Wednesday, January 12, 2005

Is election fraud that big a deal? 

Hindrocket thinks so.
Electoral fraud. It is a grave and growing threat to our democracy. Major elections have turned on it, and it is only a matter of time until voter fraud precipitates a constitutional crisis. Consider what is happening now in Washington. Christine Gregoire was sworn in as Governor today, but a legal challenge to her "victory" is pending. It appears reasonably clear that the Democrats stole that race, and they will probably get away with it. Al Gore tried to steal the Presidency in 2000, and nearly succeeded, with the aid of a grotesquely partisan 4-3 majority of the Florida Supreme Court, which issued one of the most absurd decisions in the history of litigation, lacking even a fig leaf of legal coherence.

I am a huge fan of Hindrocket and his friends, but I do not think that "electoral fraud" is a "grave and growing threat to our democracy." Florida 2000 and Washington 2004 are better explained as statistical anamolies inherent in democratic elections.

Elections, like all processes, have structural rates of error. Even the best "six sigma" quality program cannot escape that fact of life. The structural error might be reduced by incremental investment in better systems, employees and process control, but there will always be structural rates of error.

If the difference between the two leading candidates in any given race is smaller than the irreducible margin of error, you are going to have to resort to some mechanism other than the endless counting and recounting of votes to resolve the dispute. Those mechanisms include bureaucratic, legislative and judicial decisions. Because state and federal election law cannot perfectly predict the zillions of different controversies that can and do arise in any statistical "tie," the party that controls the mechanism in play at any given stage in the resolution of the disputed election is going to have a huge advantage. We saw this in Florida particularly, where a Republican secretary of state boxed in local election officials. The Democratic majority on the Florida Supreme Court overruled the secretary of state, and the Republican legislature would have passed a law to defeat the decision of the Florida Supreme Court had the United States Supreme Court not intervened.

To my way of looking at things, this is what democracy, writ broadly, is all about. Since I believe it is inevitable that a country with thousands of elections every year will have a few for which the difference between the two candidates is less than the margin of error, I also do not have a problem if certain elections have to be ground through the election bureaucracy, courts and legislature before they can conclude. The important lesson for the parties is that they have to make the long term investment to win local and state offices in order to have leverage in these "margin of error" disputes. This represents, by the way, the most important continuing relevance of political parties.

Hindrocket thinks that fraud is on the rise. He cites as evidence for this the widely reported story run by the New York Daily News, which learned last summer that roughly 46,000 voters were registered in both New York and New Jersey. Of these, apparently 68% were Democrats. Hindrocket wants to know why this case, and the problem of dual registration in general, "isn't a scandal?"

The answer, I think, is that it isn't a scandal because it does not amount to voter fraud. It is the product of the intersection of rules that promote access to the franchise, the great mobility of Americans, and the great incompetence of America's local bureaucrats. My mother moved from Princeton to Fluvanna County, Virginia more than six years ago, and she is still on the rolls in Princeton! I know, because I see her name there every time I go to vote. Is this what has transpired between Florida and New York? Almost certainly. The migration from New York to Florida is, shall we say, legendary, as is the well-documented tendency of the ethnic groups involved in this migration to vote Democratic. This isn't fraud, it is the way things are.

My own guess -- and it is a guess -- is that we are seeing more cases of error, small-time heavy-handed politics, intimidation and even fraud because we are, well, seeing so much more than we ever were before. The very technology that has made Hindrocket and his partners actually able to influence national politics from their law office in Minneapolis also enables the world to inspect the nits in every election. There isn't more fraud, but we are seeing more of the error that has always been there. In a closely divided country that new transparency may stoke the passion of activists, but it does not mean that there is a rising likelihood of fraud. On the contrary, it probably reduces the risk of fraud.

UPDATE: OK. I just remembered that only one of the Power Line guys writes from a "law office in Minneapolis." This may seem like an immaterial correction, but you can never been too careful when writing about Power Line!


By Anonymous Anonymous, at Thu Jan 13, 07:12:00 AM:

I love your analysis. Totally original. 'Hope InstaPundit picks up.

Plus ça changeSissy  

By Blogger Gordon Smith, at Thu Jan 13, 08:54:00 AM:

In a race this close it's impossible to objectively state which candidate was the choice of the majority. This is where our imperfect democracy comes into play.

As I've stated before on these beloved pages, voting reform could help the electorate have more confidence in their voting systems, so when a very close election arrives, voters can see the anomaly for what it is rather than as a nefarious plot by opposite party ne'er-do-wells.

Ohio, New Mexico, Florida 2004; Florida 2000 give us plenty to work with regarding the failings of the current system.

Thanks for being part of the reality-based community, Tigerhawk.  

By Blogger Fire, at Thu Jan 13, 12:23:00 PM:


I'm going to have to disagree.

When I go to my local election place to vote, and I see the names of people I knew who moved away awhile ago, that's tanamount to negligence. Yes of the local bureaucrats, but the political parties know of this neglect as well. And if you've been closely following the fiasco out there in Washington State, you'd see that it was taken advantage of with the dead voters, and people who listed their residence as the election county offices.

I don't think fraud is on the rise, I think that it's always been there, it depended on who heated the debate was going to be that mattered whether anyone brought out their dirty bag of tricks.

Call me a conspiracy nut. Just don't call me late to dinner.



By Anonymous Anonymous, at Thu Jan 13, 06:42:00 PM:

Nice post, Jack.

- Cass  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Sat Jan 10, 09:12:00 AM:



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