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02 November 2004 @ 11:12 am
Musings on the Election  
This is long, so I'll put it behind a cut tag.

I usually look forward to Election Day. As a political junkie, it is the culmination of everything a Democracy (in our case, a Republic - this is an important distinction which many forget) is meant to be.

This year, along with many others, I actually face the day with a bit of trepidation and depression. Not because of the choices, but because of the lack of faith in the system that has pervaded the process.

I don't know if it is a reflection of the 21st century American view that anything less than perfection is unusable. I don't know if it is just a logical extension of the 1960's concept of "how can we be wrong when we're so sincere?" I don't know if it is just another example of the failure of civil discourse, in which the only way one's side can't win is because of evil, dirty, political tricks.

I wish I knew, because then there might just be a way to fix it.

I believe that election fraud exists, but I believe that there are fewer examples of election fraud today than ever in our history.

To all those who believe that getting rid of the Electoral College would "fix" things, I point out that it would in all likelihood make it HARDER to detect fraud. In the last election, a changeover of 250,000 votes for Bush gives him the popular vote. Fraudulently change as few as 2% of the returns in the clear-cut Bush states (where Bush supporters likely control the voting process and which no one would ever investigate because the margin of victory is too large) and boom - popular win. The Electoral College (despite other perceived and actual flaws which are not the topic of this discussion) at least means there isn't nearly as much incentive to inflate winning margins - and also that when a state "changes sides" it will be by a smaller margin and be much more obvious.

Is the only absolute solution to the problem one that would require each registered voter to be unalterably identified with his or her vote? Would people in the US become afraid to vote because those in power would retaliate? I'm afraid so, because local power is local power and will always be something that can be perceived to be abused.

If there is paper backup, who holds the paper? To be honest, if the election board could falsify the election results they could certainly come up with a box full of paper to corroborate their conclusion - after all, paper ballot box stuffing is old technology. Having people take it home to be presented again should a recount be required makes no sense - if I lose mine, did I just get disenfranchised in the recount? If I'm allowed to vote again if I lost my receipt, what stops me from changing my mind - which would make for wildly inconsistent results between counts and would only serve to fuel distrust of the system even more.

Do we recount all 114 Million votes in the entire country if the popular margin is less than 1%? Imagine how much time we spend in legal challenges over hundreds of thousands of precincts across the country, even precincts that have no logical reason to be recounted.

Do we run the election again? What if the margin is still close? Do we run it again? And again?

How do we avoid false registration challenges? Do we just take everyone's word of honor that they are US citizens and allowed to vote? The current legal workaround is that you can request a provisional ballot which will be researched in the event of a recount, but is this any less susceptible to loss or falsification?

Who watches the watchers?

Bottom line - as long as humans run the process, humans will be subject to error - whether innocently or maliciously caused. There is absolutely no way to change this - it's a sort of Human Gödel's Incompleteness Theorem. We can work to reduce error, but to choose to have confidence only in a system that is provably perfect is probably somewhat insane.


My recommendations to individuals to increase the confidence in the system?

1) VOTE EVERY TIME. Vote for your local county council. Vote for your state representatives. Vote when it ISN'T a major election year. Note that the situation in Florida was more a matter of the Supreme Court being asked to rule on something that was the jurisdiction of the Florida Legislature - an outcome unacceptable to the litigating side because said Legislature was (*gasp!*) Republican. Note that after all that, Florida legislature today is still split House 39 Dem 81 Rep Senate 14 Dem 26 Rep - I don't know how that changed from 2000, but certainly seems not a lot of dissatisfaction with the actions of the state legislature...

2) GET MORE PEOPLE TO VOTE. Even expert fraudsters who are so skilled at fraud that they can do everything in the world to change an election (except go unnoticed) can be overwhelmed by sheer numbers. When fewer than 50% of eligible voters choose to vote, the numbers are easier to manipulate.

3) REMEMBER THE LONG TERM. It is amazing how many people were absolutely certain that every reform and change in government would be destroyed forever after four years of the current administration. The truth is, whether you agree or disagree with what has been done, very little is permanent for the country as a whole. Yes, individuals lives were affected, some good and some bad, but this is the case in any administration.

4) REMEMBER THAT THE "OPPOSITION" ISN'T STUPID (AND PROBABLY ISN'T EVIL). Think them wrong, think them misguided, think them stubborn. Don't "de-humanize" them by just tossing off their arguments as either unworthy of intellectual discourse or proof they are out to get you.

