[lit-ideas] Elections past & present

  • From: JimKandJulieB@xxxxxxx
  • To: lit-ideas@xxxxxxxxxxxxx
  • Date: Tue, 2 Nov 2004 13:12:23 EST

I found this very good and very informative.  Love the line re.  the 
graveyard vote.
Julie Krueger  


The Elections: Playing With  Fire
November 01, 2004  1636 GMT

By George Friedman

We are  now hours away from the 2004 presidential election in the United
States.  Everybody has had his say, including Osama bin Laden. It is now up to
one of  the strangest -- and most successful -- electoral systems yet devised,
a  system made even stranger by the fact that there is no longer really any
such  thing as Election Day. A large number of voters will have already  
which makes it a statistical certainty that some will be dead by  Election
Day. We have institutionalized the graveyard vote.

At this  point, if we are to believe the polls, the most likely outcome is
that U.S.  President George W. Bush will win a narrow victory. As we go into
Election  Day, the spread of the polls is from dead even to Bush being ahead
by 5  percentage points. There were few, if any, polls over the weekend
showing  that Kerry is in the lead. In many of them, the spread is within the
margin  of error. However, when multiple polls confirm the same finding,  the
significance of the margin of error declines. Going into the weekend,  Bush
was ahead.

This should not be overstated. If he is ahead, it is  only by a few percentage
points. By past practice, the challenger normally  picks up support over the
weekend before the elections because undecided  voters tend to support the
challenger. The problem this time is not only that  there are so few undecided
voters, but that anyone who is still undecided  after this campaign is either
utterly indifferent, locked in a cave or deeply  troubled. That means the
normal weekend flop might happen, but given the size  and makeup of the
undecided vote, it is not clear that precedent applies. The  last-minute surge
will be small, and might easily split between Bush and  Kerry or go to Kerry.

Obviously, winning the popular vote doesn't  guarantee victory in the
Electoral College. Therefore, it is possible Bush  will win the popular vote,
but lose the election. Large majorities in the  states in which he has strong
support -- the mountain states and the south --  make this a possible outcome.
It is not a likely outcome, simply because the  swing states appear to be
tracking the national polls, and because several of  the swing states, such as
Florida and New Mexico, appear to be moving toward  Bush.

It is possible to imagine Bush winning by as much as 5 points and  winning a
surprisingly large number of states. It is possible to imagine  Kerry winning
by 1 to 3 percentage points and solidly winning the election.  It is also
possible to imagine Bush winning by 1 to 2 points and losing the  election --
or very narrowly winning in the Electoral College. What is  difficult to
imagine is the outcome everyone dreads -- a repeat of  2000.

It is necessary to understand the extent to which 2000 was a freak.  In order
to repeat 2000, two things must happen: First, the electoral vote  must be a
virtual tie, in the sense that except for one state (or more, but  that makes
the outcome even more improbable), all states are committed,  without giving
either candidate a majority. Second, the votes in that state  (or multiple
states) must come in at a virtual tie as well. That is what  happened in
Florida in 2000 when the vote was tied.

On the surface,  when the first vote was counted, Bush had 535 votes more than
Al Gore. In  fact, they had exactly the same number of votes. Any system that
must count  several million of anything has a built-in error rate. Anyone who
has done  inventory in a warehouse knows that no matter how hard you try, you
will  never get a perfectly accurate count. Assume, for the moment, that with
your  best efforts, you could count a million votes with 99.9 percent accuracy
--  an incredibly dubious proposition, since nothing is that  accurate.
Nevertheless, the Florida election came in as smaller than even  this
preposterously high accuracy rate could accommodate. Count and recount  the
vote all you want, and as many times as you would like, the outcome  would
still be flawed. Human beings don't count millions of items at the  level of
accuracy needed to reach a clear conclusion in  Florida.

Florida was a dead tie on top of a dead tie in the Electoral  College. An
absolute tie might have triggered some sort of obscure law, but a  virtual tie
was simply something the law couldn't handle. It appeared that  Bush won or --
if different rules were used or a recount held -- that Gore  won. The fact was
you could recount as often as you wanted and get almost any  outcome you
liked. The built-in error rate could take you anywhere.

In  Florida, of course, the built-in error rate became the foundation for  a
challenge to Bush's victory. There was no way to deal with the reality of  the
matter -- it was a tie that would decide the election, so it was a  do-over.
Each side had to craft a legal argument demonstrating that its  method of
interpreting the tie was the only legal way to do it. The  Republicans were
outraged when the Democrat-dominated Florida Supreme Court  ruled in favor of
a plan that would let the Democrats win. The Democrats  praised the rule of
law. All this reversed when the Republican-dominated U.S.  Supreme Court voted
5-4 in favor of what the Republicans wanted and the  Democrats were disgusted
with the utter partisanship of it -- forgetting that  the four Democrats on
the Supreme Court voted in as much of a partisan  fashion as the Republicans.

