Drawing Districts

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S1: The following program may offend those who say fudge instead of another F word. It may also offend those who say fudge when asked to rank their top three desserts and the.

S2: It’s Tuesday, September 29th, twenty twenty from Slate, it’s the gist.

S3: I’m Mike Pesca and today is the first of the presidential debates. Now, yesterday, if you heard the show, Philippe Rinus was on talking about the challenges of debating Donald Trump, who once played Donald Trump. And Donald Trump does have challenges. And it’s not that he’s a good debater or can lay out a clever argument or even has a way with words.

S4: In fact, it’s because he’s not even a, B plus or C minus at any of those skills. It’s because he’s so deficient that it just makes the ground under his code debaters feet a little shaky. So let me give you a little bit of an analogy. Let’s say you and I were debating what’s the best vegetable and I took broccoli and you took asparagus. Well, I know how to make the case. And you would probably, too, and I would anticipate your case, and I think that I might win. All right. Now, here’s the second analogy. What if I took broccoli and you took tomato? See, this is what I think goes on a lot of the time with a very smart debater versus someone who’s saying the thing that the public wants to hear, because I would feel really confident that broccoli is going to be tomato in the best vegetable debate because tomatoes are in a vegetable. I probably couldn’t get off that point, but I might lose the debate because the public would listen and agree and say, you know, I kind of do like tomatoes, but here’s what’s going on with Trump. The debate is between what if I took broccoli and you took a light bulb? But also your son is an illegal banana salesman and eggplants and windmills cause cancer. It would be really confusing. It would, I think, be a harder debate in a lot of ways that I wouldn’t know how to quote unquote, win. Maybe I’d be looking to take my broccoli and just survive. And this got me thinking of an analogy. When you play poker, when I play poker or someone who’s good but not that good. So let’s say maybe plays poker, what I want is for the other players to be reasonably good, to be reasonably rational so that they recognize their own self-interest and played in a way that I could at least get my head around and try to think like them. I do think it is true that very good poker players better than I maybe they are OK at accommodating this, but maybe they also hate playing with a true wild person who might not even know the rules of poker. Well, luckily, I have in my orbit Annie Duke. She is the best poker player I know. She is also well, sometimes host of The Gist. And you’re going to hear another interview she did coming up shortly. But Annie is the author of the new book How to Decide Simple Tools for Making Better Choices. Annie, thanks for coming on again.

S5: Thanks for having me again.

S4: So am I right about that? You’re a great poker player. Do you not like playing with not good players who are trying to work a move or an angle, but really people who might be crazy and not quite understand what their own self-interest is?

S5: Yeah, so it’s so interesting, actually. So me personally, once I kind of got to the level that I got to, I did not mind it because then you really understand what the strategic interests are that you’re supposed to make. You’re bringing up a really good point, because I would say, like by far the most common question that I got when I was a pro, when I used to play poker, was people who were like, you know, pretty good. There were intermediate, maybe a little bit on their way to advance. And they would say to me, how can you stand to play against bad players? Don’t you never want to play against a bad player? I only want to play against people who know what they’re doing. So this is a very common sentiment.

S1: And so what do you and your answer is when you get to be so good, you do what? What kind of skills do you draw upon to actually enjoy playing with a bad player or bring out his badness?

S5: Yes. So I actually think that this is really relevant to what you’re talking about in terms of like maybe what your debate strategy would be. So the big problem that people were pointing out was that bad players are more unpredictable. They’re not necessarily playing by the same rules that you think that they should be playing by. So just like as an example, one of the things that’s kind of fun to do and also an effective tool in poker is to bluff somebody to try to put in a lot of chips and one without the best hat. That requires, though, that your opponent knows that they’re supposed to fold. Right. So it’s a situation where it should be obvious that you should be able to push them around and then your opponent, most rational people would follow. But what do you do if your opponent doesn’t fold in that situation? Well, you lose all your money. So this is kind of the problem that they’re talking about is they don’t really know what to do when somebody else kind of isn’t playing by their rules. And there’s a pretty simple answer to it. It makes your life a little bit boring, but very profitable, which is to just play tight. What does that mean to not bring that wild and kind of crazy game to them, which is the way that they could actually win despite not really knowing what they’re doing? And instead for you to sort of buckle it down and what would be called run the best hant into them to sort of wait until you really have them to.

