What if the 2020 U.S. presidential election was stolen?
To ask this question is to kick a hornet’s nest of conspiracy theories. People have allegedly been kicked off social-media platforms just for asking this question.
Emerging government efforts to crack down on “disinformation,” in Europe as well as in America, are likely going to classify questions about election integrity as “disinformation.” Liz Cheney, a republican member of the U.S. House of Representatives and a credible presidential contender in 2024, has forcefully called it a “big lie” to suggest that there was anything untoward with the 2020 election.
She is not alone. After the election, American media quickly tried to put the lid on any such conversation. Already on November 12th, 2020, Yahoo News purported to have evidence that it was “the most secure” election in history. They claimed this nine days after the election, while in some states ballots were still being certified, even re-counted.
In January 2021, CBS News announced that they had debunked six “conspiracy theories about the 2020 election.”
It is important to emphasize that to date, there is no credible evidence that illicit measures tipped the 2020 election in favor of Joe Biden. However, to do as Yahoo and CBS did, to firmly declare the election tamper-free within two months, or just days, of ballots closing, is to engage in journalistic malpractice. In an election with 150 million voters, spread across 50 states, it is simply not humanly possible to firmly exclude any tampering, significant or not.
A more muted and journalistically honest approach would have been to say that “so far, so good.” One reason why this approach is recommendable can be observed in a new film by author Dinesh D’Souza. Called 2000 Mules, the film uses a compelling technical analysis to argue that organized mail-in ballot fraud tipped the presidential election in Biden’s favor.
It is important to mention right from the start that D’Souza does not have enough mileage to bring this one home. There are several problems with his analysis, some of which have been covered by Ben Shapiro. At the same time, these problems are not enough to falsify D’Souza’s argument: all they do is reduce it from a proven theory to a compelling hypothesis that should inspire more search for evidence.
Before I present what evidence I believe is needed, let us look at why it is essential to debate his film.
If D’Souza could prove that his well-presented, compelling hypothesis is correct, it would have enormous consequences for the United States. The catalyst would be a verdict by the Supreme Court in D’Souza’s favor, whereafter President Biden would resign and Donald Trump would be reinstated.
Even if this happened without hiccups (highly unlikely), the ripple effects would be astronomical. The Supreme Court ruling would invalidate trillions of dollars of government spending, nullify international treaties with Biden’s signature, void countless laws, and even raise questions about the legality of the judges he has appointed to federal courts.
And this is all under the unlikely assumption that Biden and the Democrats in Congress comply with the verdict.
Again, I discuss this scenario purely to provide a context as to why it is essential to not quell the debate over election fraud. The 2000 Mules film, while coming up short, is compelling and deserves a serious conversation.
The film exposes potentially organized abuse of the mail-in ballot and early voting system in order to tip the election—voters who prefer not to vote in person on election day can drop their ballots in designated boxes. Using commercially available data on cell phone movements, experts hired by D’Souza have identified approximately 2,000 individuals in several states who can be credibly suspected of dropping off large numbers of mail-in ballots in the designated boxes.
By tracking their cell-phone movements, the data experts were able to identify which boxes the individuals—referred to as “ballot mules”—visited, and when.
On average, the mules visited 20-30 boxes, which of course is highly suspicious. Even if someone is just dropping off their family’s mail-in ballots, there would be no need for them to drive all over town (in big cities like Atlanta or Philadelphia) to visit two or three dozen boxes.
Furthermore, D’Souza’s team were able to establish that on their way to the boxes, the ballot mules visited certain non-profit organizations. These outfits, claims the film, can be suspected of providing fraudulent mail-in ballots.
The total number of votes “trafficked” by the ballot mules is of course unknown; there is no way of tracking how many ballots each person drops at any given time. The film suggests that a mule dropped only five ballots at every stop; a high number of ballots would draw suspicion from the local election authority.
By multiplying the number of identified ballot mules with their ballot stops by five (for the assumed per-box drop), D’Souza concludes that this organized ballot delivery operation mailed approximately 200,000 ballots in just three states: Arizona, Georgia, and Pennsylvania. In each of these states, D’Souza contends, these ballots—which he refers to as “illegally trafficked”—were enough to swing the state from Trump to Biden.
The film concludes that in absence of these votes, Trump would have won the election. The technical reason is the electoral college: due to the federal nature of the U.S. Constitution, the president of the United States is elected by winning the most electoral votes, which in turn are distributed based on the popular vote in each state.
These 538 votes, in turn, are distributed among the states based on population; a candidate needs 270 to win. According to the certified electoral-college result, Joe Biden received 306 votes while Trump got 232. In his film, D’Souza concludes that if the “illegally trafficked” votes are removed, Arizona, Georgia, and Pennsylvania would swing from Biden to Trump. The electoral votes in these three states are enough to give Trump 270—in other words, to win the election.
As mentioned, this scenario is hypothetical; to win the debate, D’Souza needs to address the following list of weaknesses with his film.
