Clarification the first; or, “responsibility”. There’s a lot of talk going around about how we (meaning variously “the left” or “blogs”) should “be responsible” and not toss around accusations of fraud without hard evidence. I have some disagreement with the way that view has been put forward, but the basic point is sound. It seldom hurts to be precise in one’s language, so mea culpa: I jumped the gun too. I agree in principle that I should have talked about “apparent discrepancies among voting tallies, exit polls and voter registration data” and avoided words like “rigged”. Here’s the disagreement though: someone has to be disreputable and shrill and jump up and down pointing at the numbers yelling something’s not right here. If not blogs, then who? Weblogs are not an official anything and they never will be: blogs are just people with web sites which, as an information source, differs from people around the water cooler only in that blogs offer faster, wider dissemination. I’ve said before that I view the blogosphere as a sort of extended conversation, in which light bringing up the question of electoral fraud without taking the time to be professorially careful in our language is a faux pas, not a gross dereliction of bloggerly duty.
Clarification the second; or, “the questions are still open”. There’s also been some talk about “reasonable explanations being offered”; this is either simply wrong, or I’ve missed said explanations. For instance, Brad Leiter linked to this ABC story, saying that it “reviews the charges and seems to put them to rest plausibly enough”. With all due respect, he’s just wrong about that, and Jeanne of Body and Soul is right. The ABC piece was a disgusting hack job designed to smear “conspiracy theory” across any suggestion of electoral dysfunction and repeat the canard that exit polls are inherently unreliable (or, as they put it, ” exit polls are not hard data, they are as accurate as polling” — which is, again, just plain wrong: any poll is hard data, and exit polls are more reliable than projection polls because the population tested is known voters not likely voters). Some of the discrepancies have been accounted for — for instance, there were some really odd numbers recurring in different counties in Ohio and Florida, which turned out to be an understandable glitch having to do with absentee ballots and placeholder figures (I can’t find the damn link now). Others, however, have not been addressed or explained — take a look at Radagast’s data (see the post below), and then show me the explanation. I have yet to see one. So, when someone claims “oh, those conspiracy theories have all been debunked”, they’re either mislead themselves or they’re trying to mislead you. Which brings me to:
Clarification the third; or, “the larger issue here is electoral reform”. There is fraud in nearly every large election, committed on behalf of nearly every candidate. In the case of this election, however, preliminary evidence suggests that the fraud may have been organised and systematically committed by one side. The only way to be sure is to conduct a transparent public investigation, and I think there is sufficient evidence to justify such an investigation. Now, even if the fix was in, it’s entirely possible that what will turn up, rather than anything dramatic, is either evidence of fraud that was not enough to overturn the result, or statistical evidence which might convince a wonk like me but won’t be enough to prompt Kerry to sue for a recount or second election. Nonetheless, the very need for an investigation strengthens the case for a much-needed overhaul of the US election system. We should never reach the point where there is preliminary evidence of fraud; no such investigation should ever be necessary! Your vote should be as secure as your money: if banks can account for your money down to the penny, the election system should be able to account for every vote. There should be a paper audit trail on every voting station, and random audits should be a routine part of the process, as well as audits of obviously pivotal tallies such as Florida and Ohio this year. In addition, official exit polls should be conducted by several independent organisations and their data made immediately and permanently public. Finally, issues of voter intimidation and misinformation have to be addressed, and though I don’t see quite so clearly how to go about that I am certain it can be done. We cannot have any kind of democracy without free and fair elections, and the technology and expertise already exist to make certain we get them. I can imagine that some might prefer to leave the system as it is with all its deep flaws intact, but that would be a difficult position to defend. With a little determination and media savvy, it should be possible to use this mess of an election as a catalyst for electoral reform.