S4: And then get them to do these silly things where they give out their money to you, right, because poker is about a lot of things and one of it is recognizing or trying to build the best hands. But that’s far from the most important thing. But in this scenario, all you have to do is wait until you have a monster or at least you’re really sure that it’s better than your opponent and then just play very rationally, very conventionally. Eventually your opponent doesn’t know what he’s doing. It is a little bit of a wild man will shoot himself in the foot.

S5: One thing is that there’s there’s more silliness to that. Like in the short run, an opponent can win even if you’re playing that strategy. This is much more kind of in the long run that’s going to play out that way. And the other is that it’s really frustrating when someone is doing really kind of nutty stuff at the table to not feel like you should be bringing your game to them. In other words, that you shouldn’t be doing some nutty things back. You can really get caught up in kind of their strategy. And so what I what I saw kind of to your point, like if you think about the 2016 debates, particularly the Republican debates, you kind of saw everybody getting sort of starting to declare a light bulb all the time as a vegetable. Right. Like you saw Marco Rubio do that where he started to sort of play that insult game back back to Trump. You even saw like Jeb Bush do that a little bit. You certainly saw Ted Cruz do that when someone’s playing that kind of really wild game, which is sort of not following the rules, it’s really hard not to sort of get mesmerized by that and to think that you’re supposed to be playing like that as well, that you’re supposed to play that same game.

S1: And that’s that’s a road to death that is so interesting and obviously applicable to a debate. But you did say one other thing. One reason that a very irrational player might be challenging is he doesn’t recognize how good your cards are or what you’re signaling about your cards. And he might not know to fold. But what about the other way around that he might be bluffing with good cards or not bluffing with really bad cards? He might misread his hand or not recognize his own hand. And I think sometimes some of that does go on with Donald Trump. Like he keeps pounding and pounding these points that are not helping him at all. And you say, why does he keep doing that? Is there a special poker analogy for what to do in reaction to that?

S5: Those are actually the same problem. So if you think about somebody betting a hand that maybe they shouldn’t be betting, that’s kind of the same thing as them calling with the hand that maybe they shouldn’t be calling with. So these are all kind of a piece. I have no idea whether you know what my hand is. And so I’m just going to kind of play a lot of stuff and hope something works out right.

S1: Scattershot, saying a lot of different things, sometimes self-contradictory, playing a good hand as if we’re bad a band. And it was good. You you can’t recognize it, right?

S5: Right, exactly. I think that is kind of a different way that the poker analogy kind of fits in here. So in terms of this issue of when someone’s kind of being what we call it, there’s a word for it in poker. It’s called a maniac. Just I’m betting big, not really like here nor there with the hand, just sort of like always being aggressive. Right. And I think that’s a pretty good example of Donald Trump. Like, he’s not he’s not ever like laying off. He’s always kind of pushing and being aggressive and sort of betting big. So so when someone’s being a maniac like that, you you really want to play tight and kind of what’s called run the Nats into them, run the best handed to them. So pretty simple. If you like, sort of sit back and lay back, you can usually assume that that person will sort of explode. Right. In some way. That’s not going to really work out for them. But you have to be pretty patient and not not sort of bring that game to them. So it does require some patience. I think that that analogy is actually reasonable. But I think actually the more important analogy in terms of Trump in the debates and Biden and kind of what’s going on is that what you find at the table is that once people have sort of decided who somebody is, even in the face of new evidence, like even in the face of that player now playing differently, they kind of won’t change their minds. So once they decide you’re this type of person or you’re this type of person, you’re a maniac or you’re not a maniac, you’re tight or you’re not tight. It’s very hard to move them off of that belief. I actually think about that in terms of why does Donald Trump just kind of say stuff? Well, because people don’t really move their beliefs around him in the same way that you see at the poker table that they don’t kind of update the way that they feel about him in the face of new evidence. In that sense, it’s a different way that it’s like poker.

