Nov. 14, 2022

Bots And Ballots

A remarkable thing is happening today; they are still counting ballots. These are ballots from an election of nearly a week ago. In the most technologically advanced country, we still need to determine who makes up the final roster in the US Senate and House of Representatives. And the worst reporting state of all is that technology powerhouse, California. Roughly half the uncounted House votes come from the Golden State.

Counting ballots that take days to complete is a marked contrast to how this country used to run elections. Seventy-four years ago, in the most hotly contested Presidential Election of its time, Dewey versus Truman, votes were counted, and the election was determined by the following day. Through the night, poll workers counted ballots, and tallies reported in real-time. By 11:30 am the next day, Dewey telegraphed his concession to Truman. The election was settled in under 24 hours.

Today, of course, we don't do things like that. We've turned much of the actual counting of the ballots to computers. Machines have, by and large, taken the place of people. And the result is that we've introduced a new element into our elections: "bots."

I like to shop online, and it's there that I first seriously encountered "bots." Bots are those little bits of fraud that seem endemic in everything involving Information Technology. I have many trees and was shopping for a chainsaw to manage my little "woods." As I usually do, I read the ratings. And as I was going through the ratings for a particular saw, I found this one:

"This is the best. It's comfortable, warm, and fuzzy. I sleep with it almost every night."


Well, they weren't talking about a chainsaw. More likely some blanket. I concluded that it was just a mistake in the ratings. Until I read further and found more comments that were just as far off the mark, it was likely that what I saw were "bots." Designated to increase the chain saw's rating, making it appear more popular than it was.

Amazon must have also been aware of this problem and introduced the "verified purchase" category shortly after so that a shopper like me could tell those customers who purchased the product from just bots.

A little later, I was shopping for a field camera, one that you can hang on a tree, and it will photograph any wildlife walking past. But shoppers still need to be cautious. One particular camera caught my eye. Again I started looking through the ratings. This time I noticed that many were the same, identical comment over and over again. The camera had over a thousand ratings, but when I looked at only the verified purchases, that number dropped to less than twenty. Again, someone was trying to boost ratings to increase sales.

Bots are a severe problem wherever Information Technology is present. Bots have distorted the scope and reach of various Social Media Platforms. You may recall the controversy over the number of Facebook users. An accurate count of the number of Facebook users determines how much Facebook can charge for their advertisements. Inflate the number of users by adding Bots, and Facebook revenue climbs.

More recently, Elon Musk nearly backed out of his purchase of Twitter because of the high number of bots. Estimates are that between 20 and 40% of Twitter users are bots. Not people, but computer-generated bots.

But that's just in the real world, where you and I live, work, interact with other people, and shop. In that world, bots are everywhere.

However, when it comes to our elections, everything changes. We are told that there are no bots in our elections. Election results match the number of registered voters, and I know that because every major news outlet tells me that's the case, the Washington Post, New York Times, AP News, Snopes, and on and on. The number of articles refuting the mere concept that bots exist in elections must number in the thousands. Over the past two years, a sub-industry has sprung up that denies all claims of bots in our elections.

It's remarkable how many pages tell us that such bastions of electoral purity as Baltimore, Detroit, Chicago, and Philadelphia, are devoid of bots. In each one of those locations, the number of ballots cast precisely equals the number of registered voters.

It's truly remarkable.

I don't know about you, but I'm relieved. I feel better if the nation's major news outlets tell us that there are no bots in our elections. You don't need to look any further. The media has spoken.
If our media is so untied, it must be true.

Maybe now I will buy that chainsaw. After all, it says right here that it's "warm and fuzzy."

Econ Briefs



The effects of that very soft inflation reading last week, remember the CPI came in at just 7,7%, appear to be over. Once again, the debt markets are looking for continued tightening by the Federal Reserve. And that, of course, means higher interest rates ahead. This morning the ten-year Treasury is back at 3.9% after hitting one month low last week.

Higher interest rates mean a stronger dollar. Today the dollar index is back at 107 after falling to a three-month low last week.

Altogether, last week's euphoria over a possible end to inflation has faded into memory, and we are back to the doldrums. Futures across the board are lower, including equities, bonds, precious metals, and oil. The only bright spot is those Crypto Currencies, which are all bouncing off catastrophic lows.

There is some good economic news coming from overseas. From India, the report that inflation is slowing more than expected. The latest Indian Inflation rate came in at 6.77%. While Japan reported that its economy is growing faster than expected. GDP in Japan came in at 3.5%