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Ken Block on the Campbell Conversations

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On this week's episode of the Campbell Conversations, Grant Reeher speaks to Ken Block, author of the book, "Disproven: My Unbiased Search for Voter Fraud for the Trump Campaign, the Data that Shows Why He Lost, and How We Can Improve Our Elections."

Program transcript:

Grant Reeher: Welcome to the Campbell Conversations. I'm Grant Reeher. Almost four years after the fact, we are still hearing about a supposedly stolen 2020 presidential election. My guest today is uniquely positioned to discuss this. He was the data analytics expert that the Trump campaign hired to investigate fraud in the election. Yet he found that there wasn't a case to be made. Ken Block is a political reformer and software engineer. The founder of the Moderate Party of Rhode Island, a former candidate for governor, and most importantly, again for our conversation here today, he's the author of a new book titled “Disproven: My Unbiased Search for Voter Fraud for the Trump Campaign, the Data that Shows Why He Lost, and How We Can Improve Our Elections.” Mr. Block, welcome to the program. Really interested to hear what you have to say.

Ken Block: I am so looking forward to this conversation. Let's go.

GR: All right. Great. Well, first of all, obviously this topic has become so tangled, it's going to be hard to unwrap it in the 27 minutes or so that we have. But we're going to try. I think the first thing that we ought to do briefly, if we can do this briefly, is to establish your credentials as an expert and your political background, because I'm sure that anyone listening is going to be wondering about those things right away. So tell us, tell us who you are in that regard.

KB: Sure. So, I am, a, 30-year veteran of the technology industry. I specialize in large database applications. I have an expert a knowledge expert in my field. I came to politics late in life, and I came into politics because in, 2008 or so, I became very unhappy with the choices that the two political parties were offering up to me. I became, very unhappy with what at the time, felt like a lot of hyper-partisanship. Of course, it's much worse now.

GR: Yeah. Those were the good old days.

KB: Yeah. And, in a spectacular, explosion of naivete, I said, well, the right answer is to start a new political party. And I, was the godfather of, in Rhode Island, the Moderate Party, which was a centrist political party. And, it was quite a fight to create the party. We had to sue the state in federal court, get some laws declared unconstitutional just to be given the chance to try to start the party. And, we, won the court case. We had to collect a huge number of signatures in order to qualify the party for the ballot. Then we had to stay on the ballot once we got on the ballot. And, I was essentially, because no good deed goes unpunished, my executive committee basically looked at me and said, well, now you have to run for governor so we can keep the party. So, that's how I got into politics. And, I, exceeded expectations in 2010, I got 6.5% of the vote, as running as a complete unknown and participating in about 40 debates. I realized that I was good at politics. I was really good at the debates. And I had the bug, and I realized in 2012 that, a third party just is too hard to do. I abandoned the party in 2012. I ran for governor in 2014, as a Republican, because in my state of Rhode Island, it's an incredibly blue state. And if you want to make change in Rhode Island, you can't do it from within the Democratic Party. The machine is, all-powerful. So the only option left to me was running as a Republican. I lost my statewide primary by 3000 votes. And I'm fond of saying now that, voter fraud was not to blame for my loss.

GR: Okay, so that explains then. I'm guessing, then, that the Trump campaign, when they came to you, you know, you were the they thought this this guy's not going to be hostile to a Republican candidate. He's got the data analytics chops to do this. So you were sort of the right combination for them. What were the initial, I'm curious to know, what were the initial stated grounds or the suspicions about the outcome that were communicated to you? I mean, the campaign comes to you and they say, we think this has a problem because of what?

