central to I think some of the recent debates, which is that the smaller the number of votes, the more impossible it becomes to attain perfect prevention of miss voting. I gave the example of someone with two addresses in two different states. That's almost impossible to check, but on the other hand, each instance of it tends to result in one vote. How easy is it to steal six votes? Well, then you move up to a significantly different level and you can possibly try to get away with doing that with a fake voter at six polling places or a single polling place that you've somewhat subverted. How can you steal a thousand votes? Well, we can talk about some of the allegations of how thousands of votes might have been stolen, but in general, schemes to steal thousands of votes either have to move into the subversion of substantial machine systems and those machine systems tend to get better every year at defeating or making visible such things, or it requires the roping in of enough people into the plot that someone could talk.
And that latter one is really in some ways the key, because especially if people are relying on roping in people willing to commit low level crimes, you don't always hear about that before it happens, but once an investigation starts, or once people start plopping in one way or another, you tend to get someone willing to be interviewed and go on the record about it.

Juliette Sellgren:
And so after the 2016 election, Democrats spent a lot of the time after the election trying to prove that the Russians aided Trump to be fraudulently elected. And in the 2018 race for governor of Georgia, Stacey Abrams claimed that voter suppression cost her the election. And then in 2020 for the presidential election, Trump claimed that the Democrats engaged in widespread voter fraud, probably more than thousands of votes even and that's what lost him the election. And all of that led to, well, all of the stuff in 2020, led to the January 6th insurrection and the lawsuits by the Trump campaign against many states. And so, I mean you kind of explained how difficult it would be to have large scale voter fraud, but how realistic are these claims and where did these anxieties come from?

Walter Olson:
Let me proceed in order, because you gave examples which are different from each other in a number of ways that I'd like to get out for a moment. First, the fears of Russian tampering with vote counts. It's obviously quite true that the Russians meddled in the 2016 election in a different way, that is by using their information resources to obtain private emails, which they're then released with deliberate timing in order to harm the candidate that they wanted to keep from being elected. There is nothing probably illegal, I'll leave aside whether there's anything illegal about that, it's not vote fraud. Sorry, but it may be espionage, it may be a subversion of an election, it's not vote fraud to time the Wikileaks revelations and all the rest. Somehow or other, some of our friends on the democratic side transitioned from that to, "Well, what if they had been meddling with actual vote counts by sending Bluetooth emanations into the voting machines?
Well, the voting machines in the first place are not really particularly vulnerable to that. I mean, there are problems with election security that still need to be solved, but the remote tampering has not proved to be one of the big issues. And there really is zero evidence and there never was any evidence that the Russians or the Canadians or anyone else was tampering with vote totals. And yet you had millions of people who believed it and you had talk show hosts and various others, and this was not the first time.
If you go back to earlier election of George W. Bush, you had claims that voting machines made by a particular manufacturer, Diebold, which makes a bunch of different business equipment, because someone found that people connected with Diebold had made political contributions on their Republican side and enormous edifice of conspiracy theory was erected on that and you had, again, well known talk show hosts and comedians, and I mean, why people would believe comedians on this is another question, but you had widespread suspicion of Diebold voting machines having somehow or other thrown the election. Again, no evidence whatsoever and seriously undercutting the confidence that the elections need if they are to be accepted by both sides.
Now, moving forward to the Georgia election of 2018, you had different and I believe quite unsupportable charges of voter suppression. Now, voter suppression, which we haven't talked about, is a different charge than voter fraud. People arguing against certain ballot practices, such as removal from the registration roles of people who haven't responded to mailings and haven't voted in a couple of cycles is a typical issue that has been an issue all along for as long as any of us have been around. They've had to make decisions about how vigorously to scrub the voter roles of likely non voters, people who probably are no longer there to vote, but have been left on the roles.
Some states are vigilant about this. And when you knock on a door from a voter registration list, most of the names correspond to people who answer the door, or at least are living there. Other states are incredibly lax and many different problems result. And not only for door knockers who find that two out of three people on the lists they name may not have lived there in years, but also for fears of fraud and for all sorts of practical reasons, such as how do you calculate turnout rates if you have seriously outdated voter registration roles that include people who haven't lived there for eight years?
So Georgia, which ironically is far from the most extreme state on many of these different issues, but Georgia wanted to go in what has long been accepted as one legitimate direction of we want up-to-date voter roles, we want to give people a chance to respond if we're thinking of eliminating them, but otherwise they have to re register and they can check online to see whether or not they've been eliminated if for some reason they haven't voted in several cycles and worry that their names have been taken off and they've missed all the mailings. They still can check.
Well for Stacy Abrams, a lot of these things and many miscellaneous issues, such as the moving of polling places, again if you talk to local election administrators, there are nonpartisan reasons why a tremendous amount of this stuff is in constant flux. The last place you used for a polling place won't let you use it again. I mean, because so many of these are private places like churches or whatever, or it's no longer big enough capacity so you move to a larger space, or voting has been declining and now everyone has cars so you don't need to put everything within walking distance. Well, these to me are judgment calls and to some of Stacy Abram's followers, they are deliberate racialized attacks on voting where if you consolidate the number of polling places in the county from eight to four, you do that in order to make it harder for people to vote.
Now, it's very hard to win the battle of your motivation is terrible, no your motivation isn't terrible. To me, most of these issues are ones with a plausible explanation has usually been offered for why they want to move the voting place or have a different approach to early voting or whatever or early voting just to explore one or two of the issues on that really voting mixed, voting more convenient, and there isn't really all that good evidence that it increases the overall amount of voting because it tends mostly to take votes from election day.
But even so, you might think, "Well, that's good too because it means election day is less crowded." That was certainly an important argument during the pandemic when people didn't want election day to become a super spreader event. Might not really increase the total amount of voting, but on the other hand running two weeks and three weeks of early voting has its own costs, in particular, you've got to get those community volunteers out all of a sudden, perhaps a couple of dozen days, instead of just a few days. So, you run into practical problems.
Where Georgia found itself in such straights was that every one of these issues was being prosecuted in the court of public opinion as if it were flaming racism and attempts to suppress people's votes, and Stacey Abrams pieced together arguments even on her own terms. I think they were very poor arguments because the numbers involved were simply too small to have overcome the amount by which she lost the election. But I want to update it a bit because I've kind of taken Georgia's side, and in the '22 election cycle, we are speaking before the Georgia primary, but not before a lot of the Georgia early vote and the Georgia early vote under the same procedures that have been attacked as voter suppression has boomed. Huge numbers more of Georgia voters are engaged in early voting. So the suppression, if suppression it was, sure didn't work.
And if you think about it, especially with things like early mail voting, there is no way that someone who is intent on voting and is paying reasonable attention to making sure that the ducks are in a row as far as requesting the absentee ballot, making sure they're still registered and so forth, its very, very unlikely that those people will actually be prevented from voting. Debates about convenience are worth having, but they are not the same as debates about whether people are being disenfranchised. And that's the confusion that we've seen so much of in the past couple years.

