Friday, June 2, 2006

Thoughts on a Stolen Election

After reading The Rolling Stone article by RFK Jr. about the illegal disenfranchisement in Ohio during the 2004 election, I had much the same reaction PZ did:
  1. The statistics are rock solid. Sure, it's possible that this is all due to random chance. It's also possible that all the oxygen molecules in the room will wind up in one corner of the room (and no, I'm not carrying around my own air supply). Something illegal happened.
  2. Why did it have to be RFK Jr. who wrote this article? (Here's a slogan for you: "After what he did for autism, imagine what he can do for illegal disenfranchisement and vote fraud.")
  3. I have no idea how to fix this.
It's the last point that scares the hell out of me. I think RFK Jr. is engaged in the stereotypical liberal fallacy: if we inform people of wrongdoing, the media will report it, and the people will stop it. I'm not sure that will happen in this instance. First, too many people, including those in the celebrity media, don't want to admit to themselves that this could happen. It's very hard to convince someone to reject something–the belief in free and fair elections–in which they have a strong psychological investment. Second, the only thing the Republican'ts are good at is grasping the levers of political power. Nothing shames them into doing the right thing, or as those Andre Aggassi commercials used to say, "Winning is everything" (until, of course, he stopped winning...).

If electoral fraud happens again, our government will face a serious crisis of legitimacy. I remember during the Reagan and Bush Sr. administrations how angry I was that both these men won elections by inflaming the 'culture wars' and race-baiting ("states rights" in Philadelphia, Mississippi, welfare queens, and Willie Horton). Nonetheless, I could accept that a majority of my fellow citizens were complete fucking idiots because I could do something about that (such as convince them to think differently).

But a stolen election is different. It is simply a kinder, gentler version of tyranny. Short of political violence (more about that in a bit), there isn't much I personally can do. My fear is that, if this happens, some chucklehead (who probably isn't even politically active or a Democrat) will lob a Molotov cocktail through the window of an RNC office somewhere. A chucklehead from the right will retaliate, and then, and then, and then...

This could get out of control, particularly with the eliminationist Dominionist rhetoric on the right. It could make the Civil War-Reconstruction Era bushwackers and jayhawkers look tame by comparison. What frightens me the most is that I don't think most people realize how easy it is for the zero-sum rules to be adopted. History is replete with example (e.g., Northern Ireland in the late 1960s and early 1970s) of what was essentially a conflict over civil rights and liberties degenerating into a brutal sectarian, civil war, often due to initial malfeasance by those who held power.

Someone who is very clever needs to figure out how fix this. Getting rid of electronic voting machines would be a good start, but it wouldn't stop premeditated declarations of 'terrorist emergencies' that would make a fair, monitored vote count impossible. We need to fix this now because there are a lot of angry people out there. I'm afraid we're a lot closer to the brink than many realize.

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