First, D’Souza assumes that a ballot mule followed a specific pattern in driving between the ballot drop boxes. To make sure that these individuals aren’t local residents who happen to drive the same (very weird) routes on a regular basis, the team controlled for their cell phone data at a point in time well before the November 2020 election.
So far, so good. The problem occurs when D’Souza claims that these ballot mules dropped a minimum of five ballots in each box, and that those ballots were illegal. The former claim is trivial, but it is worth noting that he has no evidence of the actual number.
The latter claim is more problematic: it is theoretically possible that each ballot was legitimate, and that the locations where the ballot mules presumably picked up the ballots were run by organizations in the business of helping legitimate voters get their ballots mailed. Since the 2020 election took place during the COVID pandemic, it is reasonable to at least hypothesize that some voters were too scared of the virus to go to the ballot boxes themselves. Presumably, these organizations picked up their ballots and bulk mailed them.
If this hypothesis is correct, the ballots dropped by the ballot mules would reasonably be a mix of Trump and Biden votes. However, this is also pure conjecture. A thorough internet search, using multiple search engines, does not yield any credible results pointing to the ballot trafficking that the film identifies as having anything to do with pandemic-related voting assistance. It is just as credible that D’Souza is correct; what he needs to refute any doubt is solid evidence regarding the non-profits he suggests were involved in ballot trafficking.
Second, D’Souza assumes outright that all the ballots dropped by the mules are illegitimate Biden ballots. For this assumption to be true, he would have to be able to establish that nobody from the Trump side of the election campaign participated in similar efforts. Since it is very difficult to prove that something did not happen, the practical route here would (again) be to identify the participating non-profits—and frankly the mules themselves—as Democrat party operatives or affiliates.
Third, the suggestion that these votes would have flipped enough electoral votes to make Trump the winner depends on the classic ceteris paribus assumption. Plainly, D’Souza has to assume that there were no other irregularities in the election, especially not any irregularities that would add votes to the Trump column.
This is a perfectly reasonable assumption, but as with the other ones in his film, it needs some sort of validation. That would not be too hard to do, however: as mentioned, multiple news sources—especially with a leftist political slant—were quick to explain that there was no tampering with the 2020 election. If they are correct and we assume that D’Souza is proven correct about his hypothesis, then D’Souza’s claim about the electoral-college swing suddenly gains a lot of traction.
D’Souza has already replied to some of his critics in a recent podcast:
But while we wait for D’Souza and his organization to provide more evidence, it is worth noting that ballot harvesting is not the only potential weakness in the U.S. election system. This may come as a shock to Europeans, but 16 U.S. states allow people to vote without showing any form of identification. Another 15 states allow voters to prove their identity by means of other documents, such as a utility bill in their name, sent to their current residence.
In the remaining 19 states, voters must produce a valid identity card—such as a driver’s license or a permit to carry a concealed firearm—in order to be allowed to vote. The fact that so many states allow voting without proper identification is a constant matter of debate, where opponents of voter ID claim that “disenfranchised” voters, poor voters, or even voters of a certain race do not have identity cards and therefore cannot vote under such laws.
This allegation is, of course, ridiculous. As mentioned, existing laws in 31 states make it easy for a person to show up at the ballot box, claim to be a registered voter he or she is not, and vote in that person’s name. An organized effort by, say, left-leaning activists to fraudulently vote for registered Republicans could hypothetically swing the outcome in some precincts, perhaps even in an entire state.
Second, there is absolutely no merit to the suggestion that some lawful citizens live without an ID. You simply cannot do that in the United States, and presumably nowhere else in the civilized world. You cannot gain employment, open a bank account, cash a check, rent an apartment, buy or drive a car, or buy age-restricted products like alcohol, without identifying yourself.
The continued opposition to ID laws in states like California, Illinois, Minnesota, and New York suggests that there are those with influence over legislation who have a vested interest in keeping a system where fake voters can slip through. With this in mind, it is essential to keep the debate alive in America about weaknesses in the election system and how those can be, or are already being, exploited for fraudulent purposes.
This debate is needed in other countries as well. There are allegations in France not of illegal voting, but of deliberate tampering with Le Pen votes. So far, the allegations are limited to Twitter threads, such as this one with a voter showing how the official ballot package mailed to his home was prepared so that should he vote Le Pen, his vote would be automatically disqualified.
Another shadow over Macron’s re-election in April comes courtesy of British newspaper The Guardian, reporting an “alarmingly high” number of “spoiled votes.”
There is no more sacred institution in a democracy than the free, transparent, and secret election. Any credible suspicion of tampering must be vigorously debated and addressed until it is either falsified—or verified. Our democracy demands nothing less.
Sven R. Larson is a political economist and author. He received a Ph.D. in Economics from Roskilde University, Denmark. Originally from Sweden, he lives in America where for the past 16 years he has worked in politics and public policy. He has written several books, including Democracy or Socialism: The Fateful Question for America in 2024.