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The only fraud in Utah elections is people claiming fraud, Robert Gehrke says

Worthless conspiracies are still making the rounds, and they undermine effective government.

FILE - In this March 30, 2020 file photo, My Pillow CEO Mike Lindell speaks in the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington. Dominion Voting Systems filed a $1.3 billion defamation lawsuit Monday, Feb. 22, 2021, against Lindell, the founder and CEO of Minnesota-based MyPillow, saying that Lindell falsely accused the company of rigging the 2020 presidential election. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon File)

Last week, a cabal of die-hard Donald Trump loyalists gathered at Club 90 in Sandy to hear from Douglas Frank, a mathematician and one of the nation’s leading purveyors of the notion that massive fraud had cost Trump the election.

Frank is a sidekick to Mike Lindell, colloquially known as “The My Pillow Guy” and a peddler of some of the wildest, most illogical election fictions you will ever hear.

But we’ve reached a point where logic — like truth, evidence and integrity — no longer matter, so a group of self-described patriots, including state Rep. Steve Christiansen, gathered to hear Frank spin his problematic theory.

Christiansen came away more convinced than ever and took to his podcast to once again call for an audit of Utah’s election, believing it, too, was rife with fraud — even though Trump won the state and Republicans gained a congressional seat.

“It kind of gets my blood boiling, to be honest with you,” the mild-mannered Christiansen intoned, buying hook, line and sinker Frank’s contention that a computer algorithm and not voters decided the outcome last November.

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Robert Gehrke.

There are really just two problems with Frank’s theory: One is that he tries to model election behavior using flawed, speculative data. If you are trying to solve A + B = C, and both A and B are wrong, good luck getting the right answer for C.

Frank used 2010 Census data and then tried to guesstimate how many people of each age live in a county, got the voter registration data and built his model to predict how many ballots would be cast in each age group.

The accuracy of those guesstimates will vary, especially in a state that has seen rapid growth like Utah — and they do indeed vary from the estimates released last year by professional demographers at the Kem C. Gardner Institute at the University of Utah.

Then Frank takes the voter registration number and predicts the ballots that will be cast. But Frank doesn’t have complete voter rolls, because state law now allows voters to keep their records private, which anywhere from 10% to 15% of voters do.

Then he looks at actual results from certain counties and tweaks the numbers a little to generate a “key” that he thinks will model voting behavior in other counties in a state.

And now you are thinking, “Isn’t that kind of predicting the past?” It is, and there are still problems with the results.

In Utah County, for example, his model says 231,962 ballots were cast out of a total of 286,648 registered voters. In reality there were 291,159 ballots cast out of a total of 326,485 registered voters.

In Davis County, he modeled 137,458 ballots cast and 162,883 registered voters, but the total was 172,544 ballots and 192,849 registered voters.

And in Washington County, Frank’s model estimates 137,458 ballots and 162,883 registered voters when, in fact, there were 172,544 ballots and 192,849 registered voters

So his magic model misses the mark by a lot.

But maybe those are all the fraudulent ballots? Let’s think about that.

Frank’s belief is that the outcome of the entire 2020 election was dictated by this computer algorithm. Logically, that would have to apply up and down the ballot, from president to dog catcher. Christiansen supports that notion. As he put it, the “algorithm is functioning here in the State of Utah to control and determine the outcome of elections.”

That doesn’t make sense, because voting machines and counting machines are “air gapped,” meaning they’re never connected to the Internet, specifically to prevent the potential hacking Frank’s fantasy requires.

Could someone gain physical access to the machines? It’s unlikely, but assuming they did, every county in Utah hand-counts a number of random precincts just to make sure the numbers are the same as the computer-tabulated results.

If the machines were hacked and fed Frank’s algorithm, the counts would be different and the alarm bells would go off.

That is, unless the fraudsters actually had real ballots printed, sent to addresses of inactive, dead or phantom voters (in the proper age breakdowns so as not to skew Frank’s formula), managed to collect the ballots and fabricate or forge all of the signatures well enough to foil the signature validation so the ballots would be counted.

And why would they do that? To change the results in Utah counties that no Democrat has won in decades and in a state that no Democrat has won in more than half a century?

That is either an AWFUL lot of time and effort to put in, or it’s a patently absurd conspiracy theory on its face.

“I would be incredibly shocked to learn of any significant systemic effort to undermine our systems that went completely undetected,” Josh Daniels, the new Republican Utah County Clerk, told me Monday. “I can’t see any scenario in which our systems were completely undermined and disrupted with zero detection all across the state.”

Republican State Auditor John Dougall said he has received requests for election audits in the state, but nobody has been able to articulate what, specifically they want him to examine.

Christiansen, in his podcast, expressed frustration that his request for a legislative audit (not one by Dougall’s office) hasn’t materialized. But he can’t really explain where there has been fraud, either, beyond some videos he watched with the My Pillow guy.

Auditing Bigfoot would be a more productive use of auditors’ time and taxpayers’ money.

We shouldn’t be too glib about these crackpot conspiracy theories that people like Trump and Frank and Christiansen keep peddling.

“The impact is obvious,” Justin Lee, the state elections director, told me. “It diminishes confidence in the outcome of the election, and if you diminish confidence in the outcome of the election, you diminish confidence in government.”

What it really does is it undermines our democracy. And to the extent foreign powers want to harm the United States, they have great partners in people like Trump, Lindell and Christiansen, because ultimately it’s not our elections that lack integrity. It’s them.

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