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Spin Control: Study finds possible cases of ballot fraud, but not in the numbers Trump’s looking for

In this Nov. 8, 2016,  photo, a voter enters a booth at a polling place in Exeter, N.H. (Elise Amendola / Associated Press)
In this Nov. 8, 2016, photo, a voter enters a booth at a polling place in Exeter, N.H. (Elise Amendola / Associated Press)

President Donald Trump and some of his allies have thrown out some big numbers in their estimations of illegal ballots cast in the 2016 election.

Trump contended at one point he actually would have won the popular vote if illegal ballots hadn’t been cast. Considering he was down about 2.86 million in the final count, there would have to be at least that many phony votes if all were marked for Hillary Clinton.

There may be a way of calculating the odds that no illegal ballots were cast for Trump, but reporters are notoriously bad at math, so I’m not even going to try. We’ll just round up to 3 million on the alleged illegal vote score, and call it good.

Or not good, based on a study of Washington and four other states that went looking for folks who either voted twice or voted for someone who had died before Election Day. Our share of that 3 million, based on the fact the state turned in 2.42 percent of the 136.7 million votes for president, would be about 72,600.

We’re not even close. By a factor of about a thousand.

The study found 74 possible fraudulent ballots cast in Washington. Not for-sure fraudulent ballots, but those that raise enough questions after nearly 10 months of studying data that they are being referred to local prosecutors for further investigation and possible charges.

Of those, 59 are voters who appear to have cast ballots in two states. Four of those are registered in Spokane County. Another 14 are voters who may have cast ballots in two places in Washington. Two are registered in Spokane County.

One voter in Cowlitz County appears to have cast a ballot for someone who had died.

The study looked at data, and things like identical signatures. But no one has yet talked to those 74 voters to determine what was going on. That will be up to prosecutors and local law enforcement.

Those 74 voters represent about 0.002 of 1 percent of the 3.36 million who cast ballots in Washington and are the results of extensive analysis of data.

The study has nothing to do with Trump’s Presidential Advisory Commission on Voter Integrity, in case anyone was wondering. Washington and the other states – Oregon, Colorado, Maryland and Delaware – agreed to do the study before the election, so it would’ve happened regardless of who won.

Speaking of numbers

The number 50,000 seems to be a popular one in Washington politics these days. It’s a nice round number, pretty easy to grasp, definitely nothing to sneeze at if preceded by a dollar sign or followed by the word “jobs.”

Legislative Republicans had that as the number of manufacturing jobs Washington has lost since 2000, which they said supports their push to reduce the business and occupation tax for all manufacturers, to parallel the break the state’s biggest manufacturer, Boeing, gets.

It’s also the number of jobs reportedly at stake for a second Amazon headquarters, now that the online retailer seems to have decided that like heads, two headquarters are better than one.

Having the same number of jobs show up in two very different places in such a short period of time means it won’t be long before some politician talks about the 100,000 jobs that their opponent or the opposing party has cost the state. Before that happens, let’s take a quick look at each.

Although it won’t surprise anyone that politicians round up, the actual decline in manufacturing jobs in Washington is 47,100 since 2000, according to the state Department of Employment Security. How many of those lost jobs can be pinned on the differential in B&O tax rates is questionable.

Paul Turek, a labor economist for the department, said the main thing that affects manufacturing jobs is economic conditions, and there were two recessions in that 17-year period and two recoveries. So it’s not a straight-line of decline from then to now.

After economic conditions, job numbers are affected by a series of competitive factors that include labor costs and the need for efficiencies, which can prompt companies to spend money on automation, so they have fewer workers who produce more stuff.

Even though Boeing has lower B&O tax rates than most Washington manufacturers, it has 1,700 fewer jobs than it did in 2000. The number of manufacturing jobs for Boeing, and the manufacturing sector as a whole – it’s one of the state’s biggest – fluctuated over that period. The sector is also making a bit of a comeback right now, because oil prices are down and the global economy is getting stronger.

As for the Amazon 50K, those aren’t really “lost” jobs for Washington. They don’t exist here currently. They might’ve been Washington jobs at some future point if Amazon decided to cram even more people into its Seattle campus and turn them loose on the local housing market, or they could materialize if one of the proposals from Bellevue, Tacoma or Snohomish County is selected. But the chance for a Washington city to offer the kind of tax incentives – outside of economic development circles, we’d just call them bribes – as other places is pretty limited.

You can’t blame any elected official or specific political party for that. It’s the way the state founders set up the constitution.

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