KB: Well, interestingly, the lawyer who approached me to do this work, his name is Alex Cannon, did not come to me asking me for aspecific finding. He actually wanted proper due diligence. We, he asked me to provide an estimate for what it would take to look for deceased voters, to look for duplicate voters, where a voter votes in more than one jurisdiction in the same election. And as we discussed doing the work, I told him that in a decade of looking, very closely at voter data, I'd never seen anything close to what I knew the campaign needed to be found. And his response to that was, well, I appreciate your candor and, I want a straight-up assessment. You know, if you find it, you find it. I said, look, if I find it, it will survive legal scrutiny. So, yeah, you know, it'll be a foundation for, legal action if we find it. I said, if we don't find it, I'm going to tell you I didn't find it, and that's the end of it. And he said, perfect. Off we go. So there wasn't an expectation. And that's always surprising to people when I describe, what the nature of my engagement was, the lawyers I reported to were doing their professional due diligence in every, in every way. Which is a very unexpected thing for people to learn.

GR: So, briefly, what did you find?

KB: We found evidence of voter fraud in small amounts. We found some dead voters. We found some duplicate voters, nowhere near enough to have changed the election result in any of the swing states. And as I made Alex aware, as we were moving through all of this, I said, look, even imagine in Georgia that we found 20,000 fraudulent votes. Even if we find those votes, it still can't change the election result, because we have no way of determining for whom those fraudulent votes were cast. And so, without being able to do that, you can't show the harm the campaign needs to show to claim that something should be changed with the election result. And Alex, as a lawyer, got that right away. Unfortunately, it seems like almost nobody else in the country seems to have figured that out.

GR: Yeah, I'm glad you brought that up, because when I was thinking about this, I was thinking, how would you go about investigate this? I would think that at some point you would need to have individual human testimony, right? Like this person paid me to vote twice or, you know, I admit I voted twice. I was part of a group that tried to do that. Or, you know, we got these dead people to vote. I mean, don't you have to sort of have a testimony of some sort?

KB: Well, I think if you if we had been able to identify again, I am very careful when I talk about these hypotheticals. We didn't identify, but imagine if we did identify 20,000 deceased voters in Georgia. We would only need to be able to show two things. That the person who cast the vote is legally dead, and we have the ability to do that. But what we couldn't show is that, that vote was cast, on, you know, as a vote for, Biden or as a vote for Trump. That's not possible to do in our form of democracy. Who you vote for is anonymous by design and you would never want to be able to trace back who a specific individual voted for. So, had we found 20,000 fraudulent votes in Georgia, you can make a weak argument that you should redo the election because of the number of those votes, but because you couldn't prove the harm that those votes caused. I doubt any judge would have gone to that far to have changed the outcome of the election.

GR: I'm Grant Reeher. You're listening to the Campbell Conversations on WRVO Public Media, and my guest is Ken Block, and we're discussing his new book. It's titled “Disproven: My Unbiased Search for Voter Fraud for the Trump Campaign, the Data that Shows Why He Lost, and How We Can Improve Our Elections.” So you come back to the Trump campaign and you say, I didn't find anything. I didn't find what you guys were looking for. Here's what I found. How did they react? You said only the lawyers seem to understand.

KB: Yeah. So Alex did a couple of things besides giving me the freedom to give him a straight-up assessment. He also provided me political cover. Nobody above him knew my identity or the identity of my company while we were doing this work. And that was done specifically to avoid a problem where political pressure from the imagine potentially the White House, for example, would be brought to bear on me or my company, to find a specific set of results. So Alex was very receptive and understanding, of the fact that we couldn't find enough voter fraud to matter. He communicated that to Mark Meadows, who was Trump's Chief of Staff at the time. Meadows accepted that finding of fact as true, and he took that information into the Oval Office. What we glossed over here is that while I was asked to look for voter fraud, data mining for voter fraud, the second day of my contract, Alex started asking me to assess the validity of claims of voter fraud that other people brought to the attention of the campaign. And we looked at about 20 different claims of voter fraud, in the one-month window in which we had done all this work. And every single one of those voter fraud claims, I was able to show Alex why they were false, back it up with evidence and as a result of that work, several lawsuits that were going to be filed based on false evidence were stopped in their tracks.

GR: Wow. Okay, that sounds like that's equally important to the original work. I don't know if you have enough contact with the different people there to get into this, but I want to ask you anyway. So did you get any sense of sort of what the culture of the campaign, Trump campaign was sort of planet Trump in regard to this issue?