S1: And how would that either affect debate strategy or say something about the election and the choices voters are making in terms of debate strategy?

S5: That’s where kind of the type versus loose. Like, I would really hope that if Biden shows up and he does a good job and he’s reasonable and he knows the policy well and he’s coherent, I don’t think he needs to do a lot more. And I wouldn’t try to do a lot more if I were him. I wouldn’t if I were Biden, I wouldn’t be going insane. Like I’m going to outdebate this guy. I would go in and say, I’m going to do a good. Yeah, yeah, I’m going to know my position, I’m going to say it coherently, and that’s going to be enough to win because the other person is more likely to blow up. And so I don’t need to do anything spectacular here. I can allow them to blow up.

S1: And to is a World Series of poker champion, author of the best selling Thinking and Bets and the forthcoming How to Decide Simple Tools for Making Better Choices.

S6: Thank you, Andy. Thank you. On the show today to many of our systems demand perfection, at least in the eyes of those who are suspicious of them. And the Brooklyn to prove that point. That is the spiel.

S7: But first, I’ve seen it the interview portion of the show, the woman who I just interviewed, no quid pro quo, in fact, perfect Zoome. Call Annie Duke and Tufts University mathematics professor Moon Dugin, who leads the metric geometry and gerrymandering group, are in conversation. At issue, fixing the problem of gerrymandered districts, districts that are just crazily drawn. There must be a way to define and describe when a shape is officially contorted bizarrely and when it’s just a shape. But it in fact is not so easy how to define when boundaries are out of bounds with any Duke and Moon Dugin up next.

S8: Back when I was guest hosting for Mike in August, there was a guest that I really wanted to interview who just wasn’t available at the time, and her name is Moon Dutcher, and I was so disappointed. But then actually Mike reached out to me to tell me that they had managed to get in touch with Moon and that she was now available and did I want to do the interview? And of course, I jumped at the chance. I was I was so excited. Moon is an associate professor of mathematics at Tufts. She serves as the director of Tufts Interdisciplinary Science, Technology and Society Program. She leads a lab along with Justin Solomon of MIT, which is called the Metric Geometry and Gerrymandering Group. And she has some really cool things and really a really cool point of view about gerrymandering in this country and how we might address it and why mathematics might be a really interesting approach in something that we would normally think about, as in the political space of the political science space, the moon. I’m so excited to be talking to you. Welcome to the show. Thank you. Great to be here. So I’d like to kind of start at the beginning and just understand a little bit about what your background is, what it is that you study in your day job.

S9: So the kind of math that I do is is really theoretical. I came up in a field called low dimensional topology, which Bilo dimensions. We mean dimensions two and three. There’s a whole other tribe of people who like to think about four dimensional shapes and then five and up is called high dimensional. And that’s how we divide up the world. And so I learn a lot of geometry, topology, group theory dynamics and did things that maybe one day would be applied to the real world. But probably one hundred plus years away. In twenty sixteen I encountered through teaching I encountered voting theory and thought at the time, like when I put the things together and do think about shapes and voting. So redistricting was a really natural way to make my geometry mind work together with my politics and civil rights. Find from there in twenty sixteen. First it was something I was teaching, then it was something I was researching and kind of putting together conferences and trainings on. And now it’s like a full blown research emphasis and obsession. And the lab that you mentioned, which is run out of the Tisch College of Civic Life at Tufts, we’ve got like ten or twelve people working together now, and that’s people from computer science, from geography, people with a policy bent, kind of a whole mishmash of different backgrounds, trying to think about how to make those fields talk to each other to work on redistricting.

S8: It’s so funny because until I heard you, I hadn’t ever thought about distracting as a geometry problem. Can you just describe really quickly, as you think about distracting how geometry fits in and what other things that’s sort of colliding with as you’re trying to figure out? What would a good district look like?