5) REMEMBER, THIS TOO SHALL PASS. No matter which side you are on, at every election you have the opportunity to take things and change them in your preferred direction. What made Americans crazy in 1904 is nearly forgotten now, and the Republic survived. Permanent change takes time and the agreement of more than just a bare 50%.


OK, I'm all done now.
 
 
Current Mood: anxiousanxious
Current Music: Heart, "Dog and Butterfly"
 
 
 
kyttn on November 2nd, 2004 07:01 pm (UTC)
4) REMEMBER THAT THE "OPPOSITION" ISN'T STUPID (AND PROBABLY ISN'T EVIL). Think them wrong, think them misguided, think them stubborn. Don't "de-humanize" them by just tossing off their arguments as either unworthy of intellectual discourse or proof they are out to get you.
One of my biggest issues/problems with trying to figure out which of the candidates to support was getting told by one group or the other that the other group's candidate was evil or stupid rather than being shown supportable facts about why I should vote for the candidate of their choice. I wish that more people would take your list to heart, especially this entry.

Thank you, too, for pointing out that 4 years isn't eternity. This is probably the best article on the election process that I've read. It actually made me feel a little bit better about the choices I made today.

Mandelbearmdlbear on November 2nd, 2004 07:34 pm (UTC)
Longer than four years
It's true that four years isn't an eternity, but in view of the number of Supreme Court justices likely to be replaced during the next term, the effects are likely to be felt for at least the next generation.
Bill Suttonbedlamhouse on November 2nd, 2004 11:27 pm (UTC)
Re: Longer than four years
I think that the Senate is a more important component of this than the President. As long as the Senate consists of less than 60 members of the President's own party (and, at that, members of the party who have the same legal views), it would be impossible for the President to appoint anyone who will outright overturn previous rulings. In fact, I think as Justices die it will be very hard to get anyone competent nominated, because anyone with experience or activity has a record that someone can Bork them on (whichever litmus test is being used). We may end up with a Supreme Court consisting of one very very old justice ...

That aside, there is also an extremely strong history of candidates who are selected and consented to based on their abilities (perhaps even in spite of their ideology) surprising everyone by their ability to make good and well reasoned decisions.

Finally, remember that the Supreme Court is only one branch of government, and the decisions it makes are very much reversible by the legislative branch (along with the states if a Constitutional Amendment is necessary). In my belief, we are concentrating too much on the Court's ability to interpret vague laws on concepts of the Constitution that are meant to change as times change rather than on forcing our legislators to write specific laws that are meant to be interpreted narrowly.

The acts of the Supreme Court are only supportable as they result in a decision by the majority to enshrine the result in something other than the vagaries of case law. When this doesn't happen, it means that either the legislators are too weak to do so or that there is a real and honest difference of opinion as to whether such an act was proper. It is easy for an individual to look at a legal case decision they agree with and decide that it should be unchangeable, but if that were the case we'd still be operating under Plessey v Ferguson.

The flexibility of case law is one of its strengths, but it means that what we may think today is an unarguable fact (vis: "separate but equal is morally right") can be changed as more and more people raise their consciousness.
Bill Suttonbedlamhouse on November 2nd, 2004 11:30 pm (UTC)
Re: Longer than four years
That second line should be "fewer than 60 members" rather than "less than 60 members". I apologize to all proponents of English as she should be spoke and will do appropriate penance in future.
pbristow on November 3rd, 2004 09:31 am (UTC)
Re: Longer than four years
To my shame, I didn't even notice the slip.
[HANGS HEAD IN REMORSE]
Scott Snyder: Greenbardiclug on November 2nd, 2004 10:03 pm (UTC)
You, sir, are a gentleman and a scholar. :)
Ericacatalana on November 2nd, 2004 10:53 pm (UTC)
Great post! My students should read this...*grin*
filkergemfilkergem on November 3rd, 2004 01:24 am (UTC)
Very well said! I am glad that kyttn pointed me to this post.
Alanpatoadam on November 11th, 2004 04:16 pm (UTC)

REMEMBER THE LONG TERM. It is amazing how many people were absolutely certain that every reform and change in government would be destroyed forever after four years of the current administration. The truth is, whether you agree or disagree with what has been done, very little is permanent for the country as a whole.

I wish I could believe this.

Try telling that to the 10,000 Iraqi civilians who have been killed in the war. The risk to America from terrorism will be greater for a generation or two because the Islamic world hates us for having invaded Iraq. Also, our children and grandchildren will be paying for Bush's budget deficit.