Trumpian Internet data detectives outsmart themselves

As the Trump campaign offered up dubious anecdotes of election-rigging, Trump-friendly Internet data detectives raised an alarm of their own: allegations of voter fraud based purely on mathematics. One such analysis relied on Benford’s Law, a tool of forensic accounting ordinarily used to identify when records have been fabricated. By scrutinizing precinct-level vote totals in Illinois, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania, the amateur data sleuths cited Benford’s Law to report that Biden’s votes seemed fishy whereas Trump’s looked genuine.

Alas, while the idea of employing a method for exposing white-collar financial crimes to catch the Biden campaign supposedly cooking the books has obvious appeal to Trump supporters, the argument is nonsense.

Benford’s Law concerns the first digits of a group of numbers; with the numbers 329, 490, and 1,232, we would focus only on the 3, 4, and 1. Counterintuitively, the law predicts that in many circumstances — business expenses, population sizes,

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