S9: Totally. That’s that’s the central question. And it’s impossible. The question you have to keep asking. But, you know, so where the geometry at first I thought the geometry was like the shapes of the districts and what they look like. You know, I still think there’s some interesting things to say about that. But now I think, like the heart of the problem is a little bit different. It’s just when you divide things up into connected pieces, what properties should you expect those pieces to have? And it turns out that what’s really important there is that the pieces are connected.

S8: Let me just just interrupt for a second. So if I connected, what you mean is we have this intuition that a district should have boundaries that are connected to each other. In other words, you shouldn’t have a district where there was a piece of it in the northern part of the state and a piece of it in the southern part of the state that we want it to be a whole.

S9: Yeah. So basically, it means you should be able to travel within the district from every position in the district to every other position without leaving the district. That sounds straightforward, but then when you start to think about water, what does it actually mean? Like you have to cross the bay or if you have to travel to an island, it becomes a lot more a little bit of a gray area. What connected means anymore. But let’s put that aside. By and large, I understand what it means for a district to be in one piece instead of many pieces. And it turns out, as I’ve gotten deeper and deeper into the problem, that’s the big thing that makes it so hard, is dividing something up into connected pieces. It turns out that that already a lot of the complexity is just there. So there’s a ton of math, hundreds of years of math, thinking about combinatorics or all the ways to sort of count and enumerate all the ways to divide things up. Once you impose this like geometric or topological constraint, that is that it’s connected, everything changes. So let me give you a quick example. Districts are really cruel to minorities. And I just mean that as a matter of math. Right. Then we can we can start talking about racial justice layered on top of that. But first, let’s just talk about the math piece. As soon as you have, like less than half of the people in a state, well, depending on how the people are distributed, it’s likely that when you divide that. State up into pieces that minority’s not going to control a lot of those pieces.

S8: Obviously, this is a problem for racial minorities who are a minority of the population itself. But I assume this would also be a problem where there are some states that are majority Democrat and some states that are majority Republican. So we’re going to have this problem regardless of the racial justice issue, right?

S9: Absolutely. It layers with the racial justice issue. But your example is right on. So like I live in Massachusetts, people think of it, is this like deep blue state? But actually, if you look at how people vote for Senate or you look at how they vote for president, it’s actually about two thirds, one third. That’s a lot more typical over the last 20 years of voting here. So then you ask yourself, OK, if Massachusetts has something like a third of its voters who prefer Republicans, why are we sending all only only Democrats to Congress? And by only you mean really only, right? Yeah, I mean I mean in the like, super literal sense. So right now we have a congressional delegation of nine people, used to be 10 before the last census. And we haven’t elected a Republican to Congress since nineteen ninety four.

S8: It seems so counterintuitive because I think that, you know, when we think about representative democracy, that, you know, the intuition is that fair would be if a third of the people in the state are Republican and two thirds of the people in the state are Democrat, that you would have two thirds representatives from the Democratic Party and one third representatives from the Republican Party or vice versa, that that’s sort of what we would think of as fair in terms of representative democracy. But you’re saying certainly, at least in Massachusetts, that’s not true.

S9: Absolutely. I’m saying that the that the math of districting messes with your intuition, most people’s idea of fairness would be proportional to people’s preferences. So if a third of voters want to pick Republicans, you’d expect a third of our delegation to be Republicans. But it doesn’t happen that way. And when you hear that, you think gerrymandering, certainly what came to my mind.

S8: I mean, I’m sitting here like, wow, Massachusetts much these super gerrymandered.

S9: Right. Do you think that. Exactly. And so so we looked into it in my lab. And what we found is that there’s actually no way to draw a Republican favoring district in Massachusetts that can’t be done. We proved it and we published it. We put it in the Election Law Journal and it got quoted actually by Justice Kagan in the Supreme Court decision last year in dissent, unfortunately. But yeah. So you can actually write down a proof that says that even if you look at some of these election patterns or sort of the state is voting for Republicans, you can’t make a district that favors them. And actually, let me just double down on that, because the results even stronger than it sounds at first. The problem is connected districts, connected districts make everything really hard. We go further in that paper. We say even if you let them be disconnected, as long as you were building out of precincts, which is just how people vote people in their precincts, it can’t be done. You can’t even pick enough precincts that have a Republican advantage.

