Neo-Hippie Ramblings - I'm a Non-Conformist Just Like All My Friends: Steal This Election - Part III - Electoral Process Reform

Thursday, February 17, 2005

Steal This Election - Part III - Electoral Process Reform

Steal This Election

Part III - Electoral Process Reform

Premise: The electoral process is broken, and the degree to which it is broken increases exponentially at each level of government.

By broken, I mean that it is vulnerable to inappropriate influence due through legislative maneuvering, manipulation of the media or outright fraud.

Legislative maneuvering: To see the effect of legislative maneuvering in the electoral process all you need do is to follow the political news. Tune in a few months before, during and directly after any US election and you'll see it ad nauseum. It's neither subtle nor confined to a particular ideology. It's often easier to block access to votes & voters than it is to win them over, so the temptation to fight dirty is very real.

From the right, we've seen a number of specific geographical areas (i.e., those that are too liberal) being subject to pre-election or election activities that were highly suspicious, at best - people being dropped from registered voter lists, last minute street closings, you name it.

Likewise, we've also seen a concentrated effort from the left to keep candidates like Nader from even making the presidential ballot. (Apparently, addressing the issues that had disenfranchised us in the first place would be too much work.)

Media manipulation: It's only too easy. A candidate who's willing to explore the complexity of any given issue in a public forum is generally unelectable, because he or she is at the mercy of the five-second sound bite and an opponent's willingness to misrepresent that complexity to an audience with a case of cultural ADD. Putting forth an intelligent, complex position on a hot-button issue is assisted political suicide, regardless of the issue or the position.

Case in point, prior to this November's Pennsylvania election, I carried on a rather extensive e-mail dialogue with Steven Porter, the Democratic challenger to Phil English. Porter was civil, reasonable and obviously far more intelligent than the incumbent English. We disagreed on a some things (he was a little more conservative than I am), but his views were solid and he defended them well, developing point-by-point positions. Unfortunately, he was maybe a little too smart for public office. Phil English just absolutely creamed him with a negative smear campaign, reducing his arguments to the most simplistic cariacatures possible and plastering them all over the local TV stations.

To a lesser degree, Bush was able to do the same thing to Kerry on the national security issue during the 2004 election. Kerry's (entirely valid) point that terrorism is being exploited as a boogeyman to fuel an expansionist agenda was spun in order to stoke the underlying fears that had allowed that expansionism to occur in the first place. Net result: A very effective political ad with scary music and a sinister "he doesn't understand the threat" voiceover, in which Kerry comes off as being soft on terrorism and generally clueless.

Fraud: Election fraud is a fact of life in any society that holds elections. We're particularly unfortunate in that our country has no consistency of process and no universally accepted standards, so it's difficult to make a wide assessment of the integrity of our electoral process.

It's pretty obvious, though, that things are not as healthy as one might hope. This issue is discussed at length here:

In Part VI, I'll talk more about what might be done to mitigate fraud.

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