Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Are We Crazy Yet?

Tim Murphy says that "we're all slowly going insane," but I'm not so sure. The occasion is a PPP poll which finds that everyone predicts one thing: fraud by the other side.
-In Ohio 62% of Republicans think Democrats will engage in voter fraud to make sure that Barack Obama wins. 50% of the Democrats think that the GOP will engage in voter fraud to ensure a Romney victory.

-In Florida 60% of Republicans think Democrats will engage in voter fraud to make sure that Barack Obama wins. 55% of the Democrats think that the GOP will engage in voter fraud to ensure a Romney victory.

-In North Carolina 69% of Republicans think Democrats will engage in voter fraud to make sure that Barack Obama wins. 51% of the Democrats think that the GOP will engage in voter fraud to ensure a Romney victory.
Recall that plenty of liberals believed relatively far-fetched (and false, I should add) conspiracy theories about voting machines in 2004, although at least that election was close enough that it at least it was plausible that had someone done something it might have made a difference; recall that plenty of conservatives actually reported believing that the 2008 election was stolen by ACORN, even though that one was entirely implausible (and, once again, false).

So I'm not sure what to make of it all. It's really easy to make a gloom-and-doom pronouncement about how the Republic is finished because no one believes in elections any more. On the other hand, it could be that surveys would have produced exactly the same results throughout US history. Maybe we've always been equally insane! And at any rate, the question as asked ("Do you think Democrats/Republicans will engage in voter fraud to ensure that Barack Obama wins the election, or not?") could be interpreted relatively benignly as simply asking whether the other party, or at least some in the other party, will attempt whatever it can get away with. That's no conspiracy thinking -- it's probably true!

I don't know...I fully expect that if Barack Obama wins a reasonably close race, a good number of GOP opinion leaders will claim that he illegally stole the election, and the people who listen to them will believe it. I expect, too, that if Mitt Romney wins a very close race, a fair number of rank-and-file Democrats will buy into claims that Republicans stole the election. And, yeah, I would expect some difference; I would expect far fewer mainstream Democratic politicians and other opinion leaders to go whole-hog conspiracy than I expect Republican politicians would if it's reversed. Whether that constitutes a threat to the Republic,'s probably worth keeping an eye on, but probably not at these levels.


  1. It's really easy to make a gloom-and-doom pronouncement about how the Republican is finished

    Freudian slip? :)

  2. This question reminds me of the 9/11 truther poll questions, in which it was hard to ask a question about Bush abetting the attacks that also didn't allow for the possibility that the respondent simply thought Bush had some knowledge that America was likely to be attacked by al Qaeda, which was arguably true.

    This question isn't asking if the Republicans (or Democrats) will successfully steal the election, although the use of the word "ensure" allows the answers to be interpreted that way. But if the question is, will the GOP engage in some form of voter manipulation in order to try to win the election... that answer is yes, is it not?

  3. Great false equivalency in the first paragraph!

    One incorrect conspiracy theory was empirically possible given the margins involved and was quickly discarded by all but the most wingnutty of their respective "team".

    The other conspiracy theory was empirically impossible, lead to congressional hearings, silly videos, and the de-funding of a long-standing enfranchiser of the most vulnerable in our society. Additionally, this theory is still in circulation in the intellectual mainstream of one of the parties in our great Republic. This same party has defined itself as the true majority and therefore defines any electoral defeat as axiomatic election fraud and lacks the organizational seriousness and self-awareness to address this dangerous cancer on their party and our nation.

    It is left as an exercise to the reader to determine which is the 2008 example and which is the 2004 "example" that the author so cravenly equates.

    1. This really is the worst of "Both sides do it!" and I usually expect more out of plain blog.

      On one side, we have complaints about ACORN, the black panthers, and phantom buses bringing voters across state lines to vote illegally.

      On the other side, we have legitimate attempts by state governments to impose voting restrictions designed to prevent members of the other party from voting, some of which have been passed, only a few of which have been defeated thus far. We have a prominent member of the PA state legislature boasting about how his voter restriction law would win the state for Romney.

