Remember, it’s only wrong if you get caught.
We’re into another Presidential election year in the US, as if the other three years aren’t just as much about Presidential campaigning. But this means it’s a good time to talk about the nuts and bolts. Commonly discussed during election years are turnout statistics, get-out-the-vote efforts, and other features that fascinate wonks but perhaps don’t make that big a difference.
Often neglected until after the election is over are the various factors that influence who even gets to vote, and how those votes are counted. To that end, preparations for this election have been in the works for years now–2011 at the absolute latest, though it’s hard to pin down the beginning of a process that is in eternal churn.
Let’s say you wanted to steal an election or, barring that, at least skew it heavily in your favor. First things first: you need a map. Not just any map, but one where the electoral districts are drawn to advantage your party and disadvantage the opposition. With a census being taken every 10 years, and redistricting only performed in the aftermath of a census, your new map is good for a solid decade. Job well done.
Second, who gets to vote? In a perfect world, every adult citizen gets to exercise his or her right to participate in the democratic process. But this is the United States of America. “Perfect” is how old white people remember the 1950s; there’s no perfect world out here. We can start by disenfranchising criminals. Millions of ‘em. Nobody has sympathy for criminals, and who would trust the vote of a thief or rapist in the first place, right? Besides, they’re all liable to vote for Democrats, what with a legal system that’s especially punitive toward racial minorities and the poor, while letting white-collar criminals off with slaps on the wrist (and intact voting rights).
In addition to felons and prison inmates, you also don’t want any erroneous registrations on your voter rolls. To be safe, let’s just purge anyone who looks suspect. Maybe somebody has the same name as a known felon. Can’t tell which is which–best get rid of both. Just in case the people purged don’t find out about it beforehand and re-register, don’t allow same-day registration, either. That’s kind of a double-whammy, isn’t it? You’re struck from the rolls, you show up to vote, find out you aren’t registered, and now you can’t register at all–no democracy for you today.
And why would we allow early voting? That’s just encouraging people who might have a difficult time making it to the polls to actually show up. No, let’s cut that back as much as possible. There are just too many people voting these days.
In addition, for those who come to the polls, let’s demand state-issued IDs. This doesn’t sound like too high a burden, does it? It’s supposed to cut back on vote fraud, never mind that in-person vote fraud is exceptionally rare. If we cared all that much about fraud, we might go after mail-in absentee votes, but those are usually from older white people. It would be a shame to make voting more difficult for them.
Speaking of making voting difficult, why not make sure some areas have too few polling places and machines, while others have a glut? Some folks get long lines and have to wait for hours; others are in and out in minutes. Never mind that black and Latino voters end up having longer waits than white voters. This must be a coincidence.
With the maps now redrawn to marginalize the votes of people you don’t want to count as much, and participation made difficult or impossible for just the right demographics, you might think the stage was fully set for electoral victory. But one can’t be too careful when control over the government is at stake. These days, most people vote on electronic machines. The nice thing about electronics is that all the information is, well, electrons. It’s ephemeral, alterable at will. If you’re very lucky, there’s no paper trail at all, which means there’s no way to tell if you tampered with anything.
There is no clear evidence to this day that rigged electronic voting machines have affected any election outcomes. This would, of course, be difficult to prove in the first place, given that such machines run closed, proprietary software that is not subject to public review or audit, and lack any features that guarantee the integrity of the votes themselves, once entered. We can no doubt be confident in devices that are easily compromised by very basic intrusion methods. There is surely nothing to worry about, here.
All is well in hand and your vote this fall is safe, citizen–if we’ve seen fit to let you have one.