KB: So, no firsthand information. I wasn't going out to lunch with folks or anything like that. I was very I was siloed on purpose. My only day-to-day communications were with Alex Cannon.

GR: Okay. And this may be a tough question, too, but I have to ask it. Based on your interactions, do you think that there were people in the campaign that actually thought this election was fraudulent?

KB: Well, I would only. I would simply be speculating, right, because I didn't have the conversations so I cannot give you a firsthand account of anything. Based on the January 6th deposition, transcripts that I read, few people who were actually employed by the campaign, seemed to indicate that voter that they believed voter fraud was prevalent. The people who believe voter fraud was a big problem were external to the campaign. They were lawyers like Sidney Powell and Rudy Giuliani and John Eastman, folks like that. While they were attorneys and while they were filing lawsuits on behalf of President Trump, they weren't part of the formal campaign apparatus. So, we all know that there were people who, I don't know if they honestly believe that there was voter fraud, but they certainly, spent a lot of time, energy and money, bringing forward claims of voter fraud all over the place.

GR: You're listening to the Campbell Conversations on WRVO Public Media. I'm Grant Reeher, and I'm talking with data analytics expert Ken Block, who was hired by the Trump campaign in 2020 to investigate fraud in the election. He didn't find it, and his new book is titled “Disproven: My Unbiased Search for Voter Fraud for the Trump Campaign, the Data that Shows Why He Lost, and How We Can Improve Our Elections.” Okay, so Ken, we covered in the first half sort of what you did while you, you know, you didn't find anything, how that interaction went. So if Trump didn't lose because of fraud, why did he lose? You've got the explanation.

KB: Sure. “Republicans In Name Only.” The reason that Trump lost in 2020 through a couple of different ways of proving it was done in by the RINOs that he denigrated for years leading up to the election and whose support he publicly rejected. Trump made RINOs dead to him. And what happened in 2020? On a national, on a state-by-state basis and on a county-by-county basis, almost consistently across the country, across every county is Trump did about 2.5% less well, in terms of his total percentage of the vote won in 2020 than he did in 2016. 2.5% that 2.5% is the RINOs. And in the reddest states in the country, Trump did less well in 2020 than he did in 2016. And you, it's so consistent. This is it's not an abnormality. It's everywhere. It's a national trend. Secretary of State Raffensperger in Georgia, when they were analyzing the election results, found nearly 30,000 Republican primary voters who did not vote in the presidential election in 2020. So they voted in the primary, they didn't vote in the general. Remember, Trump lost by about 12,000 votes in Georgia. 30,000 votes in the Republican primary, voters didn't vote in the general election. Another 30,000 voters in the general election voted for down-ticket Republicans across the board, but left the presidential race blank. That's really compelling. Really important. The other thing, another equally stark fact is in Georgia, the libertarian candidate took about 50,000 votes and Trump lost by 12,000 votes. So there's a number of different explanations for it. Trump's own pollster did an exit poll, which is where they interview voters leaving a polling place, and they interviewed 30,000 voters across all the swing states. And they found that one out of six of those voters were Republicans who abandoned Trump.

GR: Well, the finding on the primary voting is amazing because as a political scientist, I know primary voters are usually the most reliable voters of all. Yeah, but if you vote in the primary and don't vote in the general. Yeah, that's very telling. Okay. So that brings up a question in my mind about 2024. And again, you know, it's speculating here for you. But do you think then that four years of a Biden presidency for those RINOs might make them less likely to abandon Trump as the challenger this time?

KB: Well, Trump has done nothing to try to bring RINOs back into the fold. So, I don't think many RINOs who abandoned Trump are going to simply embrace him again. I think that more has to happen than that. And if anything, Trump has made himself even more less appealing to moderate Republican voters since 2020 then he was going into the 2020 election between January 6th and just the heat behind his rhetoric has gotten so extreme. I don't see how anyone, how any moderates who abandoned him go back. On the other hand, they look at Biden now, and they're not seeing a compelling political figure anymore. So, you know, this election to me is extraordinary because, both candidates have, substantial negative that they carry along with them. Neither candidate is really providing a lot of pull for anybody under the age of 40 anywhere. Right? You just have nothing in common with these old candidates. And they're both misfiring. Young progressives have abandoned Biden right now, just like the moderates have abandoned Trump. Honestly, and this really stinks to say. But, I believe that this whole election might very well hinge on whichever candidate falls down on live TV first is going to lose. I mean, their health is so fragile at this point. It could be something that basic that determines who's going to win this election. And that's not good for us.