      Maybe you think that it's not something to worry about, but there is a real difference between "Unproven wingnut conspiracy theories," and "Actual, documented efforts by legislatures to disenfranchise voters." Notice that Democratic controlled state houses haven't passed laws affecting traditionally conservative voters.

      This is easily one of the worst posts I've read on what is otherwise a very high quality site.

    2. Plus one, totally.

      And of course there's corrupt Democrats somewhere. After all, Lieberman was a Democrat.

  4. May we please have a re-hash of whatever documentation you have to claim that there was not an over-assignment of voting machines to Republican suburbs of the Cleveland area in 2004, and a severe under-assignment of machines to Democratic-leaning precincts in inner Cleveland, leading to hours-long lines to vote in those areas, and apparently leaving tens of thousands, or even hundreds of thousands of likely Democratic voters unable to participate in that election?

    I got the story in my mind from the "fog of reporting" that spilled out in the days immediately after that election. I did not get it from any one source, and indeed the whole thing has been re-visited very little anywhere by anyone. What evidence do you have that all likely voters in inner-city Cleveland were able to votes on Nov. 2, 2004?

    Hopefully your case is stronger than just denials by Republican election officials that they ever did anything wrong.

    A previous commenter has already presumptively labeled me "wingnutty" for the perception that I received by consuming a variety of news sources in November 2004. Let's see what science and history you have that makes this story a solidly-wrenched hex nut in an objective historical narrative that allows no doubt.

    1. There were two big arguments made post 2004. One that Kerry had actually “won” Ohio, but due to some sort of fiendish conspiracy via Diebold the results were changed to Bush winning, with exit polls supposedly proving this. This argument has been debunked. However you are right that there were differences in allocation of voting machines and trained judges with heavily Democratic precincts often getting the short end of the stick. But this has as much to do with the shameful nature of how our elections are run in general as anything else. It can vary state to state, but since local government entities often run and pay for elections these shortages can be common in impoverished central cities with lots of minorities that vote Democratic. But this is more evidence of the political economy of how resources get split up between urban, suburban communities in our country than any sort of fiendish conspiracy. I bet if you looked into it you could find voting problems in poor rural places that tend to go for the GOP. That said I’m sure that Ohio Secretary of State Ken Blackwell, a Republican, didn’t do much to make sure it was easy to vote in Cleveland, but that often happens all over the country and it’s not proof that the election was “stolen” as much as it was proof that Republicans often try and make it hard to vote and play dirty tricks on election day. In Minnesota in 2004 the GOP Secretary of State in Minnesota sent out warnings that “homicide bombers” were going to blow up polling stations, but that’s just a dirty trick, not proof of stealing an election.

    2. Wasn't there also voter-role purges in Ohio before the election, keeping legitimate voters from voting?

      I remember this in 2000, but I seem to recall it was also a problem in 2004 in Ohio. Challenged voters allowed to cast provisional ballots where were never counted.

    3. Dear longwalk, you're very gracious and generous in interpreting the situation so as to remove most responsibility from the Republican election officials in Ohio in 2004. I would say your formula "it’s not proof that the election was “stolen” as much as it was proof that Republicans often try and make it hard to vote and play dirty tricks on election day," is even overly generous. At a certain point, vote suppression and dirty tricks can illegally switch more votes than the announced margin of victory, and at that point we can say yes, this election was stolen.

      So far, I haven't heard anything to change the narrative as I understand it, that Ohio in '04 was rigged by manipulating voting machine locations to create huge jam-ups in costing tens of thousands of votes in Democratic precincts. I don't have the numbers to say whether it affected the margin of victory. Yet whether it was a successful steal or an un-necessary extra dirty trick by a campaign that was winning anyway, I would say it was a criminal conspiracy against federal voting & civil rights laws, but of course you would have to have inner-most thoughts of the conspirators to prove it in court.

