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The Uncertainty Principle

The recent Al Franken - Norm Coleman vote recount in Minnesota reminds me of just how annoyed I get with the politics surrounding our current voting system.

We witness the same tiresome theatrics every two years. Before elections, Democrats and their allies at ACORN and other "get out the vote" organizations work feverishly to register as many voters as they can. Then Republicans get busy finding all of the dead voters, imprisoned voters, criminal voters, alien voters, multiple vote registrations, and fairy-tale voters (Mickey Mouse, etc.) that Democrats add to the voting rolls. Then Democrats accuse Republicans of making votes disappear, while Republicans accuse Democrats of stuffing ballot boxes. Is there anyone in the party leadership brave enough to admit that maybe -- just maybe -- this is why we have a two party system? That maybe it's good we have two parties because one acts as a check on the power of the other? I would be very happy if both sides would just simply acknowledge their roles in the game, then sit down and shut up.

Yet there is a consistent trend noticeable in the major election recounts of the last few years (Bush-Gore in Florida, 2000; Gregoire-Rossi in Washington, 2004; Coleman-Franken in Minnesota, 2008) -- Democrats consistently gain votes during recounts. Only during 2000 recount in Florida did the Democrats fail to gain enough votes to eventually beat the Republicans.

There seems to be a compelling reason as to why this happens, which goes right back to those irksome election year political attacks -- Democrats really do try to register as many disadvantaged voters as possible. If you are homeless, illiterate, have a substance abuse problem, have a criminal record, are in the country illegally, live on government disability payments, didn't graduate from high school, or are unemployed, it is almost a sure bet that a Democrat (or a Democrat-allied) election worker will try to register you to vote.

Why go to so much trouble to register this segment of the population? After all, it can be argued that they are probably the least likely to have informed opinions on major issues, and they are probably the most likely to have trouble filling out a ballot properly. I'll let Captain Ed Morrisey explain, vis a vis the Minnesota recount:

In the end, a dead heat winds up getting decided by the incompetence of individual voters who under any other circumstances would not matter at all. That's what we had here.
It's all so ... simple. "Everyone" wants to make sure that "every vote is counted." After all, it's only fair. The only time Democrats blew an important recount was in Florida in 2000, when Team Gore claimed to want to count everyone's votes, yet made an embarrassing spectacle out of suing to keep a group of absentee military ballots out of the count. There was nothing wrong with the ballots themselves (they were just post-marked improperly) and Team Gore subsequently lost a significant amount of trustworthiness. The Democrats learned from that experience and seem to have since adopted a general "count it all, even if it's someone's grocery list" rule.

And when that happens, no one pays attention to the competently-cast ballots. They zip straight through the counting machines and go right back into the boxes. All the attention is focused on spoiled ballots, the ones with scribbles, scratch-outs, hanging chads, write-ins, or whatever. And no one -- NO ONE -- will challenge the right of a disadvantaged American to have his vote counted. When one political party makes an effort to register more disadvantaged people than the other, guess which party ends up benefiting in hand recounts of spoiled ballots?

At this point I could present several ideas for eliminating the uncertainly created by spoiled ballots. But if I did so I would simply be wasting both my time and yours, because no political party is ever going to fine-tune election law in such a way that eliminates small levels of uncertainty or judiciously uses runoff elections to clearly determine a winner.

During the 2000 Florida recount ordeal, I remember hearing endless analogies contrasting the uncertainty of elections to the unambiguous nature of sporting events. Both types of contests must end with only one winner, but in sporting contests the athletes themselves compete against one another. Most of them are mature enough to accept the finality of wins and losses because they know whether or not they played well enough to earn a victory. But in elections, it is the general public who decides the outcome of the contest, not the politicians themselves. Therefore uncertainty becomes an integral part of the election process, because a small amount of uncertainty provides each candidate with a slim chance of reversing a minuscule margin of victory by his opponent.

Uncertainty, then, becomes sacred. And no one wants to attack something sacred, especially if you think it's always going to be on your side.


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Comments (16)

It sounds as if you're in f... (Below threshold)

It sounds as if you're in favor of just having "elites" qualified to vote. Of course those "elites" would be determined by folks like you?
I seem to remember that there was no such qualification outlined in our Constitution or anywhere else.

Yes dummies vote - dummies on both sides of the spectrum. Case in point the lady in Florida who told McCain she just knew Obama is an Arab. And yes there similar folks who vote for democrats.

As for the rest of your post there's a lot to be said for it. The process is a mess and isn't helped by the current state of politics where each side completely distrusts the other.

Incompetent, ill-informed v... (Below threshold)

Incompetent, ill-informed voters are going to ruin this country the same way they've ruined their own lives.

