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Robert Kuttner | The Art of Stealing Elections    •

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    By Patrick Sabatier

    Thursday 21 October 2004

    The United States prides itself on having invented modern democracy and boasts of exporting it to the entire planet. Is it capable of organizing truly democratic elections? This provocative question deserves to be posed and is, by a former American president, Jimmy Carter, who is often called on by the world to oversee the regularity of elections. "The basic conditions according to international norms to assure an equitable vote... have not been met," he has just declared. He was talking about Florida, but his fear is valid for the whole country. On November 2 there will be observers on the ground, such as one sees more usually in Afghanistan or in Byelorussia.

    In 2000, Americans discovered that they voted on antediluvian machines with the results subject to dispute and interpretation by Supreme Court justices. Today, the electoral process has barely begun and it is already in dispute. The electronic machines that have been put in place are suspected of crashes like any other computer, even of vote tampering, without even mentioning the other flaws of an incoherent, too-decentralized system from which many voters are excluded. Armies of lawyers are preparing to bring the battle of the ballot boxes before the courts, since, as Tocqueville noted, in America, everything ends up in court.

    These imperfections are not new. In 1960, Kennedy's election had been tainted with suspicion of fraud. However the aggravation of the political conflict and the balance between the Republican and Democratic sides today make these failures of democracy in America more explosive than ever.

    Translation: t r u t h o u t French language correspondent Leslie Thatcher.


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    The Art of Stealing Elections
    By Robert Kuttner
    The Boston Globe

    Wednesday 20 October 2004

    The Republicans are out to steal the 2004 election - before, during, and after Election Day. Before Election Day, they are employing such dirty tricks as improper purges of voter rolls, use of dummy registration groups that tear up Democratic registrations, and the suppression of Democratic efforts to sign up voters, especially blacks and students.

    On Election Day, Republicans will attempt to intimidate minority voters by having poll watchers threaten criminal prosecution if something is technically amiss with their ID, and they will again use technical mishaps to partisan advantage.

    But the most serious assault on democracy itself is likely to come after Election Day.

    Here is a flat prediction: If neither candidate wins decisively, the Bush campaign will contrive enough court challenges in enough states so that we won't know the winner election night.

    The right stumbled on a gambit in 2000, which could become standard operating procedure in close elections: If the election ends up in the courts, all courts eventually lead to the Supreme Court, which, as we learned, can overrule state courts - and pick the president.

    This year is even more ripe for abuse, because the 2002 Help America Vote Act, a "reform" written substantially to Republican specifications, toughened ID requirements. It also gave voters a right to cast "provisional" ballots if their names are missing from the rolls. Good impulse, but someone, ultimately a court, must decide whether they should have been permitted to vote, and that's almost impossible to resolve on Election Day.

    In addition, states are experimenting with a variety of new voting systems, to avoid a repeat of the technical glitches that made it easy for Republicans to steal Florida in 2000. And experiment is the right word; much of this technology isn't ready for prime time.

    In our voting systems, we now have a witches' brew of 19th-century local amateurism married to 21st-century technology that is not yet reliable. The technical mess functions as an enabler of the assault on voting.

    There was a time when Democrats were the party that occasionally stole elections. Lyndon Johnson very likely stole his 1948 victory in the Texas Democratic primary, which launched his Senate career. President Kennedy actually joked about the notorious vote rigging in Chicago, which quite possibly tipped Illinois to him in 1960. (He would have won the Electoral College very narrowly without Illinois.)

    It was Richard Nixon, that scoundrel's scoundrel, who resisted the temptation to mount a court challenge to the Illinois result because he felt the country couldn't take it. Imagine longing for the days when we had Republican leadership as principled as Nixon's.

    But the days of urban Democratic machines that voted dead people are long gone. The press has reported isolated abuses, such as a few Florida snowbirds trying to register in more than one state. But any fair comparison of election abuses this year will reveal that one party is expending energy to register as many supporters as possible and assure that that their votes will be counted, while the other one is registering its supporters but also systematically trying to keep the opposition's votes from being cast. There is simply no comparable Democratic program of ballot suppression.

    Maybe we should invite election observers from Afghanistan and Iraq.

    We may not know the winner until the Electoral College meets in December, and perhaps not even then if contested elections are still tied up in court. It's not even clear whether the ultimate arbiter would be the Supreme Court or the House of Representatives.

    If the courts took away the people's right to choose the president, and George Bush in effect stole two elections in a row, this would surely produce a constitutional crisis and a crisis of legitimacy.

    But what if they gave a constitutional crisis and nobody came? The most ominous outcome of all would be public passivity, echoing 2000. That would confirm that the theft of our democracy was real.

    Call me partisan, but the best insurance against this horrific outcome would be a Kerry win big enough so that even Karl Rove would not dare to mount this maneuver. A razor-thin race virtually invites it. And if Bush wins handily, our democracy will have other problems.

    Robert Kuttner is co-editor of The American Prospect.


  Jump to TO Features for Friday October 22, 2004   

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