S8: So can you just explain the definition of a gerrymander so we can understand separate apart from the result? Because apparently Massachusetts, you can get this very strange result without a gerrymander happening in terms of the drawing of the districts that would allow us to know that it was a detriment.

S9: Yeah, OK, great question. That’s the question that I spent a lot of time thinking about. What is the districting plan? So a districting plan is just a way of taking the state or city or county or whatever it is that has to do the voting and dividing it into pieces that vote. OK, that’s the plan. We like to think about districts as though their boundaries are like lines drawn on a map. But actually, here’s the mathematician in me that that means we’re thinking about it as a continuous problem where you have these shapes and their boundaries. But actually it’s a lot more of a discrete problem because it’s really about dividing up the people in the state. There’s only so many of them. And actually in practice, the way you divide them up, you have to use the units, but you can count people in. And so that’s where the census comes in. And this is why everyone is one of the many reasons why everyone so up in arms about the politicization of the census. The census gives you the atoms.

S8: There’s like the pixels that you draw with and each district should have the exact same number of people in it.

S9: Yeah, actually, when you say exact, you’re not kidding. When it comes to congressional plans, most states balance their districts. So exactly that. No district has a different size than any other district by more than one person as exact as you can get when you’re dealing with people.

S8: So that that becomes difficult because you have to know they have to be contiguous. You need the exact same number of people. Right. I’m not sure if you’re worrying about water or not or mountains. OK, so now assume that there wasn’t a gerrymander versus there was a gerrymander. So how how can we tell the difference? Because what you’re telling me is it’s not just the result.

S9: That’s right. That’s right. Exactly. Yeah. So so that’s the really hard question that the courts have been tripping over for fifty years, which is. You can’t you know, people talk about vote dilution, but the same way you don’t know a drink is diluted unless you know what it’s supposed to taste like, you don’t know that the votes have been diluted unless you know how they’re supposed to fall, right? Oh, OK. It requires you to shift your perspective to think about it that way, because we’re so used to thinking about proportionality, but a reasonable question. I’m not saying it’s the only important question, but a really important question is, well, what if nobody was trying to gerrymander? What if you just listen to the rules and looked at kind of all the possible ways to divide people up according to those rules? And then what’s nice about that way of thinking is that you can add rules and take rules away like we did in Massachusetts. You can say, OK, I can’t make a Republican district if I have to make them connected. What if I drop that rule? What if they can be disconnected? Then what can I do? And so this this way of tackling the gerrymandering problem, it’s a very mathematical way of setting up the world. But it’s like, given these rules, what would I tend to see if I just drew plans neutrally?

S8: But then we’ll let the Republicans sort of be spread across the other one. So even though the Democrats might get more of the vote by percentage because we piled a whole bunch of them into one district, the rest of their votes get diluted. So my question to you is, how does that happen if we have this issue of equal number of people in each district? So how do you accomplish both of those things at the same time?

S9: Sure, yeah. OK, so imagine that I have 40 percent of the population in the state will call Wisconsin, but let’s suppose I have 40 percent of the population who’s going to vote my way and let’s suppose I have total control of the district. So let’s let’s think about this kind of almost game, theoretically, what would be my optimum district drawing strategy? OK, so if I have 40 percent of the voters, what I’d like to do is divide up into districts where I win by just a little. So maybe a district where I win with fifty two percent and another with fifty one percent. Fifty two percent. And I’ll take a whole bunch of those narrow wins. And then like you just said, I’ll sort of set other districts aside as lost and I’ll put zero of my voters in the lost districts that some have called this efficiency. Like the ideas. I want to distribute my votes really efficiently, to have narrow wins in some places and to just not even waste votes at all in others.

S8: But I assume and I guess this would be the lesson from Massachusetts, that you can only do that in a state that naturally has some population concentration. So it’s not necessarily that the population concentration is causing the problem, it’s that the population concentration allows you to take advantage of that.