What happened in 2000 was a natural and  unplanned accident. If another state
had gone Republican or Democrat, then  Florida would have been irrelevant. You
needed two absolute ties to make this  happen. The probability of a tie in the
Electoral College and a tie in the  remaining state -- a difference so small
that it can't be counted -- is the  least likely scenario.

The problem is this: While Florida was a case  where no one could count the
vote, a barrier has been broken in which  challenging the outcome of the
election no longer requires an outcome below  statistical measurement. Both
parties have readied challenges to the  legitimacy of the election that would
seem to apply regardless of the count.  The Republicans are challenging newly
registered voters and the Democrats are  going to challenge the Republican
challenges. There are other issues on the  table as well. For example, the
Democrats have made it clear they don't trust  the new electronic voting

In other words, the election could  wind up in a legal tangle if it is no more
than moderately close, but the  difference is above the statistical screen. A
cultural shift appears to have  taken place since 2000 in which the very
legitimacy of the electoral system  has been cast into doubt. There have
certainly been episodes of fraud in many  elections in the United States. The
miracle is not that there have been  frauds, but that there have been so few
and that the republic has survived them.

If we are to believe reports that have become ubiquitous, John F.  Kennedy
stole the 1960 election. More precisely, Chicago's mayor and leader  of the
Cook County Democratic Party -- at least by urban legend -- at the  behest of
Chicago Mafia chief Sam Giancana waited until it became clear how  many votes
were needed to give Illinois to Kennedy, and then whipped them up  -- no
electronic voting machines needed. If the story is true, it would not  have
been the first or last time an election was stolen in the United  States.

Richard Nixon lost that election. Again, according to legend, he  was
approached by Republican leaders and told that he should challenge  the
election. Nixon -- and if this is true, then it was certainly his  finest
moment -- refused to challenge on the basis that even if he won,  the
presidency would have been rendered worthless.

We are now reduced  to this question: Where have all the Dick Nixons gone? If
we are to believe  what each party is saying, there are no longer any limits
to which either  party would go to challenge the election legally. That about
puts the  situation into context: Nixon had a finer ethical sense than the
leadership  of either party today. He let Kennedy steal the election rather
than sully  the presidency. The current crop would try to find any means to
win the  election, regardless of consequences.

We do not think that the factual  basis of the 2000 challenge is likely to
repeat itself. We do believe it is  possible for a pseudo-factual basis to be
generated. If that were to happen,  it would be the most geopolitically
significant event we could imagine -- far  more important than whether Bush or
Kerry wins. Either one winning would be  better -- regardless of who one votes
for -- than a situation in which the  United States is paralyzed for weeks or
months by legal maneuvering and the  new president takes office with a sense
of scandal and illegitimacy hanging  over him.

It was relatively placid in 2000 as years go, but 2004 finds  the United
States engaged in global warfare. Were the United States convulsed  in a
constitutional crisis lasting three months, the consequences would  be
enormous, both in the perception of the United States and the  practical
ability of Bush -- who would still be president -- to govern. If  nothing
else, the intellectual bandwidth of the political system would be  absorbed in
the crisis rather than the war, and the war cannot be allowed to  drift for
four years.

One would expect the political leadership to be  unified on one thing:
avoiding this. Even if the double miracle of 2000 were  to repeat, it could be
expected that the two parties would deliberately avoid  a 2000-style
confrontation because there is a war on. We would expect them to  emulate the
spirit of Nixon -- not that high a hurdle, one would think. But  the fact is
that they are prepared to replicate 2000 regardless of whether  the facts
repeat themselves -- and indifferent to the war.

A modest  proposal presents itself: In the event that the election is
seriously  contested, both Bush and Kerry should agree to withdraw their names
from  candidacy. They should then meet and jointly select a third person that
they  can both agree would be a suitable president, and ask their electors to
vote  for him.

We do not know either of these men and don't know whether their  ambitions are
such that they could tolerate this solution. Nor do we know if  they could
agree on a suitable substitute who could straddle the difference.  Frankly, we
think they are likely to fight for the last morsel of power.  Possibly, a
political movement could generate itself in this country to force  a

What is clear is this: A repeat of 2000 is unlikely  unless the two parties
create one. They seem committed to that course. If  they do, they will be
playing with fire during war. From an objective  standpoint, a victory by
either candidate too substantial to be challenged by  the lawyers is far
preferable to what seems to be coming -- a close election  and the country
torn apart.

(c) 2004 Strategic Forecasting, Inc. All  rights  reserved.


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