      Doesn't anybody here follow Bev Harris Black Box Voting? I've been on her list since it started, I've saved most of it, haven't read every word, but there is a lot of evidence of very dirty tricks including criminal conspiracies, out there for anyone who cares to take a look. Political scientists need to get out of their book-filled offices and attend a lot of local government meetings, dirty tricks and self-serving cliques abound in American government, fundamental reform is so necessary on so many levels.

  5. There are two valid reasons for doubting the integrity of elections: (1) Diebold, which is not only owned by arch-conservatives but relies on software that even laypeople can hack, (2) Voter ID laws and a host of initiatives aimed a voter suppression. And on a more emotional level, distrust of the fairness of elections symbolizes the intuition that many Americans have, namely, that the two parties are no longer responsive to the needs of ordinary Americans but are instead beholden to their corporate paymasters.

  6. So relieved to read the responses here about Ohio in 2004.

    It's one thing to say "I think we should move on" and another thing entirely to allow history to be written by the winner.

    I don't think it's conspiracy-minded to have serious questions about the integrity of the vote in Ohio in 2004. And I don't think accepting that "oh well, I guess Kerry just lost Ohio" is a good way to chart a way forward.

  7. Given that mathematicians have developed algorithms for trustworthy voting systems, but we refuse to use those systems, I think it's unfair to treat people questioning the system as paranoid conspiracy nuts.

  8. I have heard accounts of local County Clerks and officials finding ways to manipulate who is eligible to vote and who is allowed to actually vote at polling places on election day. It's sad, but it probably does occur. The question is whether it's enough to tip any elections.

  9. Uhh, many of the vote-machine things in 2004 were untraceable, so how would we ever know if they were false?

    1. I agree, I quit voting based on how uncheckable the system was.

  10. Following Fact or Fiction's comment above about local clerk machinations, recall this story that surprisingly few liberals either know or feel outrage about:

    Theresa LaPore of Palm Beach County, Florida, inherited a really crappy butterfly ballot for the 2000 election. Four years prior, LaPore's predecessor used the same stupid ballot: because Democrat Lawton Chiles was governor, Bill Clinton got to go first, and Bob Dole was relegated to the butterfly "dunce" spot on the ballot, losing 10% of his votes in Palm Beach County, or around 1% statewide.

    1% of a major party candidate's votes in the biggest and swingiest of swing states is a really, really big deal. (Well, not according to Wikipedia, which notes that, because that dumb ballot had no impact in 1996, no one noticed. Uhhhh, okay). You can imagine that Ms. LaPore, just getting her feet wet in her new role, used the prior butterfly ballot (now with Gore in the dunce spot, since Jeb Bush was governor), cause - as Wikipedia noted - who cared?

    If you can, separate the staggering impact of the 20,000 votes Gore lost due to a ballot the local officials knew would have that result. Think in the abstract: one of the two or three most populous counties in the most critical swing state not only runs a laughably poor election, but they do so with impunity.

    Whenever I read a defense of Ohio 2004, and the confident assertion that there was no chicanery, I think of Teresa LaPore and her stupidly dangerous ballot, which she knew was both stupid and dangerous, but she didn't personally care and no one could force her to care. This is a negative consequence of local administration of national elections, which was catastrophic to the interests of Al Gore.

    Tell me again why we're confident that the Ohio clerks universally went about their business in a more professional manner than Ms. LaPore?

    1. I should probably jump in at some point...

      I think it's perfectly likely that some election clerks did a poor job. I also think it's very possible (at least!) that there were systematic policies or implementation which advantaged one party.

      I wouldn't call those things "fraud." The former is incompetence. The latter is real and IMO terrible, but it isn't in most cases something I'd classify as fraud.

      So, yeah, it's very possible that systematic factors in the way that voting worked in OH hurt Kerry in OH in 2004. I have no idea if that's true, but it certainly would't surprise me; recall that voter registration itself in the way it's done in the US is a systematic factor which (basically by design) introduces a bias for some and against some. But that's a totally different conversation than one about votes being counted incorrectly by fraudulently programmed machines.


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