What Krugman Left Out

Paul Krugman (where's that Pulitzer?) has a typically savvy column today, on Saving the Vote:

Everyone knows it, but not many politicians or mainstream journalists are willing to talk about it, for fear of sounding conspiracy-minded: there is a substantial chance that the result of the 2004 presidential election will be suspect.

When I say that the result will be suspect, I don't mean that the election will, in fact, have been stolen. (We may never know.) I mean that there will be sufficient uncertainty about the honesty of the vote count that much of the world and many Americans will have serious doubts.

How might the election result be suspect? Well, to take only one of several possibilities, suppose that Florida – where recent polls give John Kerry the lead – once again swings the election to George Bush.

Much of Florida's vote will be counted by electronic voting machines with no paper trails. Independent computer scientists who have examined some of these machines' programming code are appalled at the security flaws. So there will be reasonable doubts about whether Florida's votes were properly counted, and no paper ballots to recount. The public will have to take the result on faith.

As Krugman notes, once one combines the voting machine issues with Governor Jeb Bush's attempts to disenfranchise (via the manipulated 'felons' list) and intimidate Black voters (a traditional Republican pastime here), a close pro-Bush Florida outcome will inevitably be subject to doubt. Krugman proposes that voters be given paper ballots on request to create a paper trail.

That seems very reasonable, except for one thing. I'm actually more worried by something Krugman left out: old fashioned absentee ballot stuffing. We have a lot of that down here in Florida, and we catch a few of the perps every election. Or rather, we used to catch them. Now that the Jeb Bush and the Republican legislature have abolished the witness requirement for absentee ballots, there's no longer going to be any way to tell if one person is responsible for a suspiciously large number of votes —so it's going to be open season on ballot fraud. And the more that people turn to paper in fear of electronic voting the more that 'noise' will camouflage the work of the ballot-stuffers…

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12 Responses to What Krugman Left Out

  1. Brett Bellmore says:

    Oh, Krugman left out a lot more than that.

    Like the counterpart to Republicans’ over-inclusive purge lists: The failure of Democratic elections officials to purge even names which OUGHT to be purged.

    Like obsessing about whether a Bush win in Florida would be legit, when Democrats in Florida have a proven record of ballot fraud.

    Like the contribution to the problem made by Motor Voter and opposition to ID requirements, notable Democratic contributions to the insecurity of our voting system.

    Like ballot fraud outside of Florida. St. Louis and Chicago come to mind…

    The result of this election won’t be any less suspect if Kerry wins, and making our ballots insecure is a bipartisan accomplishment. Both parties deserve a share of the “credit”.

  2. Michael says:

    Well, I was writing about Florida, where I happen to live. I agree that if one were writing about Chicago one might blame different people. But there too, so far as we know, the big problem has been old-time ballot fraud.

  3. Chris says:

    Again, I’m not sure I like this “We’re only as bad as they are” argument. The Republicans–if they really wanted the moral high ground–could unilaterally make the changes for a fair election and then insist the Democrats do the same. Failure on the part of the Democrats would put them in the wrong and make them look untrustworthy. The failure of the Republicans to respond to a situation that is much more salient in the public mind just plain looks bad, and is therefore bad politics. I can only shake my head at who is making the decisions, as they seem unaware or unconcerned about the image they represent.

    Ben Franklin once wrote that the viability of a government rests on the good opinion of its citizens. The unwillingness to make even a small effort to respond to what strike me as very legitimate concerns is going to cause serious trouble down the road.

  4. Rodger says:

    This is from the Florida Department of of Law Enforcement Report on “Florida Voter Fraud Issues,” January 5, 1998:

    “The lack of “in-person, at-the-polls” accountability makes absentee ballots the “tool of choice” for those inclined to commit voter fraud. “

    Krugman today: “Recently the Florida Republican Party sent out a brochure urging supporters to use absentee ballots.”

    Sometimes, 1 + 1 = 2.

  5. Brett Bellmore says:

    Of course, you don’t commit absentee ballot fraud by “urging supporters to use absentee ballots”. You do it by looking at records of who’s registered to vote, but doesn’t, and filing huge stacks of absentee ballots in their names. The whole point being to get votes from people who AREN’T supporters. Or even people, a lot of the time.

  6. Rodger says:

    Yes, Brett, and if there’s an unusual surge of absentee voting by typical non-voters, Republican skeptics can simply point out that those voters were merely responsive to the party call.

    “Nothing suspicious here, move along…” they’d say.

    However, the FDLE report notes that a lot of fraud is associated with “assisted” voting in places like nursing homes….and cemetaries. Other problems are related to fraudulent registration, voting by non-citizens, and changing of ballots. It’s all in the FDLE report from 1998.

  7. Brett Bellmore says:

    “However, the FDLE report notes that a lot of fraud is associated with “assisted” voting in places like nursing homes…”

    True enough; Neither party’s hands are clean, either. The essential problem, I think, is that ballot fraud is easier to do where the party committing the fraud controls the electoral machinery. So it tends to help each party nail down it’s own strongholds, and make incumbants more secure against challengers. Meaning that the people in a position to do something about it have the least motive to act. I frankly think expecting to do something about it through the legislature is a lost cause. Maybe ballot initiatives in the states that have them could work. But you’d have to work at it outside the existing party structure, or see the effort fatally compromised from within.

    I just find the Krugman’s casual assumption that it’s obviously Bush who’d be the beneficiary of ballot fraud more than a little annoying. He’s GOT to know better than that.

    I’d like to suggest something one better than what he proposes, though: Nothing says that only elections officials can check registration lists; Years ago I worked on a campaign that expected fraud, and we got registration lists, and made a point of visiting every single listed address with campaign literature, checking off the “homes” at non existant addresses, and compiling a list of people our poll watchers should keep an eye out for, and challenge. It was easy enough, albiet time consuming.

    With massive proof that the ballot box had been stuffed, we might actually have the leverage to force some reform.

    Mind you, I know for a fact any Republican who tried that in a Democratic precinct would be accused of “intimidation”. LOL

  8. Mojo says:

    Brett’s right that the only way to stop (or at least limit) voter fraud is to have people from both parties monitoring the voting process, and not just on election day. Both sides have done it and neither side ever forgives it (I’ve been hearing for over 40 years about the Kennedy “voting” in Chicago). But the important thing is to keep cheating those third party candidates so they never realize that the public really favors them three to one over either of the main parties. (Just wanted to see who was paying attention.)

  9. Brett Bellmore says:

    Don’t be silly, the candidate I did all that leg work for WAS a third party candidate. I know beyond any shadow of a doubt that we got slaughtered fair and square. Although we Libertarians have indeed faced a few races where we had the victory stolen from us, and could prove it.

    Of course, nobody with the authority to do anything about it was willing to look at the evidence. Quite frustrating, that.

  10. Chris says:

    Again, there is a way for the parties to settle this issue of voter fraud, but it will require a short-term sacrifice by one of the parties (with an eye, of course, for using public opinion to coerce the other side to make similar sacrifices–or else be exposed as corrupt). Since the attention is focused on Florida’s voting machines, and less so on absentee ballots, the Republicans have the initiative here and can acknowledge opposition concerns and remedy them. This gives the Republicans all the more political leverage to insist the Democrats respond in kind.

    I don’t think it’s in either party’s long-term interest to condone fraud since it undermines both of them, but in today’s climate with such high stakes I can certainly understand the temptation. Maybe neither of the parties can be trusted here–so more constitutional checks and balances?


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