S9: Is that that’s like right on. Yeah. If you have clustering, then you have a lot of them. The district, the all powerful district draw can take advantage of that clustering to carve out designer districts with whatever percents they want. But if you’re like Massachusetts, here’s why Massachusetts gerrymandered itself. In a sense, Republicans are so spread out thinly. There’s a thin layer of Republicans all across the state. I like to say that it’s not just a third of the state, but it’s also a third of every county and a third of every town and probably even a third of the house. Right. So if Republicans are sort of evenly spread all over the state, then it doesn’t matter where do you draw the lines or how you chunk the people? Every piece is going to have the same statistics as the state overall. If there’s a lot of clustering, the Lindros have a lot of control. If not, then there’s less that there’s not a lot they could do.

S8: They could they could try to do it, but they’re not going to be able to produce a result that’s that much different than if you randomly draw the district. Yeah. Given sort of what you were talking about in terms of some of what’s happening in the states where minorities are living versus where they aren’t, would you expect on a national level that there would be a structural advantage to the party that did not have the majority minority voters voting for it? Or is that not an intuition that would hold?

S9: I wouldn’t necessarily think that. I would say that the fact that right now there’s so much voting cohesion, particularly among black Americans, tend to vote for Democrats really high numbers. What that does is it makes it really easy to use race as a proxy for party and the other way around the party as a proxy for race. That makes gerrymandering a whole lot easier because an individual voter ID might be registered. Kentucky still has more registered Democrats and registered Republicans. The registration might not tell you much about how they’re going to vote, but the race really will. You know, we don’t have to be satisfied with just the blind consequences of the math. We can push the math by changing the rules. And actually, that’s what the court said last summer when they said we don’t want to think about partisan gerrymandering anymore. Let’s throw to the states states make your own rules.

S8: And I think that we need to step take a step back and. Remember that these things are all expressions of what our goals are and what we value as voters and within a state, and that we do have control over that. And obviously it’s going to be handled state by state, but each state can say what they want. And then someone like you, a brilliant mathematician, can come in and say, let me figure out how to, you know, mathematically how I can actually get a districting plan that aligns with what your values are and what your goals are in terms of representation.

S9: Yeah, that’s exactly how I feel. We can study the consequences of the rules, but if we want to think about reform, we shouldn’t, like, outsource redistricting to computers or treat them like game theory problems. Instead, we should reform the rules. Right. And we can do that. And citizens have been doing it in many states just in the last few years. I’m really optimistic about that trend.

S8: Well, thank you so much for coming on and talking to me and getting back to me. And I’m so excited that I actually got to have this conversation. It was as wonderful as everything I had hoped for. I think this is absolutely my pleasure.

S9: Next time we talk, I’ll interview you.

S10: And Duke is a former professional poker player, cognitive scientist and author of the forthcoming How to Decide Simple Tools for Making Better Choices. Duchin is a mathematics professor at Tufts who founded the Metric Geometry and Gerrymandering Group, an organization that focuses its research on voter redistricting. I have no idea if she’s good at.