GR: Do you think the fact that the third-party candidates that are in it this time around are more of the type that are likely to draw from the left than the right matters?

KB: Well, the libertarian candidates are always going to derive, they're going to derive their votes from the right, not the left. Kennedy is a is an interesting character. With his last name, you would think he's pulling votes from the left. But when you look at what his positions are, he’s very purposely pulling votes from the right. So I don't know that there will be there will be, left-leaning voters who vote for him because they think he's a classic Kennedy. But other than that, I don't see him getting a lot of support from the left. I don't know if the Greens are going to bring forward, a candidate who's going to draw a lot of votes or not at this point. I guess we'll just sort of have to see. I mean, this is this will be an election for the ages. And if ever there was a voter for voting for the lesser of two evils, this campaign is going to embody that. I think for sure.

GR: I don't know if you want to try to venture into answer this. I know I'm asking you to do a lot of speculating here, but based on your experience, with the Trump campaign in 2020, what do you think they're going to do if this November, Joe Biden wins the election on Election Day but it's close again?

KB: Well, they've, the I don't have to speculate. Trump and a lot of the higher-level people within the Trump Organization have made it very clear that they're going to contest the election results. They're going to claim voter fraud was, to blame. Roger Stone has been quoted recently as saying that they're much better prepared now than they were in 2020 to contest the election results. And honestly, they're going to have an advantage because I'm not sure that there's been a whole lot of effort, to prepare on the other side to refute all of these claims of voter fraud that are going to be coming there. You need to do a lot of expensive prep work to be able to turn back, these claims in real time and provide scientific evidence that they're false. You know, we'll see. It's helpful, I think, to democracy that there were no claims of voter fraud that were valid and would have survived legal scrutiny in 2020. So I think that that's an advantage to democracy in general as we come into this new round of claims. But it's going to it's going to be contentious. It's going to be jammed up in the court system again. And hopefully this time around, people will keep a bit of a, saner head on their shoulders as we work our way through the mess that's coming.

GR: If you've just joined us, you're listening to the Campbell Conversations on WRVO Public Media. I'm Grant Reeher and my guest is Ken Block. We've been discussing his new book titled “Disproven: My Unbiased Search for Voter Fraud for the Trump Campaign, the Data that Shows Why He Lost, and How We Can Improve Our Elections.” Let's get to the last part of your title there how we can improve our election. So you go through all this and you come up with some conclusions about how we can make the system better. What are they?

KB: Sure. Well, I'm going to start with a statement of fact. The statement of fact is that the two parties have really blown it in this cycle. They brought forward two candidates who really, have more negatives than positives going for them right now. And, as somebody who's tried to start, an alternative political party, the system is designed to make it almost impossible to successfully launch a political party to be able to raise money, support candidates, and do it so hard. And every state has their own obstacles for success of, alternative parties to launch. We really have an unfair, uneven system, and I think we're paying the price for that now. Gerrymandering is one of the biggest issues, I think, that are out there in terms of making our elections unfair. 80% of congressional seats are uncompetitive. We know which party is going to win, which, which of congressional seats, regardless of who the candidates are. And that's largely the result of gerrymandering. And we need to eliminate gerrymandering when the United States helps set up new democracies. I'm certain we don't introduce the idea of gerrymandering to these rising democracies because of the awful implications it has to what the election results are. So, I believe that for strong but not for strong elections with great results. And to get better cooperation in Congress, we need more competitive elections so that our representatives in Congress are more likely to compromise as opposed to collide. And, I think that's probably the biggest thing that we should be doing. Mail ballots are not going to go away, nor should they go away. But really, the way we use mail ballots, when you look at it from a systems perspective, we have the absolute weakest form of identification you can imagine. For those who are voting, in a, by mail and not in person, which is signature matching, we're using a technology that's, you know, a hundred years old. It's rife with its own problems. And, it's not a great way to to confirm identity. Not anymore, for sure. The United States is the only first-world country, certainly in Europe. And, I believe across most of the world at this point that doesn't have a national identifier. when you look at every country in Europe, they all have national identifiers that include biometrics. It makes sense. It's a strong way to prove identity. Here, we don't have any national identifier. We have Social Security numbers. But its purpose wasn't to be a national identifier, and it's no longer confidential. I mean, I could find anybody's Social Security number pretty quickly at this point due to, how many breaches there have been over the years. So, I believe we have to replace Social Security numbers. I believe we should have, voter identification number. That's federal in nature. And I believe that when you're, born in this country or you're naturalized, you should automatically be given your voter registration number. That removes all the headaches with registration, all the problems with state-based registration and people registered to vote, multiple states, all that stuff goes away with a national voter registration number. And I think it should just be automatic. And that would solve 90% of the integrity problems we have.