Juliette Sellgren:
It seems to me as though almost all claims of voter suppression assume an inherent bad intention even if that's not necessarily the case. I mean, President Biden called the recent voting reform in Georgia, Jim Crow 2.0. How accurate is that comparison?

Walter Olson:
My heart sank when he came out with that rhetoric, and of course we saw the various other effects, such as attempts to move the all-star game and all sorts of exercises in polarization and dehumanization. And it was pointed out at the time that many Northern states, like New York, like Biden's own Delaware, generally liberal states, generally states that no one is up in arms about and that no one believes are behaving with racial motivation, actually have stricter restraints on a lot of those same things like early voting. They have remarkably old-fashioned rules and there is no movement to force states like New York to become as liberal as Georgia, and Georgia appears to be around the middle of the pack. But again, you have political advantage, which causes people to jump in. The debate largely proceeds among journalists and commentators who appear to have... Perhaps it's kind for me to say that they were born yesterday, but they aren't doing the homework of calling county election administrators and saying, "Is this new? How has this issue been handled in the past?"
Because if they did, they would find that most of these issues have a long history. People have been talking about the trade-offs involved, they've been talking about ways of balancing convenience and volunteer availability and the various problems of early voting where people might regret an early vote because of late-breaking news or because their candidate dropped out after they had already voted. There are reasonable arguments on both sides and yet that didn't come through.
And let me say, I am one who generally supports modernization. I think that we should be glad that we're increasingly seeing experiments like Colorado. I think Oregon is another state that are moving to by mail elections as the general standard. It takes a few years or a couple of cycles to work the kinks out, which is one reason forcing states to move over to that very quickly led to a lot of practical glitches. But I'm not one who thinks that we have to go on idealizing the New Hampshire election day. I mention New Hampshire, which has just about the most old-fashioned rules where they want everyone to show up in election day and kind of wave their neighbors and say hello to the people electioneering. That's lovely, but it doesn't necessarily fit all modern lifestyles.
I mean, Colorado is kind of a definition of a place that has modern lifestyles and where the convenience of being able to vote without setting aside the visit time is probably more highly valued.