S1: And now the spiel Donald Trump has been obsessing about seven crumpled up ballots in Pennsylvania and a tray of ballots along with some other mail found in a ditch in Wisconsin. He calls the ditch a river. But now there’s not just a rumor of a handful of ballots lost in a state where Donald Trump would never build a property owner. No, the shambles is coming from his former backyard voters in Brooklyn getting absentee ballots in the mail only to discover someone else’s name is inside. It turns out if the voter signs it, it invalidates the ballot yump. 100000 ballots mistakenly sent out to voters with the names of different voters on the inside of the envelopes, in fact, on the ballots themselves. So a voter might stick that preprinted ballot in the mail, sign it and guess what? You’re signing someone else’s name. You’ve invalidated your ballot. You’ve disenfranchised yourself. Now, of course, Donald Trump is going to seize on this. And I’m not going to say he’s right, too, but it’s quite understandable. It’s wrong to undermine democracy. But I would expect any politician who would clearly be hurt by mail in ballots to raise a fuss when mail in ballots are screwed up and New York screwed up, just like New York screwed up the process for counting in their Democratic primaries this summer, just like New York routinely screws up with long lines on Election Day and nearly constant confusion about election procedures. What Georgia does out of malice, New York does out of incompetence. And the result is quite similar. But it’s only because New York is so blue and therefore not a state of any drama during Election Day that this isn’t a five alarm fire, but it is a big opportunity for Trump to throw some oil on the amount of fire that it is and to cast some doubt on the election. It’s not entirely an unfair point, but then again, it’s not entirely fair. Like I said, New York’s misstep was done out of incompetence, they contracted with a company no bid contract, from what I hear, and that company screwed up, but no one really stands to benefit if 100000 New Yorkers get disenfranchised by sending a ballot they’ve signed, even though it’s preprinted with someone else’s name. You want to know something? Let’s admit this. Our voting system sucks. It’s antiquated, it doesn’t work great. It doesn’t really work sufficiently. It’s been ignored. Sure, the motives of Trump are not honest motives, especially when they spin out from those true points a narrative of malfeasance. But there is ample evidence of nonfeasance. And if Democrats really were competent guardians of democracy, they might do something about their states that routinely fail in embarrassing ways. Because right now in America we have a problem goes way beyond elections because of social media and the disintegration of institutions that were once gatekeepers. It is really easy for bad actors to gain a lot of attention, to bend a lot of ears, to gain a lot of mind and a lot of purchase in the discourse. And motivated reasoning is a powerful force which can be used as a powerful tool. So I think of trust as a house and doubt as a termite. It is not that hard to undo what was once a solid foundation. And with so many things, the standard is becoming perfection. It needs to be perfect because there are so many doubts about it in terms of less high stakes professional refereeing, in terms of pretty high stakes, the media. Is the media fake news? No, but you can find some bad reporting here and there. You can find retracted stories, reports that get out ahead of themselves. So BuzzFeed reports that Michael Cohen says the president told him to lie. Turns out that didn’t happen. OK, it’s one story out of thousands. The media can get one wrong. It doesn’t mean overall the media is wrong. Well, there was also that meeting in Prague. OK, two stories out of thousands, OK? And also maybe a little bit too gleefully reporting on the possibility of tapes. All right. So you see what happens. You can use these imperfections of the media to cast a pall on all reporting. If we demand perfection, we’re always going to come up short. And the people who are motivated for us to cast doubt know this to be the case. It’s happening with the election. Sure, there were questions about seven ballots here, a mail bag in a ditch there. If we demand perfection, those couple of ballots, few ballots, a couple of incidents are going to start to loom large and make us doubt the overall system. But then comes Brooklyn and the Brooklyn mistake isn’t simply coming up a little short. It is a bad mistake. And when you consider the stakes, it is a very bad mistake. The enemies of democracy are trying to insert a standard of perfection in this sprawling, complex system that simply can’t be perfect because few things can. But the bunglers of democracy, which is to say the New York Board of Elections are in fact aiding them not by intent, but by effect. Luckily, you’d think that New York Democrats have a capacity that the enemies of democracy do not have a capacity to feel shame. Also, maybe they have more triggers or levers to hold them accountable. You can at least hope that’s true. Maybe they can reform, maybe if they actually try. We can’t force reform on whatever wayward Wisconsin ditch dwelling mail carrier, but let us hope that the state boards of election who actually want the election to go well, take their job seriously, at least as seriously as the majority of voters will be taking theirs.

S6: And that’s it for today’s show, Jamila Bey pitched in today. What do you know that’s got rhythm? The patriarch of Constantinople set off the great schism. Daniel Shrader produces the gist. Pressed by mind control today, Margaret Kelly produces the gist of her own free will and accord, pushes those shirtsleeves up, gets to work a little elbow grease. Good. It’s why the shirt sleeves are up. Alicia Montgomery is the executive producer of Slate podcasts. She wants three Bhat, a dominated flush drawer under the gun. It still holds a position of stature and esteem within this organization. Crazy, right? The gist. Joe Biden knows that a maniac can be undone by the nuts. And even though he’s a Democrat, definitely doesn’t want to be the donkey who improves Perugia, Peru. And thanks for listening.