GR: That's interesting. So we've got about three minutes left, and I want to try to squeeze in two questions more if I can. We did have this organization No Labels this time around and trying to put forward a unity ticket, they called it. But they had done all of that hard work that you described before that, you know, discourages third parties. They had managed to get by a lot of that, despite the fact that the Democratic Party tried to knock them out of those ballot access efforts. But in the end, they didn't get a candidate. So briefly, if you could. I mean, what does that say?

KB: Yeah, it's speaking from personal experience, launching a new political party is a chicken in the egg exercise. Do you build the party around a personality, or can you create the party and then try and attract in the individual or multiple individuals who stand a chance of winning? So No Labels went, and I don't know which way to which which ones, which chicken, which one's the egg. But they just they said, well, let's create a party and then we'll go find a candidate. What I ended up doing, accidentally in Rhode Island was I ended up creating a political party for my personality. Not that that was my that wasn't my intention. But that's effectively the way it worked out, because I then had to run for governor to keep the party going. So I think it's pretty hard to do a party and then try to attract in the candidate to fill the role of carrying that flag, you know, the banner in the battle, basically. which I think is what did in the No Labels thing. And honestly, of all the election cycles to do it, this was probably the worst one because so many people believe so much rides on this particular election.

GR: Last question, and really only about 30 secons for this I apologize, but it is a personal one and I was just wondering of having the role you did for the Trump campaign, having the findings that you did, and then the fallout that may have come to you about that. Has that affected you in any kind of personal way?

KB: Well, I've been subpoenaed by Jack Smith's grand jury in D.C. I've been subpoenaed by Ruby Freeman's legal team in her defamation suit against Rudy Giuliani. And I've been subpoenaed by Fani Willis as prosecutors in the Fulton County, Georgia, matter. So have I been impacted? Yeah. If I have to testify, will that be an even bigger impact? Yeah. For sure. And I actually was compelled to write this book because of the fact that it was going to become publicly known that I had done this work, and I wanted the story told in my framing, not anyone else's. None of this would have been happening had all this just remained a quiet job that was done to no effect. Basically.

GR: Well, the good news is we have your good book that came out of it. we'll have to leave the conversation there. But that was Ken Block. And again, his new book is titled “Disproven: My Unbiased Search for Voter Fraud for the Trump Campaign, the Data that Shows Why He Lost, and How We Can Improve Our Elections.” A lot of interesting stories and interesting ideas in there. Ken, thanks so much for taking time to talk to me. I really enjoyed it.

KB: Great. I thoroughly enjoyed it. Thank you.

GR: You've been listening to the Campbell Conversations on WRVO Public Media, conversations in the public interest.

Grant Reeher is Director of the Campbell Public Affairs Institute and a professor of political science at Syracuse University’s Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs. He is also creator, host and program director of “The Campbell Conversations” on WRVO, a weekly regional public affairs program featuring extended in-depth interviews with regional and national writers, politicians, activists, public officials, and business professionals.