JFO,There also see... (Below threshold)


There also seems to be a similar feeling on the other side regarding elites -- only "elites" are qualified to govern, and anyone without the proper Ivy League cocktail party credentials need not apply, certainly not moose-hunting Caribou Barbies from Hicksville, Alaska.

MikeYou mean folks... (Below threshold)


You mean folks like our current Yalie/Harvard president of course?

Harry Rude is not in a hurr... (Below threshold)

Harry Rude is not in a hurry to swear in Stuart Smally aka. Al Franken as Minn's. new Senator. Oopsie, Sorry everyone, there will be a challenge by Coleman. Don't count your "free range" chickens before they're hatched.

One consideration fo... (Below threshold)

One consideration for solution should be voter picture ID or thumb prints. We live in an age where both of those processes can be carried out remotely. The data is then uploaded and the biometric data is stored in the states voter id database.
2. New voters get a 30 minute introduction to use of the voting machine. They get 10 dummy candidates and then need to pick the ones to vote for. Then they go through the process of voting and seeing if they get the correct candidate.
3. All Ballots on election day must go through a checker maker procedure. One person makes the changes another records it and they both must sign and time stamp it for it to be valid.

Double confirmation. You make the selection and it you have an audible and printed response which states you s Selected AL for president are is that the correct choice? Please respond. All voter response are kept on unalterable media

JFO "It sounds as if... (Below threshold)
retired miilitary:

"It sounds as if you're in favor of just having "elites" qualified to vote. Of course those "elites" would be determined by folks like you?

Yep. Elites. By your defintion people that can read a ballot and mark an appropriate bubble is an elite person.

Oh yeah. I forgot you are a liberal and as such have such low standards.

Actually JFO's comment rais... (Below threshold)

Actually JFO's comment raises a good point, which is "how do you decide that someone is incapable of voting"? Except no one in the current political establishment wants to touch it with a fork.

If conservatives ever advanced such a proposal, they would immediately be lambasted as racists and bigots who want to send poor Americans back to the plantation (or some such hyperbole).

And as I pointed out in the article, Democrats would never do such a thing because of their strong identity with the disadvantaged, which I believe always guarantees them net gains in manual vote recounts.

Yet undoubtedly there are some people who probably should not vote. How do we identify them? Level One trolls, now is your chance ...

If we make our our elected ... (Below threshold)

If we make our our elected officials submit to term limits say two terms of two years,( state and federal one or the other not both) we would rid our selves of the BS that infects our lives from their hands including I think, the election fraud BS. We could weed out the narcissistic personality disorder asshats that now infect our lives with their never ending BULLSHIT( sorry I had to finally say/write it). With a small amount of time to cause trouble it wouldn't be worth it to them. At the least we could expose their mental health disorder and get MUCH need help. Then perhaps some real patriots would be willing to serve for the benefit of our people.Oh, also exclude lawyers. Most of them are greedy asshats already. :-D

....and get MUCH need help.... (Below threshold)

....and get MUCH need help.
Sorry, get them MUCH needed help.

Yet undoubtedly there ar... (Below threshold)

Yet undoubtedly there are some people who probably should not vote. How do we identify them?

Self-identification is the best solution.

Make filling out a ballot as 'simple' as filling out your income taxes. Incorrectly filed ballots will be discarded.

Love how turgid some people... (Below threshold)

Love how turgid some people get at the thought of disenfranchising semi-literate/illiterate voters.

Universal suffrage?! F*ck that noise, eh kids?

You do know that Starship Troopers is a stupid movie on which to base your philosophy of government, right?

I'd wager vote fraud is muc... (Below threshold)
Baron Von Ottomatic:

I'd wager vote fraud is much more widespread than disenfranchisement of illiterate voters.

Is fretting over vote fraud disenfranchising voters who observe the rules by voting only one time per election racist? Because apparently expecting some mechanism to ensure a person only votes once is.

Hypie -You ought t... (Below threshold)

Hypie -

You ought to read the book. The movie sucked, and didn't touch on the responsibilities of citizenship nearly as much as it should have.

Admittedly the book has some rather '50ish outlooks when it comes to morality - but consider the time it was written...

I'd wager vote fraud is muc... (Below threshold)
Dave Noble:

I'd wager vote fraud is much more widespread than disenfranchisement of illiterate voters.

Really, Baron? I'm very surprised to hear you believe that.

Though phrased in a suppositional manner, that comment is no more than an expression of your own political bias.

Dave,Are you oppos... (Below threshold)
Baron Von Ottomatic:


Are you opposed to ensuring that people who show up to vote are who they claim to be and that each person is only allowed to vote once in each election?






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