Did voting irregularities change the outcome of the 2004 Presidential Election? And how would we know, if they did?
Originally published 2004
In 2004, the news broadcasts reported a number of dirty tricks — all of them, it seems, generated by Republicans
There were reports of people being told that if they showed up at the polls, they would be jailed for overdue parking tickets, that their children would be taken away for overdue alimony. Since these problems afflict the poor, and the poor tend to vote for Democrats, it seems clear that these incidents were perpetrated by members or affiliates of the Republican party.
In one case, the indictment was even more clear: People were told that because of the expected size of the turnout, Republicans would vote on Tuesday and Democrats would vote on Wednesday.
That these incidents occurred at all is deplorable. But when an election is as close as it was in 2004, they raise the question of whether even more serious irregularities occurred.
There were some irregularities in Florida, for example, where traditionally Democratic precints exhibited the expected ratio of votes on issues traditionally favored by Democrats (like a minimum wage bill), but when it came to the presidential race, that ratio was mysteriously reversed. So if the ration was 5 to 3 in favor of the Democrats on that legistlation, which was the expected result in that county, then the ratio was precisely 5 to 3 against the Democrats in the Presidential race — a mysterious an inexplicable result that is better explained by reversing the votes than by human behavior.
I’ve heard it reported that the irregularities didn’t affect the outcome, so they’re not terribly important. On the other hand, if there are multiple sources of error, it’s possible that together they changed the outcome, even if any one of them wasn’t significant.
On the other hand, maybe there weren’t any serious irregularities at all. Maybe the election was as clean as a whistle, and all stories to the contrary are merely scare-mongering or apocryphal.
The point is, how do we know. How can we establish a deep level of trust at a time when our nation is so deeply divided.
We could perform an audit, of course. It would be expensive and it would take a lot of time, but we could do it. The problem is that the loser has to request it. If they do, they risk putting a choke hold on the government, creating economic uncertainty, and looking like a petulant, whining loser in the bargain. So true patriots who put the nation ahead of themselves tend not to do it.
But that leaves us wondering — especially when the election is as close as it was in 2004.
A Voting Advice System presents a possible solution to this dilemma. If we assume 100% participation in the system, then the results could conceivably be deduced directly from the number of people who chose to listen to particular advisors. In cases where the numbers were too close to call, people who were receiving conflicting advice could be queried to find out how they voted. Their responses would be anonymous, of course. But with an automated system tabulating the responses, the result could be determined in a matter of days.
Until 100% participation is achieved, of course, the system could only deliver a statistical sampling. But that sample could be obtained at virtually no expense. It could then be used to determine whether or not there is a reasonable basis for a recount.
In other words, a Voting Advice System gives us a way to validate our democracy, and make sure that it is functioning effectively.
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