Juliette Sellgren:
So what are the biggest, or I guess loudest, allegations of voter fraud and what are your responses to those claims?

Walter Olson:
Well, its at this point that we really have to get to the claims about the 2020 election because they dominate the landscape. They're like cannon fire. They are so numerous, they flood the zone. You know, you refute two of them and another three of them are thrown back at you. And where I start on that is with the cases that went to litigation because they are the cases where we've had the best chance to assume that both sides had a chance to air their factual contentions and bring witnesses and where judges, who swear by their jobs to bring impartiality to it, have a chance to consider it, not on the basis of memes passed around social media, but on the basis of what the parties can prove.
And so the voter fraud and the voter irregularity claims, because the were a fair number of those too, that were brought after the 2020 election fell flat on their face. You will hear sometimes from the Trump people that the courts never reached the actual facts because they threw the things out on procedural grounds or standing grounds or jurisdiction grounds, or other [inaudible 00:32:42] things. Not entirely true.
In Wisconsin, for example, you had a judge saying, "I think I can pronounce on the evidence and they didn't have any adequate evidence in this." In other cases, one reason the case failed was that they simply could not make out any plausible series of facts that a jury could credit. And so right then and there, you have a lot of the biggest claims involving the states that were closest, whether it be Pennsylvania, Arizona, or others, you have the judges looking at them and rejecting them.
Then you proceed to the things that it might take more time to check. And here, I think about the Arizona situation where members of the legislature hired a private group that was apparently very predisposed to find fraud if they possibly could, while at the same time, the Maricopa County, that's Phoenix, that's the biggest county in Arizona, did its own very exhaustive investigation and audit of the county where you would probably have seen irregularities if you were going to see enough to change the election.
And the legislature's own stop the steal consultants couldn't find them any and that collapsed in a pile of dust. And meanwhile, Maricopa County was coming out with a long carefully reasoned and full of evidence reason why there is no reason to find the results in that leading county suspect. The election, by the way, was presided over by a democratic registrar of votes, but he was defeated by a young Republican. The Republican presided over the audit, which found no misconduct or misconduct of votes.
So those sorts of backward looking audits, and Georgia again had a hand recount. Now, hand recount is exactly what it sounds like. You don't simply count on the machines having tabulated it correctly. You look at all the individual ballots and the Georgia hand recount confirmed again, and again, and again. Now, we could spend all day going over theories, from the wacky theories about Dominion voting machines, which led to defamation cases, which judges are allowing to go forward against various conservative media that spread those claims, very kind of textbook defamation, and they took a named private company, accused it of gaudy baroque fraud on the very issue where being trusted is a precondition for their selling anymore of the product. And it all blew up.
No one ever showed that there was anything wrong at all about Dominion voting machines, beyond which there were funny details, such as in Wisconsin, the counties that used Dominion voting machines tended to be small ones where Trump won. But anyway, it's hard for me to be as caustic as it deserves. It was appalling disloyalty to the interests of their listeners, to the interests of America. It was an attempt to undermine public confidence in something where it's very, very dangerous to undermine it. And then recently, or most recently, as of the time we're talking, there's an attempt to get behind the idea that ballot harvesting somehow made the difference. Now, we haven't talked about ballot harvesting and it's an interesting issue. Again, I think that there's a real underlying set of issues that it is appropriate to be concerned about there.
Ballot harvesting is the practice by which one person's vote, absentee vote, can be given to another, and then either dropped in the mail or bundled and taken to a drop box or a polling place. And practicing states varies very substantially on that. A typical law in many states is you can only do this for a family member or you can only do this maybe for three and no more than three people, the idea being that's enough to cover the cases, the occasional disabled person who needs a caretaker to do it, the occasional home bound person or busy person who relies on a spouse or a parent.
But California legalized much more permissive ballot harvesting and it was used as a political tool. Democrats used it to go out and hire someone to collect 100 or 200 or more ballots. It was done through unions. It was done through various political organizations. And the dangers are real in my view that there are dangers of people being improperly influenced by someone standing over them who may be a union steward, or in fact, California went back and banned the element by which bosses could demand that their workers come in with absentee ballots. I mean, obviously that's going to be misused. So it's nice that bosses can't. As I understand it, unions still can or local political big wigs. And I would worry about it in a lot of other contexts.
You know, you may have a patriarch of a family who wants to look at everyone's vote and then drop all 15 of them in the mail. I like the old idea of privacy. The old slogan used to be, "Its just you alone in the voting booth. Powerful people in your life may be expecting you to vote one way, but you can vote your conscience because it's just you alone in the voting booth." So, there's improper influence and there's privacy that are at risk when you allow people to intrude too much into other people's voting processes.
All that having been said, there is no evidence that ballot harvesting made any difference in the presidential results in 2020 and there is a movie that has come out that argues the opposite case. I have seen enough in the way of reviews and responses from organizations quoted in it and whose data is supposedly used to feel quite confident in saying this is barking up a wrong tree. Many of the things that it tries to cast out on, and the first one that anyone tried to check was someone casting five votes in Georgia. Georgia election authorities said, "Okay, this was in this film, let's check it out," found that it was entirely legitimate. It was a person casting five votes by members of his household.
And one of the things to bear in mind about ballot harvesting is that even if you believe that it is worth regulating, even if you believe that it might be worth going after violations of the regulations, courts will very often say that doesn't invalidate the vote. If the voter was acting in good faith and the meddling neighbor said, "Hey, I'll mail this for you," and the meddling neighbor broke the law by collecting 15 ballots that way, those votes are not thrown out if they were from someone who was entitled to vote and then the person didn't realize that someone else in the chain was not acting their proper part. So it's very unlikely that it made even 1/100th of the needed difference in any of the states. It's just a red herring.

Juliette Sellgren:
What are the implications of this trend of losers claiming the election was stolen or a voter suppression, voter fraud, particularly for society, but also the institutions in play here?

Walter Olson:
It has terrible implications. If you look at the elections themselves, you find that higher percentages on both sides, but especially these days among Republicans, but it also has happened among Democrats, are unwilling to accept the verdict of elections, believe that maybe something bad happened and I don't have to treat them as having been legitimately elected. But that has lots of consequences. One of them can be that people are less likely to vote. Indeed, there's speculation that this affected the double Georgia senate runoff, where Republican turnout grew after the 2020 election and two Democrats got elected. So one thing it could do is demoralize people into not voting. But another thing that it does is to take them one step toward the other results of considering the government illegitimate, which is breaking laws, which is potentially engaging in riots or civil disorder.
Not stepping forward in the ways in which a healthy polity does to feel that we're all Americans and much as we may disagree at election time, the wider things unite us and we want all Americans to thrive and prosper because we appreciate the free country. Now, those listeners who were alive or were at least teenagers during 9/11 may remember a couple of weeks in which the fact that there were outside forces that were willing to kill thousands of Americans kind of made people wake up and say, "Look, the differences we were just arguing about between Republicans and Democrats is not that they're unimportant, but we need to hand together against some of the things that threaten all of us." And then over time, these things dissipate and the polarization gradually takes over again and the urge to win the short-term battle against someone in an election begins to seem bigger than the things that we have in common.
But in distracting us from the things that we have in common, there are a few things that are as effectively toxic as treating each other as having stolen elections. It should be saved for... It's a very serious accusation that should be saved for instances where we are very sure that we have a lot of good evidence. And examples that people know well from both parties, in 1960, Richard Nixon's advisors said that irregular votes in a couple of states were probably big enough to give him a chance to contest his very narrow election loss to John Kennedy. For a long time, he correctly I think said, "No, that would be bad for the country and it's too uncertain whether or not we actually have a case that would change the result."
Same thing with Al Gore's loss to George W. Bush. He could have made a much bigger stink about Bush wasn't legitimately elected. He decided for the good of the country that's not the way that the next four years should be framed and again, he stepped back. It's one example from each party, but they were putting the good of the country first I think.

Juliette Sellgren:
I wish we had more time to explore this issue further, but we only have time for one last question. What is one thing that you believed at one time in your life that you later changed your position on and why?

Walter Olson:
Well, thanks. When I was starting out, I wrote a lot of slash and burn pieces. Sometimes they were book reviews. Sometimes they were investigative journalism. And I'm proud in one sense in that I generally haven't reversed the judgements and the verdicts and I don't think the reporting was wrong, but I also kind of enjoyed smashing the crockery if you see what I mean, and I enjoyed the idea that the piece would be more entertaining for putting someone in the public stocks and making them look very foolish and very bad. And obviously, there are some targets that are worth doing that too. But as I got older, I came to value kindness more. I came to realize that when you write a hurtful, but clever and entertaining piece, there is someone out there who remains hurt after the cleverness and the entertainment have been forgotten. So, I don't do that as much anymore.

Juliette Sellgren:
Once again, I'd like to thank my guest for their time and insight and I'd like to thank you for listening to the Great Antidote podcast. The Great Antidote is sound engineered by Rich Goyette. Thank you.